*During the late 80s and to mid 90s a group of writers were active on the literary scene that I looked up to trying to decide what course to take in life. As teens many of us adhered to the rules of the cult of personality. That is to say that if it seemed cool then we were all in.
After reading some of his pieces in Billboard and in Village Voice I was convinced. George spoke like me and he appeared to be from the same background. He made putting pen to paper seem pretty cool. After I read “The Death of Rhythm & Blues” I was convinced.
Recently I was afforded the opportunity to speak with George at “The Filmmaker’s View,” hosted by Raqiyah Mays of Broadway Night Out. Having helped finance “She’s Gotta Have It” as well as having directed the short film “To Be a Black Man”, and the documentary “A Great Day in Hip Hop,” George was able to impart wisdom upon the eager audience of would be actors, directors and producers. Afterwards I was eager to hear about what George had been up to. I was a little surprised by his initial answer.
“For the last couple of years I’ve been working for American Airlines for a website called BlackAtlas.com,” said George. “It’s a black travel website and they use me as more of a spokesperson. I’ve been to China twice; Alaska, which was crazy, Brazil, Central America, Costa Rica, all over Europe and all over the US. Ironically, I’ve been everywhere but Africa. That’s really funny! But, in so doing, that really turned me on to finding people of color everywhere. I was fascinated. I met a brother in Shanghai who had been there 9 years. He speaks French, English and Mandarin. Went to Spain and met this amazing woman who ran a black women’s group in Barcelona. It just opened me up to the whole idea of meeting global black people. You say ‘Well, what does that mean?’ Well, the person in Africa, the person in Dubai, the black person that is working in these different places through language and communicate throughout the course of their day. So, I was trying to write a piece that dealt with that on some level.
Most successful writers pull their inspiration from everyday life, and that’s exactly what George did. His new found insight into the migratory patterns of people of African descent helped him come up with what he, and I for that matter, think is a great idea for a script. It’s called “Migrations.”
“Essentially, the premise is a group of African art thieves who have been stealing African art, or should I say liberating African art, from European museums and returning it to Africa, and the complications that come with that,” he explained. “They’re also on the run from Interpol. But a lot of it is the interactions. Like, one of the first scenes we shot was in Germany where there are two black Germans talking. That part will be in subtitles but they’re talking casually because they’re black Germans and that’s how they do it.”
Nelson George has a unique perspective on the global African Diaspora. So much so that I was curious to know what he felt was the single most common theme amongst all black people worldwide.
“A history of oppression, but it’s interesting, if you go to Europe this is how it works; the black French experience is not the same as the black UK experience, it’s not the same as the black Dutch experience,” said George. “They have immigrant stories and a lot of these people have grown up in these cultures. So, they have a different relationship to them than they would if they had come from the islands. So, I think that oppression is definitely a connection, but they’re also Dutch, they’re also French. I think Americans in general are kind of narrow in how we see the world. When you go to Europe, because everybody is close together (geographically) their access to other cultures is different. It’s even like that in Africa. We call them Africans, but they don’t call themselves Africans. The opportunity for story telling is that we can also have these global stories where our experience is a part of the over all black experience.”
It often seems as if African American culture is disposable, historically speaking. The same can be said of our other contributions to American society as well. The thing is African Americans themselves are often the ones doing the disposing. I asked George whether he felt our European cousins appreciated our culture and our accomplishments more than African Americans themselves.
“Our culture is still a big, global, American culture,” he explained. “So, they all know our stars but we don’t know their stars. But, they also have a great appreciation of where they’re from and the thing they’re building. When you go to England they’re really trying to build their black English experience and what that means to them. When I go to France I have a lot of Cameronian friends in Paris and their view is they admire (African Americans) but they also want to be able to replicate some of the things we’ve been able to do here. We think we haven’t gone far enough, they see how far we’ve gone. They’re trying to get through some of the barriers we’ve been able get through. They’re still fighting the civil rights movement.”
They’re stilling fighting the civil rights movement? That comment really threw me for a loop. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the idea that Europeans of African descent are in, some socio-economic instances, 50 years behind African Americans.
“Hell yeah! The limitations they deal with? Some of the things that white public officials can say about blacks over their can never happen here now. Because there’s not enough of them to make (whites) scared.”
One of Nelson George’s more recognized literary pieces is “The Death of Rhythm & Blues,” one of my favorite articles by George. With the demise of Hip-Hop culture being the subject of choice a year or so ago I was interested in knowing his perspective on the matter.
“It’s different because the Hip-Hop people made a lot more money than the R&B people,” Nelson told EURweb.com “Berry Gordy made a lot of money, but David Ruffin didn’t make the money Jay-Z makes. The amount of money these guys make today is because Hip-Hop was always more entrepreneurial. On Super Bowl Sunday, the most expensive advertising day of the year, and Diddy’s doing ads for Mercedes Benz. The bank that these guys make, compared to what those guys made, is insane. The access to white money and the white audiences is so much bigger. Hip-Hop culture is clearly not what it used to be, but as a commercial product it’s massive.”
Not wanting to hold the brother up from his other goings on I kindly asked what George had coming up.
“There’s a documentary on Brooklyn called ‘Brooklyn Bohemia’ about the black art scene in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill in the 80s and early 90s,” said Nelson. “Spike Lee, Chris Rock, Rosie Perez, Vernon Reid, Bradford Marsalis, all of them are in that. I also have a book coming out in the fall called ‘The Plot Against Hip-Hop’, a paranoid conspiracy thriller. It takes a look at the ongoing plot to destroy Hip-Hop. That’ll be out in October. I’m going to do a short film with some of the footage that we’ve shot from “Migrations” and that will be available this summer. I’ll probably try to take it on the festival circuit.”
Having watched the teaser for “Migrations” I can honestly say it is rather artsy, but the imagery is beautiful. The film stars Saul Williams, Osas Ighoduro, Epee Dingong, and Ariane Plubel and is slated to drop in 2012. If you would like to know what else Nelson George is getting into, or to watch a teaser for “Migrations”, log on to www.nelsondgeorge.net.