A War For Your Soul [film review]

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A War For Your Soul is a short documentary produced and directed by filmmaker Reginald Bullock. Narrated by an evil celestial being that is preoccupied with the destruction of African-Americans, we are given a brief history of our trials and tribulations in the United States. I must admit that this “evil presence” reminded me of cartoon super villains from the 1980’s. It even had an inept and bumbling side-kick to do its bidding. For me, this was a distraction that undermined the seriousness of the topic. Hackneyed elements aside, this “Grand Master” does provide some interesting food for thought, not for what it says, but for what it represents.

According to the film’s website, The "Master of Darkness" symbolizes an “evil that has the potential to reside in the consciousness of mankind.” The filmmaker uses the “master of darkness” both as a point of reference for the film and to suggest a course of action. Obviously, we are to the opposite of what he says. It’s an effective technique, but rife with unintended consequences and ironies. Apparently, this evil can reside in any one but, oddly enough, only seems interested in destroying African-Americans. The evil entity suggests that African-Americans defied him by “praying to their God, to their Jesus”. However, most African-Americans pray to a God originally foisted upon them by agents of the so-called “Master of Darkness” which, in turn, made it easier for them to prey upon us. This hardly sounds defiant. Still, I understand Bullock was probably more interested in making his point than dealing with issues of consistency. I suppose the devil is always in the details. He puts some interesting disclaimers on his website awarforyoursoul.com. He explains that his video should not be used to divide people, criticize all of Hip-Hop or alleviate society’s financial and academic responsibilities. The need to constantly qualify your statements is the trademark of the constantly misunderstood. Let me elaborate and risk being hoisted on my own petard. Clarification is a good thing. It’s often needed. However, it’s also an effective tactic used by some to obfuscate the issue. Your adversaries will often create a position you did not take and ask you to defend it. For example, supporters of affirmative action are often asked to defend Quotas when very few actually support quotas. In the film, the evil entity gleefully states that we have not taken personal responsibility. Consequently, the right course of action would be to embrace the much ballyhooed panacea. In my opinion, one cannot be personally responsible without being socially responsible. In other words, our actions affect people we don’t even know and so we must take that fact into consideration. If you need proof, then simply look at the value of your home, the cost of healthcare, your paycheck (if you’re lucky enough to still be collecting one). We constantly affect and are affected by people we will never meet. This seems fairly obvious. And yet, whenever you embrace a view of responsibility that goes beyond simple sloganeering, those individuals— perhaps the minions of the Master of Darkness—are always quick to ask, “Why are you abdicating personal responsibility?” Ironically, it is those who levy such charges that are abdicating personal responsibility once you come to the realization that personal responsibility and social responsibility are inextricably linked. Of course, there will be some people who will disagree with this definition. They undoubtedly emerged from the womb as fully clothed, self-sufficient adults. For the rest of us, this definition is hardly controversial and hardly worth the time spent making it clearer to the intellectually lazy. Still, it may be worth it for no other reason than you can refer people to a particular statement instead of retreading the same ground over and over again. I understand why it was necessary for him to make these points on his websites. Sometimes people will purposely misconstrue your words to fit their particular agenda. But sometimes we are responsible for some of the confusion that arises. In this case, Bullock should bear some of the responsibility for the responses he’s received. The evil force remarks that one of his tactics was to get African-Americans to call each other “nigger” or “nigga”. He subsequently flashes pictures of several entertainers like Richard Pryor and rappers like Nas and 2pac. He doesn’t directly say that Hip-Hop is responsible for the chaos seen in some of our communities. Instead, he allows the visuals to make the case for him. People have been sufficiently primed by the media to connect those particular set of dots so it’s not surprising that people would conclude that Hip-Hop is evil. In any case, the proper course of action must be to reject the word. As a brief aside, let’s suppose that “nigger” is truly one of the black holes in the English language. Let’s suppose the word is completely irredeemable. Is there truly an opposite of such a word? Is there a word that would inspire people to become stars? Is there a word that would inspire an organization like the NCAAP, who spent real money burying a “nigga”, to spend money on a birthday cake, some flowers and balloons for the opposite of “nigger”? It may seem silly because it is, but the real issue is we have bought in to someone else’s definition. And even if we all sign a contract promising to never say the word again, we are still held hostage by it mentally as surely as we were held captive by the chains around our feet, hands and neck. This short documentary is primarily concerned with how we liberate ourselves. He does it in a roundabout way, but it is a noble pursuit. In my opinion, the first thing has to be an open and honest acknowledgment of our past. White people have put us in this predicament. I say this without anger or bitterness or desire for retribution. Again, I dislike even having to qualify such a simple statement, but I know that it is completely necessary. We are presented with a film that suggests personal responsibility is key. And even though I agree that personal responsibility is a primary concern, it is the version of personal responsibility that we need to examine closely. We have been given the version of personal responsibility that keeps those who placed us in this predicament in the dark. We have been given the version of personal responsibility that keeps this malignant evil as nameless and faceless as its sheet-covered agents. It seems as if only we must look into the mirror. And I’m ok with that. However, we must be truthful about what and whom we are facing. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, African-Americans think that the state of black progress is improving. In fact, nearly twice as many black people believe that from 2007 (before Obama’s election and the economic collapse). This belies all reality. How can honestly address the crisis in black America if we don’t even understand the dire nature of our collective situation? How can we honestly address this situation if the man almost unanimously supported by us has told us in no uncertain terms that we don’t exist as a community (with the exception to call us terrible fathers)? If we can’t be honest about our predicament, how can we act with the kind of clarity and purpose needed to extricate ourselves from that situation? Nowhere are the preceding questions more relevant than the end of the film. Bullock closes the film by intimating a connection between Barack Obama and Civil Rights leaders from the past. By mixing speeches and images, he perpetuates the myth that Obama represents the culmination of the Civil Rights era when, in reality, he represents the death of the Civil Rights era. Martin Luther King was highly critical of the Vietnam War. Many of his own supporters wanted him to be silent about the war especially when civil rights legislation was coming up for a vote. They feared that his constant attacks on the administration about the war may jeopardize some important legislation. Were their fears understandable? Yes. Did he listen? No. And we were better for it. In hindsight, his decision seems fairly straightforward. He did what was right. I’m sure many people believe that they would have supported him in his decision. Ask those same people if they supported Rev. Jeremiah Wright during Obama’s presidential campaign. Were they acting on principle or did they just want him to be quiet when he kept talking about the plight of black people? Were those people acting in the best interest of the black children he was advocating for or were they only concerned about getting their prize of a first African-American president? Wright provides a more modern example of just how hard it is to do what’s right and just how little support you can get when you do. Martin Luther King is, in almost every way that matters, the exact opposite of Barack Obama. Having Obama on the banner above (taken from the website) makes as much sense as having Colin Powell or Clarence Thomas in his place. The documentary concludes with a question: Do we honor their suffering when we call each other nigga? The answer is no. I doubt most people are even thinking about the past or much of anything for that matter when they cavalierly use that word. Here are a few more questions to consider: Do we honor their suffering when we ignore the origin of their suffering? Do we honor their suffering when we pretend the forces allayed against us don’t exist? Do we honor their suffering when we don’t acknowledge the community of their descendants? Do we honor their suffering when we pretend our enemies are friends? I didn’t hear an answer to any of those questions. Instead, I got a mix of audio and visual clips of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King designed to conflate the two in the mind of the audience. Somewhere, in a distant galaxy perhaps, I can imagine a more evil and powerful presence laughing at us. We're a human development centered cooperative, producing in part through the generous and faithful contributions of our North Star members. 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