James Baldwin: I Am Not Your Negro | Film Review

james-baldwin-2Photos: Mark B. Anstendig (above); featured: Daniel Bretton Tisdale, “James Baldwin,” 2007, (graphite on Italian handmade paper) from the “Harlem Masters” series.

James Baldwin is having a posthumous resurgence, but we are so in need of his words at this moment that it’s hard to believe he hasn’t still been writing every day since his death in 1987. In every genre Baldwin dabbled, from novels to political commentary to arts criticism, he found the core of our identity as a nation: a core that feeds off division and prejudice; that celebrates its own history while refusing to learn from it; and that was, and plainly remains, too painful for anyone other than him to talk about honestly.

Today’s media is flush with essayists who trace a direct line to Baldwin, the most prominent being Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose bestselling sensation Between the World and Me is a grim postscript to Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and dispels even the slim notion of hope for true racial justice Baldwin offered in 1963. But Baldwin refused to see himself as a “race writer”: Instead, he framed arguments for equality as pleas to save the entire American soul from corrosive hatred and isolation. The exceptional new documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which director Raoul Peck began to work on before the Obama presidency, gives us a fresh new view on Baldwin’s words, while also reminding us that the same American soul he struggled so hard to convince us was worth saving remains on life support today.

“If any white man in the world says ‘Give Me liberty Or Give Me Death,’ the entire white world applauds. When a black man says EXACTLY the same thing; he is judged a criminal, and treated like one, and everything is possibly done to make an example of this bad nigger so there won’t be anymore like him.” – James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro is also not your Baldwin CliffsNotes. Instead, Peck gives us a far more urgent, revelatory document: a visual imagining of the writer’s last, unfinished manuscript. Titled Remember This House, it was to be Baldwin’s personal reflection on the lives and assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, all of whom he was close with. “I want these three lives to bang against and reveal each other,” Baldwin wrote. And as these lives bang, Baldwin’s (and Peck’s) gaze turns: from the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s to America’s insistence on imagining great social progress where little has occurred.

The film uses only Baldwin’s words, superbly narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. There are no talking heads to put them “into context,” because the context is already there, in our history and all around us. Peck, working from 30 pages of raw text gifted him by Baldwin’s sister Gloria, animates the prose with archival news clips, still photographs, and scenes from popular films of Baldwin’s time. And he also, with dreamlike continuity, grants brief passage into the modern day: young black men shot by police, the Black Lives Matter protests, a montage of superficial apologies from white politicians. Robert Kennedy accurately predicts that America will see a black president 40 years from his time, and then Baldwin takes apart the idea that we had to wait so long in the first place.

Baldwin was also a voracious consumer of pop culture. Some of the film’s most intriguing passages muse on the history of onscreen black identity from Stepin Fetchit to Sidney Poitier, the latter characterized as a kind of panacea to comfort white people. (Poitier’s escaped convict in The Defiant Ones jumps off a train carrying him to freedom in order to save the white escapee he’s been chained to for the entire film. Baldwin’s response: “Get back on the train, you fool!”) These bits are where you realize just how much of a documentary’s strength depends on its editing. Would Baldwin’s memory of finding a black woman who “looked exactly like Joan Crawford” have carried as much symbolic weight were it not overlaid on the perfect clip of the lily-white Crawford boogying in Dance, Fools, Dance?

Peck renders his subject’s prose with brisk pacing, without turning Negro into a soundbite film — a remarkable task, given how much Baldwin structured his sentences with the intention of his audience getting to reread them, picking over their bones for protein. It helps that the film frequently leans on Baldwin’s gift for oratory, as he delivers his own message on college campuses and late-night television, with his wry smile and searching eyes. This approach is dense and yet accessible, and seems to be a direct challenge to Baldwin’s own musings that television “weakens our ability to deal with the world as it is, as we are.” (That Jackson, the reigning king of escapist entertainment, is the one reciting these words adds a delicious layer of irony.)

“What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it… then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it’s able to ask that question. -James Baldwin, “The Negro and The American Promise”, 1963

It is easy, in a time when protest feels urgent and the past seems to have vanished, to get swept up in Baldwin’s essays, and in so doing to forget that he was also a peerless storyteller. One flaw to the film is that, by painting such a convincing portrait of Baldwin-as-polemicist, it neglects that only a great novelist could make those arguments as forthright and necessary as he did. In books like Another Country and Giovanni’s Room, he could take manners of race and sexuality no one was talking about in public and render them with such finely wrought passion as to rip their invisibility cloaks to shreds. Negro wants to anoint Baldwin as the voice of reason in our troubled, divided times, but we need to remember he valued the power of stories and chastised those who did not. Of Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, he once wrote, “She was not so much a novelist as an impassioned pamphleteer.”

Though it was just nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar, Negro seems at risk of being overshadowed in the public eye by the two more popular nominees that broadly deal with that discordant, shapeshifting topic we call “race relations”: the sweeping yet granular true-crime saga O.J.: Made in America, and the fiery mass-incarceration lecture 13th. All are worthy of attention. But to dismiss all three movies as different pages of the same pamphlet — or to declare that Negro is only relevant now because it’s Black History Month — is to continue to misunderstand Baldwin’s message. He wasn’t lecturing to “white America” or passing instructions to “black America”; he truly wanted everyone to confront the same narrative together, to stop hiding behind fictions and make some sense of the country. Did he succeed? Well, when confronted with such pressing, vibrantly cinematic power built entirely from decades-old words, we must ask ourselves exactly why, in 2017, these words may as well have been written for the first time.

Reprint: James Baldwin, In His Own Searing, Revelatory Words: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ -By Andrew Lapin | NPR (Movie Review)

James Baldwin from “The Negro and the American Promise” | PBS

‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Review: Brilliant Notes on a Native Son -By Joe Morgenstern | Wall Street Journal

Review: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Will Make You Rethink Race -By A.O. Scott | New York Times

Box Office: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Shaping Up to Be Documentary Hit -By Brent Long | Variety

The Misunderstood Ghost of James Baldwin -By Ismail Muhammad | Slate

The Tragically Chronic Relevance of James Baldwin -By Wesley Morrison & Jenna Wortham | New York Times

Do Yourself a Favor: Go See Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro -By Julia Felsenthal | Vogue

James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78 | Interview by Jordan Elgrably | Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984



Hollywood FAME Award-winning Director and Producer A.J. Ali, and Oscar and Sundance winner Errol Webber have teamed up to create Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer, a documentary film that examines racial profiling in law enforcement. The film recounts painful stories of the past while offering solutions to curb future profiling incidents. It seeks to build a movement that will make a distinct difference in the areas of social justice and racial reconciliation.

“I think police departments need an intervention,” retired LAPD Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey said. “If you don’t admit that there’s a problem, then there’s nothing to fix and so there’s no harm in saying that we don’t always get it right as police officers.”

“It is a reminder of some of the things in law enforcement that we’re not proud of,” Santa Monica College Chief of Police Johnnie Adams said.

“The next step is we need churches and schools and non-profits and even law enforcement agencies to license this film and bring us to their town so we can go there and do the screening, do a ‘Q and A,’ hold workshops and just spend time with people and teach people how to love each other again,” Ali explained.

The word “love” in the title is also an acronym as explained by those involved with the film. “Lstands for learning about your community and its people, “O” means to open your heart, “V” stands for volunteering yourself and “E” stands for empowering.

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HUMAN, A Film Project About Humanity


“I am one man among seven billion others. For the past 40 years, I have been photographing our planet and its human diversity, and I have the feeling that humanity is not making any progress. We can’t always manage to live together. Why is that? I didn’t look for an answer in statistics or analysis, but in man himself.”

Yann Arthus-Bertrand


HUMAN is a collection of stories about and images of our world, offering an immersion to the core of what it means to be human. Through these stories full of love and happiness, as well as hatred and violence, HUMAN brings us face to face with the Other, making us reflect on our lives. From stories of everyday experiences to accounts of the most unbelievable lives, these poignant encounters share a rare sincerity and underline who we are – our darker side, but also what is most noble in us, and what is universal. Our Earth is shown at its most sublime through never-before-seen aerial images accompanied by soaring music, resulting in an ode to the beauty of the world, providing a moment to draw breath and for introspection.

HUMAN is a politically engaged work which allows us to embrace the human condition and to reflect on the meaning of our existence.


To create HUMAN, Arthus-Bertrand and his team of 16 journalists interviewed 2,020 people in 60 countries. Each interview consisted of the same 40 questions, covering heavy subjects from religion and family (“When is the last time you said ‘I love you’ to your parents?”) to ambition and failure (“What is the toughest trial you have had to face, and what did you learn from it?”). The questions stemmed from those asked in 7 Billion Others, Arthus-Bertrand’s 2003 project and traveling exhibition that features over 6,000 interviews.

In the film, single-frame interviews are interspersed with the sweeping shots of deserts and mountains that Arthus-Bertrand is known for, against a soundtrack of world music composed by Armand Amar.  Arthus-Bertrand, who points to Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi and Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life as influences, sees the film as a portrayal of the world through three voices: people, landscape, and traditional music. “Getting at the heart of what it means to be a human can be a little heavy,” he says. “The aerial images give you a respite, a moment to reflect on what has been said before.”

One thing HUMAN does not offer is background. The film cuts between interviews and landscapes without an introduction of name or country or language.  Arthus-Bertrand hopes that removing personal identifiers will draw focus to our similarities. “We wanted to concentrate on what we all share,” he explains.  “If you put the name of a person, or what country they’re from, you don’t feel that as strongly.”

Arthus-Bertrand hopes that message will lead those watching HUMAN—whether in the U.N. General Assembly Hall or on a smartphone browser in a rural village in Mali—to seek out meaningful conversations about our responsibilities to each other.  It’s a lofty goal, and one that he believes we should all build our lives around.  “To succeed in your professional life isn’t that hard, but to succeed in your personal life is a lot harder,” says Arthus-Bertrand. “To really be a human is a lot harder.  We forget about that.”

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Since 2012, the crew behind human has been gathering an exceptional range of content. This unique collection of interviews and images is intended to be shared with the widest possible audience.

Drawing on this unrivalled collection of images, Arthus-Bertrand offers us a galaxy of works adapted for all platforms and every type of interaction: cinema, television, the digital space, and major public events.

HUMAN: The Cinematographic Movie (190 mins)

The movie will be in theaters from 12 September in France, and from 22 September will be available for free to local authorities, NGOs, and charities that wish to organize screenings.

A selection of exclusive, hypnotic and contemplative longer testimonies, combined with breathtaking aerial views: that is The Stories of HUMAN, going ever further. Broadcast on french TV France 2.

Excerpts from HUMAN (Website) and The Documentary That Found Humanity by Interviewing 2,000 People -by Charley Locke | WIRED MAGAZINE

HUMAN Extended Version, Volume 2

HUMAN Extended Version, Volume 3

HUMAN Presentation Kit 

Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a photographer and renowned specialist in aerial imagery. He has written several books, including The Earth from the Air, which has been translated into 24 languages and has sold more than three million copies. His 2009 film Home has been viewed by more than 600 million people around the world.  It is the most successful environmental film of the decade. 7 Billion Others, a portrait of humanity today, has so far been seen by 350 million people. 

Yann Arthus-Bertrand is also known for his commitment to the ecological battle. For five years, he hosted the famous show Vu du Ciel which explored environmental issues for the public broadcaster, france télévisions. In 2011, he made the film Planet Ocean with Michaël Pitiot, which took audiences on a unique journey into the very heart of our blue planet.

Since 2005 and the creation of the GoodPlanet Foundation, Arthus-Bertrand has been committed to educating about the environment and the fight against climate change and its consequences. This commitment led to him being named a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program on 22 April 2009. It was the first step on the path that led Arthus-Bertrand to make “HUMAN”.

Mass Grave of Migrants Found in West Texas

Grave markers next to a Brooks County burial plot marked for exhumation in May 2013 by the Baylor University forensics team (Photo: Jen Reel).

In the summer of 2013, a team of forensic anthropologists from Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis descended upon Sacred Heart Cemetery, a small, county-run graveyard in rural Brooks County. Small metal markers with the words “Unknown” or “Skeletal Remains” were scattered through the dusty grass and along the cemetery access roads. More than 300 migrants had died in the county during the past five years, and unidentified human remains ended up here. For Dr. Lori Baker, a forensic anthropologist at Baylor University, identifying migrant remains and returning them to grieving families had become a mission. “Nobody cares about dead immigrants,” she said recently. “They’re invisible when they’re alive, and they’re even more invisible when they’re dead.” For years, she and her students had been conducting exhumations and gathering DNA samples across the border regions of South Texas.

But she’d never gone as far inland as Falfurrias, home to a Border Patrol checkpoint some 70 miles north of the Texas-Mexico border. As she had elsewhere, she approached the chief deputy sheriff, Benny Martinez, to offer her services. “Of course the chief was like, ‘Yes, we could use all the help we can get, any help you can give us,’” Baker said.

She knew the graves might be difficult to locate. “I can tell you that we have yet to find a cemetery that has a map,” she said. “So you can’t look at a map and know where human remains are buried. Especially when they’re not marked.” Still, even she was surprised by what she found at the cemetery. Digging around a handful of markers, Baker and her team of volunteers expected to find maybe 10 bodies. Instead, they exhumed more than 50 unidentified human remains during the course of 10 days, all presumed to be border crossers from Central America and Mexico. Some were buried in coffins; others in only body bags. She planned to go back the following summer to continue.

When Baker returned in early June of 2014, she came with a larger team in order to cover more ground. They recovered nearly 70 more human remains. This time, what they found made the evening news. “Mass Graves of Unidentified Migrants Found in South Texas,” read a headline in the Los Angeles Times. Reports emerged of bodies buried in kitchen trash bags, with as many as five piled on top of one another in a single grave. One corpse was wrapped in a burlap bag; other remains were found inside a milk crate. Skulls were wedged between coffins, Baker said. The shocking news attracted the attention of elected officials. By month’s end, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen, 75 miles to the south, said he would ask the Texas Rangers to investigate. “This is too serious of a wrongdoing,” Hinojosa said. “I’m appalled at the number of bodies just left in body bags and, in many instances, more than one body in one bag.”

On June 25, 2014, the Texas Rangers launched a preliminary inquiry to determine whether any criminal wrongdoing had occurred in the processing and burial of the unidentified remains. They assigned the job to Lt. Corey Lain, an experienced investigator who had recently been honored by the U.S. attorney in Dallas for his exemplary work on a federal attempted murder case. He was assigned to look into any improprieties on the parts of Elizondo Mortuary, which was tasked with collecting DNA samples, identifying bodies, and storing the remains before burial; Funeraria Del Angel Howard-Williams (Howard-Williams Funeral Services), which buried the remains and was suspected of improper burials, failure to properly mark remains and gravesites, and overbilling; and Brooks County, which was missing autopsy records. If Lain found evidence of possible lawbreaking, a criminal investigation would ensue.

The Real Death Valley: Full Length Weather Channel Documentary from Weather Films on Vimeo.

Three years ago, Elmer Barahona Iraheta, a 22-year-old father living in San Vicente, El Salvador, made a fateful decision. He had been struggling to find enough work in the impoverished agricultural city to support his wife and 2-year-old daughter, and gang violence there was spiraling out of control. But he had a contact in Houston who would help him find work. He pooled scarce resources to hire the services of a coyote, a human smuggler, to help him navigate the dangerous journey to the United States. It was the only way he could imagine providing a future for his new family.

Elmer said his goodbyes on June 10, 2012, and on June 27 called his mother to say that he’d crossed the border and arrived safely in McAllen. He said he was waiting in a stash house for a guide who would take his group north, and that he would call again once he reached Houston. According to his aunt, Marta Iraheta, who has since pieced together the chain of events, Elmer set out with the guide and a small group of other migrants a few days later, on July 2. They were most likely driven from McAllen to just south of the Falfurrias checkpoint, from where they would have to travel some 40 miles on foot to avoid detection by border agents. North of the checkpoint, they’d be picked up by another smuggler and taken to Houston. Home free.

But it was the height of summer, with temperatures over 100 degrees. The terrain is rough and sandy. Water supplies are quickly drained. Bodies overheat rapidly. The year Elmer took this trek, 130 migrant bodies were found in the remote ranchland he was about to cross.

On the Fourth of July, Marta, then living in Houston, received a call from her sister, Elmer’s mother, in El Salvador. She sounded distraught, and pleaded with Marta to try to find Elmer. Marta quickly went to the Salvadoran Consulate in Houston, a photo of her nephew in hand. She drove to McAllen, six hours away, where Elmer was when he’d last called home, and visited the Mexican Consulate there. She contacted law enforcement and local hospitals. No one had any information.

Marta returned home, where she frantically called and emailed anyone who might be able to connect her with someone who might know what had happened to Elmer. Finally, she found a man Elmer had befriended along the journey, someone who had made it safely to the East Coast. He told Marta that Elmer had injured his leg as they were making their way through a ranch at night. After that, Elmer could barely walk, and struggled to keep up with the group. They had almost reached their pickup point when the guide decided that Elmer had become a burden and left him behind, alone.

Months later, by September, Marta knew in her gut that Elmer was dead. Her new mission was to find his body and return it to his family in El Salvador, so his young daughter would have a place to visit her father. So she headed south to Brooks County.

On June 27, 2014, just two days after he was asked to conduct an inquiry into the mass graves, Lain submitted his report. It was four-and-a-half pages long, and relied heavily on an inspection of Howard-Williams, the funeral home, by the Texas Funeral Service Commission, which oversees mortuaries. He found no evidence of overbilling, no evidence of the use of improper burial containers, no evidence of irregularities with the autopsies, and “no evidence to show that human remains were buried in violation of the law.” Lain found that DNA samples were being properly collected, as required by law, and though they were not forwarded as required to a repository at the University of North Texas, that was only because county officials were “unaware of a requirement to do so.”

Far from insinuating any wrongdoing, Lain noted that Brooks County’s top executive, County Judge Raul Ramirez, said that Howard-Williams employees had built wooden caskets and left flowers at gravesites at their own expense. “It is my opinion,” Lain wrote, “that sufficient information and evidence does not exist to support the initiation of a formal criminal investigation.”

Texas Ranger Maj. Brian J. Burzynski, an award-winning investigator in his own right, signed off on Lain’s findings. And that was that. “Rangers: No Laws Broken in Border Burials,” the Houston Chronicle reported.

Texas law only lightly governs burials and the handling of human remains; in some cases, laws weren’t violated because the laws simply don’t exist. Lain notes, for example, “There are no statutes prohibiting more than one set of human remains to be buried with another at a government owned cemetery.”

None of the forensic or funeral service experts I spoke with could dispute that claim.

But a careful review of the practices Lain was charged with examining reveals that many laws and standard practices were violated in the handling of the unidentified remains. And these violations have made it nearly impossible for grieving families to locate and claim their loved ones. Repeated public-document requests of Brooks County produced only a fraction of what should be retained by law.

According to the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office, from 2009 through 2013, the years when the mass graves were most active, 361 migrant remains were recovered in Brooks County. Each of those remains would have passed through multiple hands. When remains are discovered, a deputy sheriff is called to investigate the scene, along with a county justice of the peace who makes a determination of death. Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams, the funeral home in nearby Hebbronville owned by Service Corporation International, the nation’s largest death services provider, then arrives to recover the remains, which are transferred to Elizondo Mortuary in Mission for processing. However, Texas law does not require processing and identification of human remains be performed by a licensed medial examiner.

Courtesy of Baylor Forensic Team

Courtesy of Baylor Forensic Team

Elizondo is supposed to try to identify each set of remains, a process that by law includes gathering fingerprints, photographing any clothing or possessions, and “proper removal of a sample from a body” for lab tests. When Ramirez or a justice of the peace requests an autopsy, it is conducted by a third party—starting in 2007, that third party was a local pathologist, Dr. Fulgencio Salinas. After some weeks, Elizondo returns any unidentified remains to Howard-Williams for burial in Sacred Heart. At every stage, a paper trail accumulates. According to Texas law, death records must be retained for at least 10 years.

The sheriff’s office turned over all 361 crime scene reports. But the Brooks County clerk’s office could locate files related to the retrieval and burial of no more than 121 of these remains, leaving records on two-thirds of the dead unaccounted for. According to notes from a series of meetings that took place from December 2012 to June 2013 between the forensic anthropologists and county officials, and confirmed by Chief Deputy Martinez, the county sheriff’s office never received from Salinas a single autopsy report during this period, despite repeated requests. By law, such reports must be made available to law enforcement.

Also, despite requests, the sheriff’s office was never notified about which human remains had been positively identified and returned to loved ones. According to the meeting notes from Dec. 3-4, 2012, “no such list exists.”

Lain was tasked with looking into missing autopsy reports, but, based on a conversation with the county auditor, determined that they’d been sent to the county along with the invoices. Yet in response to a request under the Texas Public Information Act, of the 72 autopsies ordered on unidentified remains from 2007 to 2013, the county clerk could not produce 14 of them—nearly one in five.

Excerpt, read Graves of Shame -By John Carlos Frey | Texas Observer

Recommended: Mass Graves of Immigrants Found in Texas, But State Says No Laws Were Broken | Democracy Now!

Sister: A Documentary by Brenda Davis


Filmmaker Brenda Davis’ new documentary, Sister gives a breathtaking and often heartbreaking look into the complications of pregnancy and child birth — powerfully revealing the brutal reality that exists behind the statistics and safely diluted medical terminology. Sister also calls attention to the incredible work being done by health workers in the area who work tirelessly to save lives, deliver babies, and provide health education in their communities.

The film is made uniquely powerful in that it is the story of the health workers, their experiences, and their patients, rather than the story of a narrator. There is no “white knight” lamenting the conditions of poverty or universal conditions for women, rather it is a beautiful, painful and honest film, allowing the viewer to draw her or his own conclusions.

Sisters, A Documentary by Brenda Davis (Official website)

Meet Brenda Davis, Director of a Gut-Wrenching Film on Maternal Mortality -By Caitlyn Mattil Documentary | Policymic (Interview)

Dirty Wars | Jeremy Scahill (Documentary)

Dirty Wars follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller Blackwater, into the heart of America’s covert wars, from Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond. Part political thriller and part detective story, Dirty Wars is a gripping journey into one of the most important and underreported stories of our time.

What begins as a report into a U.S. night raid gone terribly wrong in a remote corner of Afghanistan quickly turns into a global investigation of the secretive and powerful Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

As Scahill digs deeper into the activities of JSOC, he is pulled into a world of covert operations unknown to the public and carried out across the globe by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. In military jargon, JSOC teams “find, fix, and finish” their targets, who are selected through a secret process. No target is off limits for the “kill list,” including U.S. citizens.

Drawn into the stories and lives of the people he meets along the way, Scahill is forced to confront the painful consequences of a war spinning out of control, as well as his own role as a journalist.

Dirty WarsWe encounter two parallel casts of characters: The CIA agents, Special Forces operators, military generals, and U.S.-backed warlords who populate the dark side of American wars go on camera and on the record, some for the first time. We also see and hear directly from survivors of night raids and drone strikes, including the family of the first American citizen marked for death and being hunted by his own government.

Dirty Wars takes viewers to remote corners of the globe to see first-hand wars fought in their name and offers a behind-the-scenes look at a high-stakes investigation.

We are left with haunting questions about freedom and democracy, war and justice.

Dirty Wars | Jeremy Scahill (Documentary)

The Invisible War | Kirby Dick (Documentary)

From Oscar®-and Emmy®-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated; Twist of Faith) comes The Invisible War, a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of America’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. The film paints a startling  picture of the extent of the problem—today, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 22,800 violent sex crimes in the military in 2011. 20% of all active-duty female soldiers are sexually assaulted. Female soldiers aged 18 to 21 accounted for more than half of the victims.

Focusing on the powerfully emotional stories of rape victims, The Invisible War is a moving indictment of the systemic cover-up of military sex crimes, chronicling the women’s struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice. It also features hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress that reveal the perfect storm of conditions that exist for rape in the military, its long-hidden history, and what can be done to bring about much-needed change.

At the core of the film are often heart-rending interviews with the rape survivors themselves— people like Kori Cioca, who was beaten and raped by her supervisor in the U.S. Coast Guard; Ariana Klay, a Marine who served in Iraq before being raped by a senior officer and his friend, then threatened with death; and Trina McDonald who was drugged and raped repeatedly by military policemen on her remote Naval station in Adak, Alaska. And it isn’t just women; according to one study’s estimate, one percent of men in the military— nearly 20,000 men —were reportedly sexually assaulted in 2009.

And while rape victims in the civilian world can turn to an impartial police force and judicial system for help and justice, rape victims in the military must turn to their commanders—a move that is all too often met with foot-dragging at best, and reprisals at worst. Many rape victims find themselves forced to choose between speaking up and keeping their careers. Little wonder that only eight percent of military sexual assault cases are prosecuted.

The Invisible War exposes the epidemic of sexual assault in the military – one of the most under-reported stories of our generation, a story the filmmakers are proud to be breaking to the nation and the world. They hope the film will help lead a national dialogue about the crime of rape perpetrated on the very people who have pledged to protect our country and are gratified to see the film is already making an impact. Since it premiered at Sundance, the film has been circulating through the highest levels of the Pentagon and the administration. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched The Invisible War on April 14. Two days later, he directed military commanders to hand over all sexual assault investigations to a higher-ranking colonel. At the same time, Panetta announced that each branch of the armed forces would establish a Special Victims Unit. While these are promising first steps, much more needs to be done.

To that end, The Invisible War is a call for our civilian and military leadership to listen. And to act!

The Invisible War | A Kirby Dick Documentary

Broken On All Sides | Documentary

The project began as a way to explore, edu­cate about, and advocate change around the over­crowd­ing of the Philadelphia county jail sys­tem. The documentary has come to focus on mass incarceration across the nation and the intersection of race and poverty within criminal justice.

The feature-length documentary is avail­able for activists and edu­ca­tors to use in order to raise consciousness and organize for change. Since its completion in February 2012 the director, Matthew Pil­lis­cher, has been doing a grassroots tour of the movie: set­ting up meetings in cities across the country, where a screen­ing of the movie can kick off dis­cus­sions by people who were formerly incarcerated and their families and allies on how we can dismantle the sys­tem of mass incarceration. If your school, workplace, organization, or religious institution can host a screening, please contact the director.

The documentary centers around the theory put for­ward by many, and most recently by Michelle Alexander (who appears in the movie), that mass incarceration has become “The New Jim Crow.” That is, since the rise of the drug war and the explosion of the prison population, and because discretion within the sys­tem allows for arrest and prosecution of people of color at alarmingly higher rates than whites, pris­ons and criminal penal­ties have become a new ver­sion of Jim Crow. Much of the discrimination that was legal in the Jim Crow era is today illegal when applied to black people but perfectly legal when applied to “criminals.” The prob­lem is that through subjective choices, people of color have been tar­geted at significantly higher rates for stops, searches, arrests, prosecution, and harsher sentences. So, where does this leave criminal justice?

Through inter­views with people on many sides of the criminal justice system, this documentary aims to answer questions and provoke questions on an issue walled-off from the public’s scrutiny.


  • Khalid Abdul Rasheed and Theresa Shoatz, activists with the Human Rights Coalition (Philadelphia)
  • Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” Associate Professor of Law at Mortiz College of Law, and Senior Fellow at Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
  • Jonathan Feinberg, partner with Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg
  • John Goldkamp, Chair of the Temple University Criminal Justice Department
  • Nathaniel Gravely Hayes, construction worker, formerly incarcerated in the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS)
  • Angus Love, board member of PA Prison Society
  • Marlene Martin, National Director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty
  • Tom Namako, journalist who toured PPS and wrote City Paper articles on overcrowding
  • John Street, former mayor of Philadelphia
  • Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper, Supervising Judge at the PA Court of Common Pleas Criminal Division
  • Su Ming Yeh, attorney with PA Institutional Law Project
  • Carlton Young, former correctional officer in PPS


by Leonard C. Jefferson (a prisoner at SCI Albion, Pennsylvania)


  • John Coursey
  • Brendan Dougherty
  • Shaun Ellis
  • Jesse Olsen & David Wilson (a poet incarcerated in California)
  • Alexander Vittum
  • Sunday Labor
  • Tide Tables
  • Tha Truth
  • Matthew Pillischer

Reprint: Broken On All Sides (Website)

Teen Activist Malala Yusafzai, 14, Shot by Taliban for Demanding Education for Girls | Al Jazeera

Malala Yusafzai

Malala Yusafzai, a 14-year-old education rights activist, has been shot and injured while on her way home from school in Mingora, the main town in the Swat Valley region of northwest Pakistan.

She is being treated at Peshawar’s Combined Military Hospital, where a bullet has been removed from her skull. She remains in critical condition, family members told Al Jazeera.

Ahmed Shah Yusafzai, Malala’s uncle, said there was “strict security inside and outside the hospital”, after the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan’s national airline has placed an air ambulance on standby to take Yusafzai abroad for treatment if needed, government sources have revealed, but officials are wary of lengthy travel times given her unstable condition.

Yusafzai was with one other girl, taking a school van home following an examination at the Khushal public school, witnesses told Al Jazeera of the shooting.

Unidentified men stopped the vehicle, asking if it was the transport from Khushal school. When told that it was, one man asked: “Where is Malala?”

As she was identified, the assailant reportedly drew a pistol and shot Yusafzai in the head and the neck. Another girl on the bus was also wounded.

“The man started firing a handgun […] then I don’t know what happened to me and found myself in hospital,” said Shazia Ramazan, a schoolmate of Yusafzai who was shot in the hand.

Doctors at the Saidu Sharif Medical Complex in Mingora said the bullet penetrated Yusafzai’s skull but missed her brain, leaving her out of immediate danger.

Pakistani Taliban Proudly Claims Responsibility for Shooting

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, Taliban spokesman, told reporters that the group had repeatedly warning Yusafzai to stop speaking out against them.

“She is a Western-minded girl. She always speaks against us. We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban,” he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“We warned her several times to stop speaking against the Taliban and to stop supporting Western non-governmental organizations, and to come to the path of Islam.”

President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the attack, but said it would not shake Pakistan’s resolve to fight insurgents or the government’s determination to support women’s education. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called Yusafzai “a daughter of Pakistan”.

Private schools in the Swat valley have shut their doors today, in protest at the attack, though government schools are open as per their normal routine. Further demonstrations against the Taliban are also expected in the Swat district later today.

The US State Department also spoke out against the shooting.

“Directing violence at children is barbaric. It’s cowardly. And our hearts go out to her and the others who were wounded, as well as their families,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington.

The local chapter of the TTP, led by Maulana Fazlullah, controlled much of Swat from 2007 to 2009, but were ousted by an army offensive in July 2009.

Local reports indicate, however, that the group was only driven into the surrounding areas, rather than being wiped out, and it has since staged a resurgence.

Tuesday’s shooting in broad daylight in Mingora, the main town of the valley, raises serious questions about security more than three years after the army claimed to have crushed the local Taliban.

Yusafzai rose to international prominence in 2009, after writing a diary – under a pen-name – for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban.

She had famously stood against the armed group’s attempts to stop girls from going to school, and was awarded the National Peace Award for Youth. The international children’s advocacy group KidsRights Foundation nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize, making her the first Pakistani girl put forward for the award.

Her struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls who were being denied an education by the Taliban and other extremist groups across northwest Pakistan, where the government has been fighting such groups since 2007.

She was 11 years old when she wrote the blog on the BBC Urdu website, which at the time was anonymous. She also featured in two New York Times documentaries.

Diary Extract

In a 2011 BBC news report she read out an extract of her diary that gave a sense of the fear she endured under the Taliban.

“I was very much scared because the Taliban announced yesterday that girls should stop going to schools,” she said.

“Today our head teacher told the school assembly that school uniform is no longer compulsory and from tomorrow onwards, girls should come in their normal dresses. Out of 27, only 11 girls attended the school today.”

London-based rights group Amnesty International condemned Tuesday’s “shocking act of violence” against a girl bravely fighting for an education.

“This attack highlights the extremely dangerous climate human rights activists face in northwestern Pakistan, where particularly female activists live under constant threats from the Taliban and other militant groups,” it said.

An activist from non-governmental organization Insani Haqooq Ittihad hold a picture of Malala Yousufzai during a demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 10, 2012.

Photo: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s information minister, said Yusafzai had been targeted as “an icon of peace”, calling for a sweeping military offensive against all anti-state fighters in northwest Pakistan.

Asked if Malala would continue her work if she recovered, Ahmed Shah Yusafzai, her uncle, told Al Jazeera: “Yes, of course. She always raises her voice in favour of girl’s education, and she was going to establish a foundation named after her name – Malala Education Foundation – and she wanted to work for those children who are not able to go to the school.

Reprint: Teenage Rights Activist Shot in Pakistan | Al Jazeera

Related: Malala is the ‘Daughter of Pakistan’ -By Hameedullah Khan | Al Jazeera

My Conversations with Malala Yousafazi, The Girl Who Stood Up to the Taliban -By Owais Tohid | CS Monitor (+Video)

Support the Malala Fund | Vital Voices

Malala Yousufzai Family Fund | Friends of Malala (Indiegogo)

CRIME AFTER CRIME| Documentary (Video)

Filmed over the course of six years, “Crime After Crime” follows the dramatic legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, a survivor of domestic violence who spent more than 26 years in prison.

In 1983, Debbie Peagler was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder, despite many factors indicating that she should not have been charged with the crime in the first place. But Debbie’s case is not one of mistaken identity or a matter of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, Debbie was a victim of domestic violence who had tried to escape her abuser many times, even turning to police (who were of little help). When two men who Debbie had asked to protect her killed her abuser, she was charged with first-degree murder and threatened with the death penalty.

To avoid that sentence, Debbie entered a guilty plea so that she would “only” be sentenced to life in prison, and not the death penalty. With only a slim chance at being released on parole, Debbie never thought she would see her two daughters outside of prison again – until a new law offered a ray of hope. Two decades after her incarceration began, California became the first state to allow domestic violence cases like Debbie’s to be reopened.

Two land use attorneys (Joshua Safran and Nadia Costa) decided to take on her case pro bono. They soon uncovered a trail of prosecutorial misconduct that began with Debbie’s arrest and continue to the present day. Their discoveries sent Debbie’s case into the headlines and launched a movement that not only advocated for her own freedom, but also raised a banner for battered women and the wrongfully imprisoned around the globe.

Over 80% of the 120,000 women in U.S. prisons are victims of rape, incest or other forms of abuse. Yet, California remains the only state that allows incarcerated victims of abuse to petition for their freedom. But now similar laws are now brewing in five states including New York, where it looks poised to pass.

Directed by Yoav Potash

Synopsis by Sidney Hillman Foundation