Poet and activist Amiri Baraka is remembered as one of the most important voices in American history. The story of him and his family, who have been just as impactful to their community of Newark, New Jersey is being brought to the screen in a new documentary, executive produced by Lauryn Hill, called Why is We Americans.
Directed by Udi Aloni and Ayana Stafford-Morris, Why is We Americans chronicles the Baraka family over years of struggle, strength, and courage. Hill, a fellow native of New Jersey, is interviewed for the doc, while sharing executive producer credits with screenwriter Oren Moverman.
The film is distributed by Corinth Films and makes its national theatrical premiere at the IFC Theater in New York City on Jan. 14.
“Spanning decades of social activism, poetry, music, art, and politics, this kaleidoscopic family saga is framed by on-camera interviews with Ms. Lauryn Hill, rare archival footage, and revealing personal testimonials,” Corinth Films stated.
“And as we connect with the iconoclastic poet, and his tight-knit family, a portrait of a city emerges with an inspiring call to arms in the fight for class and racial justice.”
The late Amiri Baraka was among the foremost authorities on Black American life, music, and art. Baraka was a leader of 1965’s Black Arts Movement, writing compelling works of literature like Blues People: Negro Music in White America and recording spoken word tracks like “It’s Nation Time.”
His family began to join the cause, making a difference in their community but not without paying a price. The film encompasses the life of Baraka’s widow, artist and activist Amina Baraka, the murders of his sister Kimako and his daughter, Shani, and the ascension of his son, Ras Baraka, as mayor of Newark.
As seen in the trailer, the film will include footage of Amiri performing his poetry, including his appearance on the HBO series, Def Poetry Jam. Ras is also seen performing poetry, as well as giving speeches alongside New Jersey Senator Cory Booker as he assumes his position as mayor.
Viewers will get the story of how Newark was affected by the same systemic oppression that afflicted the rest of the country, and how that community fought back against local government and law enforcement.
Along with Hill, interview subjects in the film include Ras, Amina, Ras’ daughter Amandla Baraka and the Chairman of People’s Organization for Progress, Larry Hamm.
Author Mychal Denzel Smith will moderate two Q&A sessions, one with members of the Baraka family and rapper Roxanne Shanté on Friday, and the other on Saturday with Aloni and Morris.
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