More than two decades ago, Kimonti Carter was sentenced to 777 years in prison for his role in a devastating 1997 Tacoma drive-by shooting that left a college student dead. Since then, he’s become something of a role model — an example of how education and empathy can build bridges between traumatized groups and direct them toward common action.
From inside prison, Carter built a program within the Black Prisoners’ Caucus that teaches for-credit college courses to incarcerated people. Through an emphasis on shared humanity and empowerment through learning, the project has brought together prisoners of various backgrounds and identities, often shattering racial and ideological boundaries.
Carter is the uniting thread in the 2020 documentary Since I Been Down, which will be available to watch online later this month. The free screenings are being organized by a multifaith coalition initiated by the Blacks and Jews Building Beloved Community initiative, a Seattle-based project built in recent years to strengthen connections within and between Black and Jewish communities. The screenings will lead to a community conversation about criminal justice issues in Washington State, including calls to action around sentencing reform, prisoner reentry, prison debt, and housing justice. The organizers also hope the program will inspire people to get involved during the upcoming state legislative session.
“This film is dedicated to the future memory of white supremacy, the new world’s original gangster,” a deep voice declares. That’s how Manifest Destiny Jesus begins. Orchestral music blares, white text fades onto a black background, the words of English writer William Gilpin come into view: “The untransacted destiny of the American people is to subdue the continent — to rush over this vast field to the Pacific Ocean.”
Seattle’s crane-filled skyline comes into view. Logos of the richest and most powerful corporations in the nation glide down towering skyscrapers. Weathered tent cities cling to a dusty underpass. Seattle: a paragon of westward expansion and capitalist conquest. Fast forward: Displaced Seattleites lament the relentless hammer of gentrification. “I can’t even afford to live here,” a man says.
A woman sits in Columbia City Church of Hope, a stained glass Jesus hovers above, his ivory hand points westward.
Manifest Destiny Jesus, which screens at this month’s “Local Sightings” film festival, is a documentary that explores how the widespread portrayal of Jesus as white influences everything from gentrification to police brutality. And how one small church in a gentrifying South Seattle found the courage to ask, “What does it mean to worship a white Jesus?”
Dan Hurwitz wants more people to be talking about issues affecting people with disabilities — he’s also a stand-up comedian, filmmaker, and writer.
His latest production, This is Spinal Injury, is a mockumentary that features Hurwitz and fellow comedian Kayla Brown attempting to put on “the greatest, most accessible, yet simultaneously least commercially viable comedy show featuring comedians with disabilities in the history of the Pacific Northwest,” according to the film’s website. Hurwitz recently spoke with the Emerald about how the film got started.
“A couple years ago, we started a comedy show called the ‘Disabled List’ and we gathered several other disabled comedians to perform. At the time, we were performing at the Pocket Theater in Greenwood and it was very well received,” Hurwitz said.
The West Hill Community Association has an extensive history of advocacy and community service in the communities of Skyway and Unincorporated King County. Their weekly event, Skyway Outdoor Cinema, which hosts outdoor movies on a 20-foot screen every Friday in August, has been a staple in Skyway every summer since 2003.
Devin Chicras, a West Hill Community Association board member since 2014 (and president of the South Seattle Emerald board), has been actively involved in the Skyway Outdoor Cinema since 2013. At that time, the organization was discussing whether to shut the cinema down due to lack of volunteers and declining community attendance. Knowing how valuable the event was to the community, Chicras stepped up to ensure the outdoor cinema continued.
“Myself and my partner, Mary Goebel, decided that it was something too valuable to the community to just let it just discontinue,” Chicras says. “So we jumped in and, having no real event-planning experience, learned everything from the ground up, from getting vendors to buying AV equipment. We bought all of our own equipment after doing an Indiegogo campaign.”
The Seattle Globalist was a daily online publication that covered the connections between local and global issues in Seattle. The Emerald is keeping alive its legacy of highlighting our city’s diverse voices by regularly publishing and re-publishing stories aligned with the Globalist‘s mission.
Stern and powerful matriarchs are central to most Thai families — they’re not big on hugs, but they will “yell at the people that need to be yelled at in your defense,” filmmaker Champ Ensminger said during a telephone interview. Ninlawan Pinyo, Ensminger’s grandmother and the central character in his short documentary Yai Nin, is a matriarch who defies all Western stereotypes of what it means to be an Asian woman — she’s feisty, confident, and the owner of the successful Naem Pinyo sausage factory in Chiang Mai, Thailand. But it wasn’t until after Ensminger moved back to Chiang Mai in 2013 that he began to witness the breadth of Pinyo’s personal power and her willingness to wield it to protect her family.
“The neighbors [thought] I was with a bunch of white backpacker folks trying to grow weed,” Ensminger said of the day his grandmother rescued him from Thai immigration police. The truth was that he was working with the nonprofit Documentary Arts Asia to build a theater and exhibition space. But nonetheless, he found himself and the other volunteers covered in dirt from the construction site and sulking in front of the immigration office. Pinyo arrived at the office and demanded to see the manager.
By now, most people have heard — or at least heard of — TED Talks. More recently, this Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) nonprofit foundation launched The Mystery Experiment, which granted $10,000 to 300 inspired participants, and in February, local KUOW community engagement producer Kristin Leong was awarded one of these grants.
The funding was a big surprise to Leong. “When TED shared their call for people to apply to be part of their Mystery Experiment, they were very vague about what the project was all about or what it would require of participants,” Leong said. “There was no mention of money at all.”
But that didn’t stop Leong from applying. “I replied to their mysterious call because I’ve had such a supportive and inspiring experience over the last four years as a TED-Ed Innovative Educator and because I believe in TED’s mission to amplify innovative and audacious ideas,” she said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into!”
Some birds aren’t meant to be caged — not by tiny steel bars and not by tiny forced narratives woven around their lives like intricate vines with pointy sharp thorns. As I listened to multidisciplinary artist Shontina Vernon tell me about her art — and by extension her life — during our telephone interview, I thought about how society’s carefully woven metastories threaten to confine us all like beautiful but trapped birds with very few of us daring an escape. Shontina Vernon is the one who got away.
Executive Director of the Northwest Film Forum (NWFF) Vivian Hua 華婷婷 (she/they interchangeably) is someone who doesn’t have the stereotypical background of an executive director, but during a year marked by disruptive change caused by a pandemic, that turned out to be a good thing. Throughout last year, the NWFF streamed 25 online film festivals and continued to increase access to resources for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ filmmakers. The creative solutions Hua and the NWFF brought to Seattle’s film communities garnered the 2021 Mayor’s Award for Achievement in Film earlier this month.
The Seattle Jewish Film Festival (SJFF) kicked off Thursday, March 4, featuring 19 films from around the world that celebrate Jewish and Israeli culture. Streaming online March 4 through March 18, the 26th SJFF focuses on themes of levity, laughter, and intercultural sharing, as well as complex topics that are sure to spark conversation. Including at least seven Zoom conversations with filmmakers and guests, as well as several culinary partnerships, this year’s festival is curated to inspire togetherness, even though it’s through a screen.
This year’s Seattle Asian American Film Festival (SAAFF) will take place online, and feature more short- and feature-length films, documentaries, and animated films than ever before in the festival’s history. Streaming with the help of partner Northwest Film Forum from March 4 to 14, SAAFF will virtually screen 123 films by or about Asian Americans in the U.S., grouped into 15 programs, and will hold one drive-in movie event.