DO BLACK PEOPLE REALLY DO THIS STUFF? Manga and Anime
Yesterday, it was announced that author Milton Davis, Yours Truly and artist Sarah Bowman (Macklin) – known worldwide as S-Sama – will collaborate to create the manga version of Amber, a YA novel penned by Milton Davis.
Milton will publish; I will write the graphic script and Sarah will illustrate the work.
For those who are scratching their heads, wondering just what the heck ‘manga’ is, ask any teenager in the world and they can tell you. If no teenager is nearby, read on.
‘Manga’ is the Japanese word commonly used as the name of the genre for all comic books or graphic novels published in Japan. Manga has a certain style, recognizable in its artwork and in its literary tropes.
While manga is typically read by teenagers outside of Japan, there are publications aimed at both children and adults.
In Japan, however, all ages read manga, which is considered literature rather than “just a comic book”. In Japan, manga is so popular its yearly sales reach the billions.
Manga is often adapted into animated television programs and films called ‘anime’. Examples include Pokémon, Naruto, Yu-Gi-Oh! and my personal favorite, Death Note.
Like most people born in America, my introduction to the Japanese style of graphic storytelling began with anime. As a four year old, I would sit in awe as I witnessed the adventures of Prince Planet – known in Japan as Planet Boy Papi – which tells the story of Prince Planet – a member of the Universal Peace Corps – from the planet Radion, who is sent to Earth to determine if our world meets standards for membership in the Galactic Union of Worlds and to assist its inhabitants during his stay. While on this mission, Prince Planet adopts the identity of an Earth boy named Bobby (‘Papi’) who, along with a band of human comrades, fights the forces of evil, both alien and terrestrial. In fact, my favorite villain of all time, who I call the “first Steampunk”, is Krag of Kragmire, Prince Planet’s greatest nemesis.
A couple of decades later, I introduced my children to the anime film Princess Mononoke and thus began their love of the art form. I later got them hooked on Death Note – the anime and the manga. Now, one of my daughters is so into manga and anime, she has become fluent in Japanese and Korean and plans to write manga of her own.
Black people in the United States – like nearly everyone else – have been heavily into anime since the early 70s and into manga since the early 90s. The well-plotted stories, incredible technology, fearsome creatures, cool characters, over-the-top comedy and eye-popping action are masterfully combined to make science fiction and fantasy palatable for all.
Most fans of the genre are unaware, however, that the visual approach and concepts of manga was introduced to the Western world by a Black man – Vernon Ethelbert Grant.
Grant, known for his digest-sized comic book series, The Love Rangers, was born February 14, 1935. Always artistically inclined, Grant earned money as a child by drawing cartoons for birthday cards. After graduating from Ridge Technical High School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he studied for a year in Boston at the Vesper George School of Art and then joined the Army in 1958 at the age of 23.
While in Europe as an airborne and air assault sergeant, Grant studied Japanese and French.
Grant was eventually sent to Tokyo, where he worked as a regular cartoonist for Stars and Stripes – the official newspaper of the Unites States Army. It was in Tokyo that he developed a strong fascination with Japanese comics. He also wrote and drew for Japan’s English-language newspapers, including the Mainichi Daily News.
In the late 1960s, while in Vietnam, Grant became interested in comic books. As he recalled: “When I purchased a French comic magazine in Saigon in 1967, it was the first comic book contact that I had in more than ten years. It reminded me of my early experiments with drawing color comics in grammar school…In 1968 I was discharged from the United States Army in Japan and began studies in Japanese history and culture at Sophia University in Tokyo…In 1972, while still in school, I saw and read my first issue of an underground comic book, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. This publication was quite an interesting item for me. I had heard of underground comic books but had, until that time, never seen one. I was very impressed.”
During the years he lived in Japan, Grant wrote and drew several graphic novels, including the two-volume military satire, Point-Man Palmer and A Monster is Loose in Tokyo (Tuttle, 1972) about the life of a foreigner in Japan.
When he returned to Cambridge, he created The Love Rangers, his science-fiction comic book series about a racially mixed space crew traveling the universe. Between 1977 and 1988, Grant published seven issues of The Love Rangers in a 36-page, 5½”x8½” format.
The series follows the lives and adventures of a number of officers, robots and members of a squad of genetically engineered Love Rangers that live on the spaceship called “Home”. It is an immense structure, housing 35,000 individuals on its seven levels. While some of the action in the stories takes place on board, many of the episodes in his comic books take place on planets they visit. The ship is commanded by a male and female Shipmaster who share equally in all responsibilities. One of the dominant characters is Princess Tomi, who single-handedly leads her Mice People in their battle against the Owls for survival. There are robots and devices in the ship that the U.S. military incorporated some ten to 15 years after Vernon had already incorporated them into his series. The fuel that powers the ship is the feelings of discord and hate that emanates from different parts of the universe. At times the Love Rangers have to use weapons to control the warring inhabitants of the different planets they visit, but they attempt to first use their “love gas” to change the path of history. In the first book, the love gas helps change the consciousness of Count Ratalus from having a killing drive to flooding his mind with an understanding of history as well as nature’s instinctive patterns. When this happens, a well of human compassion overrides his coded savagery. He stops himself from killing Prince Tug, and they go off to work together peacefully for the betterment of the mice people and toward peaceful co-existence with their enemies, the Owls.
On July 7, 2006, Grant suffered a heart attack while on a daily run, injuring his head when he fell. He went into a coma and died two weeks later on July 23.
Grant’s work is included in Michigan State University‘s Comic Art Collection.
There are several Black mangaka, or manga creators – most unpublished, unfortunately – who are doing incredible work. Most popular among these are our own Sarah Bowman / S-Sama, the talented Latif-Saeed and the brilliant sister, Nashya.
Finally, from Ghana, is visual storyteller extraordinaire, Setor Fiadzibey, author / artist of the graphic novel Adinkra, the Legend of the Bearers, which is about a group of people, separated by tribes but united by a divine being known as the Great Weaver, an autocratic king and a common enemy known as the Shadow.
Having wrestled with the Shadow through countless generations, the Great Weaver shares his immense power with certain individuals, known as Bearers, who would deliver the people from his dark nemesis. Each Bearer is born with an adinkra symbol that grants them great power and compels them to do the bidding of the Great Weaver.
Adinkra is the tale of those Bearers, their struggles with the Shadow, their struggles with their humanity – even though they have divinity in them – and their pursuit of victory over both.
Amber will soon join Adinkra in delivering an amazing manga that is sure to entertain and inspire fans of anime, manga and fantasy of all ages. Look for it in Spring, 2014.
INGLORIOUS BASTARDS: Is Independent Filmmaking illegitimate?
Last week, in the State of Black Science Fiction group, another minor kerfuffle – oh yeah, Black speculative fiction authors and fans do love their heated discourses – occurred after Milton Davis – oh yeah, fifty-something chemist / author / publishers do like to set it off – posted this status:
“Apparently if you are self published you are not a legitimate writer. Wow.”
This statement was made in regard to another author, who said he was looking for Black women speculative fiction authors for a documentary he is doing, but only wanted “legit” authors: “I need MORE AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN WRITERS of Science-Fiction, Fantasy or comics!!! To be considered for the documentary you need to have: been published by a legit publishing company (no self-publishers).”
The aftermath was – to put things lightly – passionate…yeah, that’s it. Passionate.
I will say, the “offending” author did try to clear things up – kind of – and even went so far as to contact me personally to explain he meant “traditional”, not “legit,” which perplexed me a bit because my only comment on Milton’s status was “Name NAMES, Milton!” Y’all know me…I’m a researcher and researchers, by nature, are a curious lot.
Anywho, i know you’re dying to see what was said in response to Milton’s comment. Here are a few of those responses – the names, however, are not included to protect the (not so) innocent:
“So if I’m an indie singer, I’m not legitimate? If I’m an indie film maker, I’m not legitimate? If I’m Indie Jones, I’m not a legitimate archaeologist and college professor?”
“They’re just mad because we won’t go away–and we’re stealing away their readers.”
“That’s just bougie perpetraters using their status to over inflate their already bloated egos, to the detriment and baseless shaming of others.”
“ Hmmm…that’s funny. My royalty checks seem to be legitimate.”
In response, the “offending author” had this to say:
“For the sake of clarity and common sense, I must make something known – Earlier today I posted a call for Black Women writers for my documentary Brave New Souls. I used the word “legit” instead of “traditional” when describing the criteria for my interview subjects. Somehow, that has been construed as a slight against self-publishers and that isn’t the case at all. So let me be as clear as possible here:
1) I want to use Black creators who have mainstream credits because there is a great misconception and lack of awareness about the presence of Black writers within the mainstream entertainment industry. I wanted to show aspiring talent that they CAN make it in the mainstream industry and that it doesn’t require “selling out” or compromising your value system.
2) Roughly 60% of my extremely limited literary entertainment budget is spent on self-published and independent material from Black creators. Let me repeat, 60%. If you don’t believe me ask the hundreds of Black creators I’ve met at conventions over the last 15 years whether or not I put my money where my mouth is. Ask folks like Thaddeus Atreides, Ray Height, Daniel McNeal, Jaycen Wise, etc.
3) I also spend a ton of time mentoring people behind the scenes. I have an entire FB group dedicated to the mentoring of writers of all backgrounds and I rarely talk about what I do because I don’t need to pat myself on the back.
4) Brave New Souls is my documentary, and I can do whatever I wish with the material.
I hope that clears things up, otherwise, most of you know how to find me, and if you still have a problem, I will be at the Hollywood Black Film Festival from Oct 2 – 6 and at NY Comic Con hanging around the Lion Forge booth from Oct 10 – 13. Feel free to approach me to discuss the matter.“
So, this is what was said by a few of his associates and friends:
“Whenever someone steps up, someone else has to find something wrong.”
“4) Brave New Souls is my documentary, and I can do whatever I wish with the material.” That’s all you needed to say.”
“Did E*****n just pull a ‘Tony Stark from Iron Man 3′-move? ‘Here’s my address, come find me!!’”
“You haven’t seen his arsenal yet…”
“Seems nowadays people are in search of reasons to be pissed–not ways to make things work well… leaping beyond these words in order to give yourself (an in-general “yourself”) a perpetual underwear knot–& ignoring an avalanche of counter-balancing evidence–is small-minded. I’m less & less patient with this approach to life as I get older.”
This little skirmish set my thoughts in motion and, since I am in nearing the end of production on the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, I pondered whether the same beef – indie vs. mainstream – exists in the world of film?
As early as 1908, independent film has been paving the way for filmmakers to fight the corporate way of creating their art form. Around 1924, a group of independent filmmakers in Europe created the London Film Society. This group was the first to preserve the artistic nature of filmmaking. Some of the founding members included H.G. Wells and Charlie Chaplin, film directors who began a revolution with their movie making.
In a short time, independent filmmakers all over Europe were introducing new and exciting genres to their movies, such as horror and suspense. After World War II, science fiction was introduced by independent filmmakers to the American audience.
A new wave of American filmmakers began creating films outside of the control of the corrupt major studios and a Golden Age of independent films began.
For these independent filmmakers, the best way to showcase their work was at local film festivals.
One such festival, The Sundance Film Festival, run by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, began as the Utah / U.S. Film Festival in 1978. The festival – founded by Brigham Young University Film School graduate, Sterling Van Wagenen and Utah Film Commissioners, Cirina Hampton Catania and John Earle – showcased independent films created in the United States.
In 1985, Redford’s institute took over management of the festival and changed the name to Sundance. In 1991, the Sundance Institute bought the rights to the festival and officially changed the name to the Sundance Film Festival. Since then, Sundance has included international independent films in its screenings and has launched the careers of some of today’s hottest directors such as, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, James Wan and Jim Jarmusch.
Viewed as the leader in independent filmmaking, the Sundance Film Festival innovates ways to help small productions gain mainstream notoriety.
Last year, this festival brought Utah $92 million dollars in revenue, further cementing both the importance of the festival and the films that it showcases.
But what, exactly is an “independent film”, you ask?
An independent, or indie, film is one that is primarily funded outside of the major studios, also known as “the Big Six” – Warner Brothers, Paramount, Walt Disney, Columbia Pictures, Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox.
Independent films have the freedom to explore many subjects in society that are seen as taboo or unmarketable by the Big Six.
Most independent films achieve nothing more than critical acclaim at film festivals, but every once in a while, an indie film creates such a loud buzz at a film festival that it is purchased by a major film studio and screened in major theaters all over the world. One such film is The Blair Witch Project, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 1999. Writers-Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, who made The Blair Witch Project for $25,000, had sold their movie, by the end of the festival, to Artisan Entertainment for 1.1 million dollars. Artisan then went on to make $248 million with this “little” independent film!
However, when an indie film hits the “big time”, like The Blair Witch Project, it is no longer considered to be an independent film because, even though the film was produced on a shoestring budget, the marketing budget that Artisan Entertainment implemented when they purchased the film put The Blair Witch Project way over the 50% funding category.
While, technically, the Blair Witch Project is no longer considered an indie film, it possesses one characteristic that most certainly sets it apart from “mainstream” films, a characteristic that films produced by the Big Six will never have – the willingness to take risks with their storytelling.
The Big Six film studios are large corporations, and corporations of that size do not allow risk-taking in their business practices.
They will only invest in actors and stories that have already been proven to make a lot of money. This may lead to financial success, but also leads to creative stagnation.
Independent films are about original and creative story-telling by filmmakers who are not afraid to try new techniques or put their creative and financial necks on the line.
Are they legit? Hell yeah!
Are they traditional? Well, since the definition of traditional is ‘existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established‘, “Hell yeah,” to that too!
I will be at the Alien Encounters Black Speculative Fiction, Film and Art Conference October 25 – 27. Feel free to approach me to discuss the matter.
Did I, like that “offending author”, just pull a ‘Tony Stark from Iron Man 3′-move?’
Well, we Black speculative fiction authors do love our heated discourses.
“IT’S LIKE STEAMPUNK BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER…WITH BLACK FOLKS!”
Well, that is sort of paraphrasing a description of Rite of Passage, the Steamfunk feature film, by Professor Lisa Yaszek, Director of Undergraduate Studies. School of Literature, Media and Communication and one of the Associate Producers of the film. Her actual description: “When people ask what Rite of Passage is about, I tell them to think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, set in Victorian times, with Black superheroes.”
Jadon Ben Israel, filmmaker and veteran actor of such films as Fast Five and Champion Road: Arena – who plays Vampire-Lord and martial arts master, Joe in Rite of Passage – describes the film as a “Black Steampunk Avengers.”
Milton Davis, author, publisher, Executive Producer of Rite of Passage and writer of the original story upon which the film is based, describes the film as “A Steamfunk movie collaboration destined to change the perception of historical fantasy. It’s the tale of the city of Nicodemus, Kansas and the special souls that have gathered to protect it. Rite of Passage blends history, fantasy and Steamfunk into an exciting action movie that gives a glimpse of the adventure yet to come.”
And, of course, accurate.
In the Rite of Passage universe, the Orisa (oh-REE-sha) – forces of nature that serve and guide humans and animals alike – have given several powerful artifacts to Oluwo (“Master Teachers; possessors of secret powers”), who are to keep those artifacts until their rightful possessors – known as Guardians – come along. The Oluwo are to help their Guardian transform, so that they are worthy to possess the artifact.
In the film, the Guardians are Dorothy Wright, Black Dispatch, Conductor on the Underground Railroad and pupil of Harriet Tubman; famed lawman, Bass Reeves; and John Henry, the legendary “steel drivin’ man.”
Harriet Tubman – who is an artifact, given to the world to protect it – gathers the Guardians around the globe to prepare them for the coming of a powerful entity she calls Jedidiah Green, an ancient and dark being who feeds on the power of the artifacts and is drawn to their possessors.
We also learn a bit about the other Guardians, such as the brutal – and somewhat insane – Dentist of Westminster and Sherlock Holmes.
Jedidiah Green also has his team of “supervillains”, if you will: the Piper, the Blood-Kin (vampires) and the Night-Kin (zombies, ghouls, ghasts, Night Howlers and other undead).
African American rodeo owner, Nat (pronounced “Nate”) Love flees to Nicodemus, Kansas – the small town destined to be the final battlefield in the war against Jedidiah Green and home to the Guardians – after his business rival, P.T. Barnum, tries to have him murdered.
Barnum dispatches a special team of assassins to Nicodemus to retrieve Nat Love by any means and to kill the Guardians if necessary.
And thus begins the film.
We have been in production since August 18, following the production of the tie-in, Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster.
Production is going very well, although filming on a budget of fumes has proved very challenging and we had to forgo shooting once because we just did not have the money to purchase the costumes for that scene. This of course, is our biggest obstacle, so please donate and help us out. Steampunks, we would definitely appreciate any donations of old costumes and or props…oh, and we have great perks, too!
The actors are phenomenal, really bringing their characters to life.
Recently, actor Maurice Johnson, who portrays – no, who is – John Henry, received a call from E. Roger Mitchell, who has had starring roles in Flight, alongside Denzel Washington, Battle Los Angeles, S.W.A.T. and The Crazies – and who portrayed John Henry in the short masterpiece, John Henry and the Railroad. Mitchell told Maurice that he has been following what is going on with Rite of Passage and told him “Now, you are the real John Henry!”
The crew is amazing and makes my job easy. Director of Photography, John Thornton, who is also Professor of Film Production at GA-Tech, brings his experience as a Director and Cinematographer for several independent and Disney films to Rite of Passage. Imed “Kunle” Patman, Cinematographer, brings his experience and artistic genius to the film, as does Assistant Director and Editor, Brandon Davis.
“We have really been blessed to have such talented and intelligent people working with us,” Akin Danny Donaldson, Producer of Rite of Passage, said. “We are making history as we make a film about our history.”
Black People Don’t Like Steampunk, Fantasy and Science Fiction!
At this year’s Dragon*Con, an author and Steampunk scholar I know posed the question: “How come black people don’t like the fantasy / sci fi genre? I mean, there are no sci fi / fantasy films directed, produced, or starring African Americans, so why aren’t they getting behind you and supporting Rite of Passage, a film written by, directed by, produced by and starring Black people?”
First, let me say that while a few people from all ethnic backgrounds have supported the making of Rite of Passage with in-kind donations or donations, the majority of that few has been of African descent. As far as why more Black people have not supported us, or why the majority of us don’t support independent, Black-created science fiction and fantasy films in general – because we do, indeed, support big-budget Hollywood science fiction films with our hard-earned dollars – I believe there are several factors at work.
In discussing this issue with co-creator of the Rite of Passage world, author, publisher and Executive Producer of Rite of Passage, Milton Davis, his opinion is that “Most Black people want reality. Many of us struggle to make ends meet; we’re living check to check; we’re facing getting our light turned off, so we don’t have time to delve into make believe.”
In regard to those Black people to whom Milton is referring, I believe a good dose of quality Science Fiction and Fantasy is exactly what they need. Science fiction and fantasy peek into the realm of possibility and an escape from the harshness and cruelty of the “real world”. Science Fiction and Fantasy stories deal with our real-world issues, but cover them in a veneer of the improbable and maybe even the impossible, thus making the bitter pill of life easier to swallow.
In traditional African cultures, it is through the telling of stories of heroism, bravery, the overcoming of overwhelming odds, magic, fearsome creatures, powerful artifacts and amazing technology that we instill good character in youth and encourage good character in everyone. My research tells me that the same is true of all cultures. Every culture on earth has its myths, fairytales and folklore and in most societies, djeli – bards, or griots who tell stories about a culture’s heroes, villains and history – are held in the highest regard.
We often feel Science Fiction, Science Fantasy and Steamfunk are not “real enough” because most authors and filmmakers within those genres have not made room for an epic telling of a Black Fantasy and Science Fiction tale. We – the creators of Rite of Passage weren’t supposed to do this so, to many, the possibility of a group of Black people making an epic Science Fiction Film that is not only well-done, but is hotter than fish-grease, seems far-fetched.
A third reason – the reason why, surprisingly, most of our support has not come from the many fellow Black creators of science fiction and fantasy who know of Milton Davis’ and my work – is that there is a perception among many people that if a Black person makes a Science Fiction film – particularly Milton and I, who create stories for and about Black people – that story will have more to do with pushing some “Black agenda”, overcoming some great racial injustice, or other political issue than with telling a great story. While Rite of Passage is set in the time of Reconstruction; while it does deal with the issues of sexism and racism; it is first and foremost a great story, told in a dynamic, exciting and entertaining way.
Rite of Passage deals with universal issues that intrigue, encourage and plague us all.
After I gave my answer the Author / Steampunk Scholar had one more question: “Where can I donate to the making of Rite of Passage?”
My response? Go here!
*We accept monetary and in-kind donations.
Here is a list of people who have already donated. We thank them so much!
And we thank you – in advance – for joining their ranks!
Karen Marie Mason
ALIEN ENCOUNTERS IV: The Black Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Experience Returns!
Once again, Alien Encounters, the annual conference for Black speculative and imaginative fiction, film and music – which serves as a venue for both education and entertainment – returns to Atlanta in October, which is now recognized worldwide as Black Speculative Fiction month!
The Atlanta-based State of Black Science Fiction collective and the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History have collaborated to offer exciting, informational and interactive discussions, film screenings, book signings and much more that are all free and open to the public.
“About four years ago, I went to the Decatur Book Festival, and found authors of color who wrote in these genres (i.e., science fiction, fantasy, horror),” the original event organizer, Sharon E. Robinson, says.
“We got together, talked, had several meetings, and finally came up with the idea of putting together this program [Alien Encounters]. A lot of the time, our literary audiences aren’t as familiar with these genre writers as they are with, say, urban romance (authors) and others. There are a lot of writers, in the Atlanta area and across the country, who write in these genres, and we hope to increase readers’ knowledge base about them and their works,” she explains. “Our ultimate goal is to broaden visitors’ literary knowledge and understanding about these particular genres.”
The schedule for Aliens Encounters IV is as follows:
Friday, October 25, 2013
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm – The Mahogany Masquerade: Black to the Future
Come dressed in your best Steamfunk and Dieselfunk costumes as we enjoy Black Speculative Fiction short films and meet their creators.
9:00 pm until – Mahogany Masquerade After-Party
Drop the children off at Grandma’s and parade over to the BQE Lounge with us and let’s party the night away!
Saturday, October 26, 2013
4:00 to 6:00 pm – Retro-Futuristic Worlds of Steam and Diesel Funk
Join authors and creators of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade and Steampunk and cosplayer, actor and maker of Steampunk costumes and props, Mark Curtis for a discussion on Steamfunk and Dieselfunk, the long ignored stories of the Black experience during the Victorian Era and the Great World Wars told through retrofuturistic Fantasy and Science Fiction.
6:00 to 8:00 pm – Dark and Stormy: Horror Fiction on the Black Hand Side
Join horror authors Brandon Massey and Crystal Connor for this exciting panel as they discuss horror fiction from a Black point of view.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm – Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman
Join artist and Curator of OnyxCon, Joseph Wheeler III, comic book store owner, collector and publisher, Tony Cade and renowned comic book and animation creator and illustrator, Dawud Anyabwile as they discuss the conscious community of Black comic books and graphic novels.
Ongoing – Monday, September 3, 2013 – Sunday, November 3, 2013
The Neo-African Dynasty: Art from the Ancient Future of the Continent
This groundbreaking art exhibition, by renowned artist James Eugene, is a vibrant, afrofuturistic visual fusion of Africana ancestry, non-Western cosmologies and fantasy techno-culture.
Join James Eugene Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 7:00pm, for a discussion on his art, his creative process and the borderless Black future, rooted firmly in the African Diasporic experience, that he envisions.
There you have it. A fun-filled weekend of Blacktastic Science Fiction, Funk, Fantasy & Horror you absolutely do NOT want to miss!
See you there!
HARRIET IS OUR HERO: Telling the Untold Steampunk Tales
Harriet crouched low in the thickets. She counted five – no, six – adults in the house. Four men; two women. They were at the supper table, eating a grayish-brown mass from wooden bowls with their fingers.
A constant, dull thump emanated from the rear of the house.
“Must be the child,” Harriet whispered. She reasoned that the girl was bored and was pretending to skip rope with the heavy chain she was tethered to.
Harriet crept towards the back of the house, but a familiar voice made her pause. She looked skyward. “I ain’t one to question yo’ Word, but is you sure, Lawd?” She nodded. “Thy will be done, then.”
Harriet stood and brushed the dirt from her dress. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. The night air cooled the sweat on her forehead, and the flickering flame in her gut. She opened her eyes and locked her gaze on the house.
In three strong bounds, she was standing at the front door of the house. She pounded her tiny, brown fist on the rotting wood.
The thumping of the heavy chain ceased.
The door was flung open wide.
And the stench of sweat and spoiled milk assaulted her nostrils.
“What you want, gal?”
Harriet quickly peered into the house. Everyone, except for the wiry man standing before her, was still sitting at the table. But they were no longer eating and their eyes were fixed on the doorway.
The man in the doorway spat onto the porch, the bilious sputum just missing Harriet’s boots. “You hear me, nigger? I said…”
The web of flesh between Harriet’s thumb and forefinger struck the man’s throat. She glided past him as he fell to the floor, clutching his crushed windpipe and gasping for air.
The men at the table jumped to their feet and rushed toward her, as the two women ran toward the rear of the house.
Harriet exploded forward, pummeling the nearest man to her with a flurry of elbow strikes.
Blood erupted from the man’s nose and mouth as his face collapsed under the force of Harriet’s swift and powerful blows.
Massive arms wrapped around her waist, jerking her into the air.
Harriet threw her head back forcefully. A crunching sound followed and then a scream.
She felt something warm and wet soak the back of her bonnet.
The grip on her waist loosened slightly. She took advantage of the opportunity, bending forward and grabbing the man-mountain’s leg with both hands. Holding on tightly, she rolled forward.
The momentum of the roll forced the giant to tumble over onto his back.
Harriet landed on her back, with the giant’s leg between hers. She thrust her hips forward forcefully, ramming her pelvis into the man’s knee, as she yanked his ankle back toward her shoulder.
The man-mountain’s leg made a loud, popping noise. Harriet tossed the badly twisted leg aside. The giant screamed as his leg flopped around on the floor, no longer under the goliath’s control.
She sprang to her feet.
Harriet was met by a powerful punch toward her face as she stood. She shifted slightly to her right and the punch torpedoed past her.
She countered by slamming the heel of her right foot into the man’s solar plexus, which sent him careening through the air. He came to rest on the supper table. Slivers of wood and chunks of gray-brown mush sprayed into the air.
The last man turned on his heels and ran toward the door. Harriet kicked an overturned chair. The oak chair flipped through the air and struck the man in the back of the head. The man’s head split open like an over-ripe plum. She turned from the dying man and walked to the rear of the house.
The back door was wide open.
The wind had extinguished the candles, but the moon bathed the room in a silver-blue incandescence. The women were – wisely – long gone, but the girl was still in the room, crouched in a corner. An iron manacle was locked to her right ankle. The manacle was connected to a heavy, iron chain, which was screwed into the floor.
Harriet crouched before the little girl, and placed a gentle hand upon her shoulder. “You alright, baby?”
The little girl perused the room, as if to ensure they were alone, and then nodded.
“You Margaret, I reckon.”
The child nodded again.
Harriet rubbed her hand over the girl’s matted, light brown curls. “We gon’ get you outta here and get you cleaned up. Gotta have you presentable for yo’ daddy.”
The little girl’s eyes widened and the corners of her mouth turned up in the hint of a smile. Yet the act of smiling seemed to strain her, as if she had not smiled in quite some time. “My daddy? He sent you for me?”
Harriet pulled an L-shaped, sliver of metal from behind the ribbon in her bonnet; and slid it into the back of the manacle around Margaret’s ankle. “He sure did.” The manacle clicked and slid open.
Margaret caressed her bruised and swollen ankle. “Ma’am, if you don’t mind me asking…”
“Go ‘head, child.”
“Who are you?” Margaret asked.
Harriet stood, and helped the little girl to her feet. “Me? I’m Harriet. Harriet Tubman.”
- From Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman by Balogun Ojetade
This is the Harriet Tubman of my childhood visions. The Harriet Tubman I chose to make the hero of my first novel, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman. The Harriet Tubman Milton Davis and I chose to make the leader of all the heroes in the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage.
Recently, masses of people – including Yours Truly – were outraged by a video from Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital Youtube page that parodies the iconic hero and freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, with a sex tape.
The video, titled Harriet Tubman Sex Tape, revisits the story of General Moses’ freedom fighting efforts by portraying her as engaging in aggressive sex acts with a white plantation owner.
“This our only chance to getting freedoms,” Harriet Tubman says when asked if her plans to have sex – doggy-style, no less – with the slave-master will actually work.
After engaging in sex – in which she also penetrates the slave-master doggy-style (yeah, it goes there) – Harriet Tubman smokes a cigarette as she lies with the satiated slave-master and makes demands upon him because she now has leverage with which to blackmail him.
This garbage – which Russell Simmons proclaimed the funniest thing he has ever seen – is alternate history gone completely wrong.
I enjoin other authors and filmmakers to join me, Milton Davis and other Steamfunk authors in getting it right.
This is just one reason why Steamfunk is important. It tells the stories that need to be told in the way people should tell them.
I enjoin fans of books, films, history and / or Harriet Tubman to read Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and Steamfunk and to check out and support Rite of Passage, which is now in production. These great works portray Harriet Tubman as the amazing person she truly is.
Below are other short films and videos that feature Harriet Tubman as the hero. And yes, Uncle Ruckus Simmons, you can portray Harriet Tubman with humor, but remember…
She ain’t no joke!
PAINTING A STEAMPUNK WORLD A DARKER SHADE OF BROWN:
RITE OF PASSAGE: The Dentist of Westminster
On Sunday, August 4, 2013, Yours Truly and the rest of the brilliant cast and crew of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage shot a short film that ties-in to the feature film, Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster.
In Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster, Osho Adewale, the first Black dentist in the United Kingdom – and the best dentist in Westminster, England – visits the town of Nicodemus, Kansas and his cousin forces an artifact upon him that forever changes his life.
Osho becomes the fifth Guardian of Nicodemus – along with Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Wright, Bass Reeves and John Henry – but Harriet Tubman sends him back to the UK to serve as her representative in Europe as they prepare for the coming of a powerful entity, who, like Harriet, is connected to the artifacts that hold the power of the Orisa but does not possess any artifact.
Harriet is the living embodiment of the residual power constantly leaked by all the artifacts on earth; the entity who Harriet is preparing to receive feeds off the power of the artifacts and of those who wield them.
The world of Rite of Passage continues to grow and the story is ever-increasing in excitement. Author Milton Davis and I are having a ball creating this amazing Steamfunk world, developing its heroes and villains and entwining it all with African and African-American history.
Join us August 23, 2013, as we draw you deeper into the world of Rite of Passage at the internet premiere of Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. Visit the Rite of Passage website after 12:00 pm EST, click the Dentist of Westminster tab and enjoy!
For those of you who receive an invitation to the Rite of Passage: Dentist of Westminster Private Screening and Meet & Greet on August 22, 2013, we have some fun and exciting surprises in store for you, so be sure to keep your appointment with The Dentist; his chair awaits you!
Does Steampunk Promote Violence?
In the wake of the trial of George Zimmerman and the verdict, which was disheartening and disappointing for many – not me, I expected it to go just the way it did, but that’s another story, for another time – we feel a desperate need to know why, so we can understand how – how can we keep this from happening again? When someone shoots up a school, a mall, office building, or a child many of us blame lax gun laws, and recommend those laws become stricter. Others blame it on cultural factors – violent video games and films have sickened our culture, glorifying wanton violence and desensitizing our youth to its effects.
So, where do we draw the line?
Do we wrest firearms from the cold, dead fingers of the American public (and they will, most certainly, have to be dead because people are not just giving up their guns in the U.S. of A)?
Do we wrest wireless controllers from the sweaty, dead palms of the players of Call of Duty, and Halo (and they will, most certainly, have to be dead because game geeks are not giving up their COD)?
Should we ban violent films and books like Braveheart or Homer’s Iliad? Should we edit out the kills from Shakespearean plays?
In truth, violence is a great – perhaps the great – staple of the entertainment industry.
We gorge ourselves on violence in television shows, novels, films, sporting events and video games, but a half century search for real-world consequences of violence in the media has found no conclusive evidence of any link. Hundreds of millions of people watch violent television and play violent games and never develop the slightest urge to kill.
Most Steampunks and Steamfunkateers insert their personas into imaginative scenarios in which they play the role of a hero who bravely confronts the forces of chaos and destruction. When we play most video games, role playing games or cosplay we aren’t training to be mass murderers or serial killers; we are emulating the good guy who races to place himself between evil and its victims.
The same applies when we engross ourselves in more traditional fiction formats like film, television, and novels.
Almost without exception, when the villain of a story kills, his violence is condemned. When the hero kills, that kill is righteous. Fiction preaches that violence is only acceptable under defined circumstances – to protect the good and the weak from the evil and the strong. What Steven King says of horror stories in his book, Danse Macabre, applies to all forms of imaginary violence: “The horror story, beneath its fangs and fright wig, is really as conservative as an Illinois Republican in a three-piece pinstriped suit…It’s main purpose is to reaffirm the virtues of the norm by showing us what awful things happen to people who venture into taboo lands. Within the framework of most horror tales we find a moral code so strong it would make a Puritan smile.”
Resist the urge to find and torch a scapegoat – whether in the entertainment industry or the gun lobby.
And remember that the portrayal of heroes armed with steam-powered rifles, aether pistols, or gear-driven retractable claws are just portrayals. We Steampunks and Steamfunkateers are – in general – friendly, mannerly and relatively sane.
Now those anime cosplayers? They’ll kill ya’.
Just kidding! *looks around nervously for a teenager with disheveled blue hair and a wildly oversized sword*
A CALL – AND A LESSON – FOR ALL STEAMPUNKS AND STEAMFUNKATEERS!
We have all heard the age-old adage – “It is better to give than to receive.” The Yoruba peoples of Nigeria believe that what you give you get ten times over. The Chinese say that kindness in giving creates love.
The wise elders of these great societies knew just how powerful the act of giving is.
Several years ago, I taught a women’s self-defense workshop in Chicago. About fifty women attended. My students and I volunteered our time and our services to this group of women at no cost. At the end of the workshop, a woman in her fifties and her daughter, who was in her early twenties, approached me. The woman introduced her daughter. I laughed and told the woman that if I did not know any of the women’s names after six hours of grueling work with them, I must be shy of a few cards in the deck.
Then it hit me – she was making a formal introduction for…something else.
The daughter blushed as her mother told me how her daughter would make a great wife – how she was intelligent and focused; how she had graduated from college at twenty; how she could cook Indian and African food from several cultures…and the list went on and on.
Once she was done extolling her daughter’s greatness I replied “Your daughter is beautiful and will make some man happy one day, but you do know I’m married?”
“Yes,” the woman replied. “Our cultures are similar, though. My daughter doesn’t mind being a second wife to a man who knows how to love women so well.” I declined the woman’s offer, telling her that my wife would have us all running for our lives down the Magnificent Mile. Then, I asked what made her think I knew how to “love women so well.”
Her answer: “Because you gave us this wonderful workshop.”
In her culture, a person who gives is a person who loves.
This stingy person makes a conscious decision to withhold. The partner, perceiving this, experiences feelings of anger and frustration.
Stingy people exist in a psychic state of lack – they experience themselves and the world as having finite resources and therefore have to hold onto their small piece of the pie. They do not feel that, by giving to another, they are somehow or in some way replenished. They perceive giving as a one-way street that drains them of emotional and / or material resources. Withholding is an unconscious way of regulating intimacy and keeping the other person at a distance.
Generosity, on the other hand, is an expansive energy, thus we should strive to give what we can in order to feel the growing sense of abundance giving produces, which induces good physical and mental health.
Giving a gift is a gift – not only to others, but to ourselves – because it increases the bond between us and the person to whom we have given, tells us about ourselves and generally increases our feelings of competence.
Most of us want to be loved, but it is actually the act of loving that is rewarding. Being loved is important because it facilitates our opportunities to love.
When we love, we give. Every time we do something for someone else we feel effective, useful and generous. Giving a tangible gift also leads to reflection about what our relationship to the receiver is, how much we care about the receiver and how that person’s likes or dislikes may be similar to our own. The same is true for giving advice or some other service.
We feel alive in the activity. And it is the receiver who has provided the opportunity for us to feel this good, so we feel loving in return. Furthermore, we deduce our attitudes from our behavior – “I must really care about her; why else would I give such a meaningful gift?”
Giving is an effective way to feel competent, mindful and loving and everyone wants to feel that way, which is why many people lament “I attended to his / her every need and asked for nothing in return and he / she still did me wrong.” The more the giver gave, the better he or she felt, thus the more he / she cared about the receiver. The receiver, on the other hand, has come to care less and less because he or she has not been given the same chance to feel effective.
We mistakenly think we will lose a partner’s affection or the public’s respect by “burdening” them with our requests for assistance or our acceptance of gifts. Attending to someone else’s needs leads to affection for that person. Discouraging a giver from giving, then, is clearly the wrong strategy for fostering affection and building meaningful relationships.
Rather than experience guilt or fear that the person will resent doing things for us, we should consider what giving can mean to the giver.
Does this mean that we should all become demanding? Nope. However, for any relationship to be successful, both parties must feel effective and capable of caring. The recipe calls for both parties to give.
Many women experience a great sense of loss when their last or only child grows up and leaves home. The advice given to counteract the depression experienced when faced with an empty nest is often to find something else to attend to. I would amend that advice to find something or someone else to give to.
Consider the bond between mother and child. Faced with the responsibility for a helpless infant, mothers give – and give a lot. With all that giving, the bond with her child grows stronger and stronger as the baby grows. And in this giving, a mother feels effective; tired, but effective.
However, when her young adult leaves home, a mother has fewer ways of feeling competent. Those who care about her will probably feel good “taking care” of her, “giving” to her, now that she is lonely and depressed. What she really needs instead is to give to them.
A group of Finnish psychologists discovered that reciprocal relationships aren’t necessarily the key to happiness and health. Their research has proven that, indeed it is actually better to give than to receive – particularly if you are a woman.
This team of psychologists quizzed almost 800 middle-aged men and women about how much support they gave and received in their intimate relationships, then tracked how many days they called in sick from work over the next nine years. The study’s idea of “support” included both mundane and romantic tasks, from doing household chores to serving breakfast in bed.
The researchers found that women who felt they gave more support than they received took 50 percent fewer sick days than their co-workers. On the other hand, men who received more support than they gave also had fewer absences. In other words, women who gave more and men who received more support appeared to actually be healthier, or at least better prepared to deal with stress.
My wife, all seven daughters and my granddaughter are giving me the side eye (my son has retreated to his room), so, let me hurry up and say that this does not mean women should start cleaning up after a messy spouse or start cooking lavish family meals in hopes of adding years to their lives.
The results of this study could be related to a well-known physical difference between men and women – studies show when women provide care and support for their loved ones, they also produce the reproductive hormone oxytocin, which reduces feelings of stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure and increases tolerance to pain. Since no equivalent response has yet been observed in men, this could explain the findings of the Finnish study.
The results certainly should not be seen as a recommendation that all men should be cared for and all women should be nurturers. In the study, men and women on average gave and received support in equal amounts. Our genders simply determine how we are affected by the acts of giving and receiving.
The answer? Most people are unaware of the connection between giving and happiness.
In a recent study, participants were asked to choose what they thought would make them the happiest. Surprisingly, most replied that personal spending would make them happier than spending on others.
For most individuals, increased awareness is necessary in order to understand and to benefit from the connection between giving and higher levels of happiness. And, as in all of life’s most important lessons, experience is always the best teacher. So you know what to do…
Run on over to the website for Rite of Passage, the first Steamfunk feature film and help make it a reality. Your donations will go toward providing props and costumes needed to make Rite of Passage an amazing experience. And they won’t go unrewarded, ‘cause we want to feel the love, too.
Check out our donation levels and choose your contribution.
*We are also asking for donations or loans of your old Steampunk costumes and props*, for which you will receive credit in the film.
Thank you – and much love – in advance!
How to Watch Rite of Passage and other Steampunk and Steamfunk Movies
When Rite of Passage, the first Steamfunk feature film, premieres in February of 2014 at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, you are going to be amazed.
The costumes…the props…the sets…the music…the special effects…the acting, action, production and the story…all at such a high level you will think you are watching a “Hollywood” film, not a low budget film created by two independent multimedia companies and a “tech” university.
And just how should you watch such a masterpiece?
Should you chill with a date and a bucket of popcorn? Should you attend in Steamfunk cosplay with your other funktastic friends?
As you watch Rite of Passage, you should simultaneously be mindful, be emotionally engaged and be critical.
This is the mindset of watching a movie in a non-distracted manner.
This is about being in the present moment; watching with undivided attention and examining the full range of the film’s content without judgment.
Notice when distracting thoughts enter your head while watching the movie; let those thoughts speed through your mind then return your focus to the movie. Also, notice the emotions felt by the characters, and the feelings you are feeling in response.
Be Emotionally Engaged
This is the mindset of watching a movie with emotional investment.
Attach to the characters – in the same way you would attach to a parent, partner, friend or child. Care what happens to the characters.
Receive the protagonist with curiousity, optimism, and trust. You will notice qualities within the character that are likable and unlikable; relatable and unrelatable. This will help you to become clear about the character’s motivations, and to emotionally invest in the character’s experience, which will allow you to tune into the character and fully experience empathic reactions. The more you actively tune in to the character, the more you’ll feel what he or she feels and, in turn, the more you will learn what the character learns.
This is the mindset of deriving lessons for living from the narrative, and actively applying those lessons to your personal experience.
Follow the internal or psychological story of the film – an external story, for example is a dramatic car chase; how the protagonist feels about being chased and how he or she chooses to handle it are the internal story.
Being critical affords the opportunity to examine the messages within the film.
These three mindsets – mindfulness, emotional engagement and critical-thinking – are intrinsic to your successful pursuit of everyone’s primary objective when watching a film (whether you know it or not): using the experience of watching that film to bring about personal growth and positive change.
As you watch the film with these three mindsets, you should also approach the film in two ways:
The first approach is to examine how the movie functions as a coping tool – savor the positive affect the film has upon your feeling of well-being.
The second approach is to examine how the movie serves as a metaphor – capture insight-oriented parallels.
The mere act of watching a movie can improve your mood (emotional), serve as a bonding experience with friends (social), engage memory and attention (cognitive) and serve as a good, clean source of fun on a Friday night (behavioral).
Let’s apply this model to the Rite of Passage tie-in, the surprisingly profound, yet action-packed short film, Rite of Passage: Initiation. The story is about Dorothy Wright – a pupil of Harriet Tubman – who must face a final, arduous trial to prove she is worthy to be a Conductor on the Underground Railroad.
With regards to examining how the movie functions as a coping tool, pay close attention to the scene in which Harriet informs Dorothy why she has brought her to the secret clearing in the forest for the first time and how that scene makes you feel. You will enjoy watching Dorothy’s reaction to the moment and, in turn, become more engaged in her storyline. You will probably also reminisce about your own experience in the face of some great obstacle.
The movie as a coping tool induces immediate, emotional effects, serving to connect you with the character and possibly connecting you with those you interact with well after the movie has ended – those emotions will stay with you for a while and can help you to better relate to others.
With regards to using the movie as a metaphor, examine the different facets of the mindsets of Harriet and Dorothy, Masterfully portrayed by Iyalogun Ojetade and Dasie Thames, respectively. Find parallels in your life, in nature and in society. What do the two characters represent, in general and what do they represent to you personally?
Viewing movies using the above methods now gives those movies even greater value as tools of catharsis and growth.
Of course, these methods should be practiced on movies you’ve seen before until they are a natural part of your watching process, so you do not interfere with the fun of watching a new movie, or one of your favorites, by thinking too much and becoming distracted.
After the worldwide premiere of Rite of Passage in February, be sure to see me afterward and let me know how the film affected you.
And yes, you should chill with a date and a bucket of popcorn and / or attend in Steamfunk cosplay with your funktastic friends.
The talented and dedicated cast of Rite of Passage needs to look the part. We are accepting donations of costumes and props to help make Rite of Passage a spectacular Steamfunk film. Those of you generous enough to share your wares will be listed in the production credits and will receive a free DVD of the completed movie!
For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH: Celebrating Over 150 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror By and About Black People
BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH: Celebrating Over 150 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror By and About Black People
In Atlanta, we are doing it big in October, with a full month of spectacular, educational and downright fun events, all leading up to the wildly popular, 4th Annual – and now national – Alien Encounters Black Speculative Fiction Conference.
In addition to Atlanta, Alien Encounters gatherings will take place throughout October in different major cities in the United States, including the DMV (D.C.; Maryland; Virginia), Philly and San Diego, just to name a few.
Join us for three exciting days of panels, presentations and parties as we illuminated and expand Black Speculative Fiction!
October 25, 2013, 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm – The Mahogany Masquerade Film Festival and Cosplay Party: Come dressed in your best Steamfunk and Dieselfunk costumes as we enjoy Black Speculative Fiction short films and meet their creators.
9:00 pm until: Mahogany Masquerade After-Party
6:00 to 8:00 pm – Horror on the Black Hand Side: Horror Fiction from a Black point of view.
8:00 pm until – Black Hand Side After-Party
October 27, 2013
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm – Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman: The conscious community of Black comic books and graphic novels.
Very exciting times for creators and fans of Black Speculative Fiction and Film; however, the creation of such great and entertaining works are not new. In 1859, for example, Martin Delany published Blake, or The Huts of America, a novel about an alternate history in which a successful slave revolt in the Southern states leads to the founding of a Black country in Cuba.
Charles W. Chesnutt penned The Conjure Woman in 1899, which is the first known speculative fiction collection written by a person of color.
W.E.B. Dubois gave us The Comet in 1920, a post-apocalyptic story about a world where the only survivors of an apocalyptic event are a Black man and a white woman.
Also in 1920, South African author and entrepreneur Thomas Mofolo published his novel, Chaka, which presented a fantastical rendering of the famous – and infamous – Zulu king’s life.
Son of Ingagi is a Black Science Fiction / Horror film released in 1940. It is the story of Eleanor and Bob Lindsay, who inherit the house of Helen Jackson, a physician who has just returned from her trip to Africa possessing gold…and the monstrous, murderous, missing link-type creature named N’Gina.
Many great works of Black Speculative Fiction have followed through the years. Here is a sampling of more great speculative fiction and films by and about Black people:
The Jewels of Aptor, is a Science Fiction novel, written in 1962 by 19 year old genius, Samuel Delaney about a post-atomic future, when civilization has regressed to something near the Middle Ages, or even before, a young student and poet, Geo, takes a job as a sailor on a boat with a strange passenger, a priestess of the goddess Argo, who is heading toward a mysterious land of mutants and high radiation, called Aptor, presumably to recapture a young priestess of Argo, her daughter, who has been kidnapped by the forces of the dark god Hama.
This novel has since gone on to win countless prestigious awards including the coveted Nebula and Hugo awards.
Echo Tree, an amazing collection of short, speculative works by master writer, Henry Dumas, features such stories – all written in the mid-to-late 60s – as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a fantasy story, with elements of horror, set in an underground jazz club. The protagonist, Probe, tests a legendary instrument of immense power on a few unwelcome guests; and “Fon,” a story in which flaming arrows rain from the sky to dispatch a group of would-be lynchers.
Along with Charles Saunders, Henry Dumas is my favorite author and one of my greatest influences. After you read Echo Tree, I am sure he will be one of your favorites, too.
Space Is the Place is an 82-minute science fiction film made in 1972 and released in 1974. It was directed by John Coney, written by revered musician, Sun Ra and Joshua Smith, and featured Sun Ra and his Arkestra in starring roles.
The story revolves around Sun Ra, who has been reported lost since a European tour in June 1969. The musician lands on a new planet in outer space with his crew “The Arkestra” and decides to settle African Americans on this planet. Sun Ra’s medium of transportation throughout space and time is music. He travels back in time, arriving in a Chicago strip club where he used to play piano under the stage name Sonny Ray. There, he confronts The Overseer, a pimp-overlord, and they agree on a duel at cards for the fate of the Black race.
A Blacktacular pulp fiction novel – one of my favorites, by one of my favorite authors – is Damballa, an engaging tale of a shadowy hero who fights evil in 1930s Harlem with unprecedented martial skills and a combination of African and Western science.
If you have not read any of Charles Saunders work, run, don’t walk, to your nearest computer and visit his website.
Pumzi is a Kenyan science-fiction short film written and directed by Wanuri Kahiu.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which water scarcity has extinguished life above ground, this brilliant short film follows one scientist’s quest to investigate the possibility of germinating seeds beyond the confines of her repressive subterranean Nairobi culture.
Winner of numerous awards including Best Short Film at BET Urban World Film Festival & a student film award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Wake is a story steeped in the southern gothic tradition. Written, produced, directed & edited by filmmaker Bree Newsome, Wake is a masterpiece of horror, humor and dark fantasy. This is Southern Horror at its finest!
Next is a novel that helped launch a major movement in speculative fiction.
A long-time admirer of Harriet Tubman, in Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Balogun Ojetade elevates this already heroic icon to super-heroic status, pitting her against the advanced technologies and enhanced abilities of the servants of a government that has turned its back on her and seeks to see her dead. Harriet, possessing extraordinary abilities of her own, enlists the aid of other heroes of history to make a stand against the powerful forces of evil.
Balogun transports you to Harriet Tubmans world: a world of wonder…of horror…of amazing inventions, captivating locales and extraordinary people. In this novel – the first ever book in the subgenre known as Steamfunk – Harriet Tubman must match wits and power with the sardonic John Wilkes Booth and a team of hunters with powers beyond this world in order to save herself, her teenaged nephew, Ben and a little girl in her care – Margaret. But is anyone who, or what, they seem?
With more authors and fans becoming interested in Steamfunk, many more works have begun to appear. The next bestselling work elevates the subgenre of Steamfunk and sends its popularity soaring into the stratosphere:
A witch, more machine than human, judges the character of the wicked and hands out justice in a ravaged Chicago. John Henry wields his mighty hammers in a war against machines and the undead. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman rule a country of freed slaves that rivals – and often bests – England and France in power and technology. You will find all this – and much more – between the pages of Steamfunk, an anthology of incredible stories by some of today’s greatest authors of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Steamfunk – African and African American-inspired Steampunk.
Editors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade have put together a masterful work guaranteed to transport you to new worlds; worlds of adventure; of terror; of war and wonder; of iron and steam.
This is the definitive work for what Steamfunk is and how much fun it can be.
These are exciting times, indeed. October will be the culmination – and the beginning; the sharing and celebration of 150 years of stories that excite, inspire, frighten, educate, entertain and evoke change.
October is gonna be hotter than fish grease!
I’ll be celebrating all month.
Come party with me!
WE’RE HERE II: Black Creators of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in Film & Fiction
In my last post, I provided a listing of popular fandom events with a major Black presence.
I now offer you We’re Here, part II.
Coincidentally (?), friend and fellow speculative fiction author, SR Torris, asked me, shortly after I scheduled this article to post, to check out a video in which the narrator launched a scathing attack on Black writers for our “lack of a literary capacity or intellectual competence to write such stories [Science Fiction and Fantasy]“ and “Because most Black writers have no knowledge of anything other than pimping hoes and hearing women complain about not being able to find a man.”
As I have said before, I do not believe in coincidence; I know this post is right on time and much needed.
The lack of knowledge of the existence of great Black writers of speculative fiction by the narrator of that video – a man who calls himself “theblackauthOrity” – proves that.
I would like to introduce you to just a few of the people who – at present – are on the cutting edge of creating works that attract fans from throughout the geekosphere and who are regular guests of honor, vendors and panelists at fan conventions, festivals and symposiums around the globe, or regular bloggers on all things Black and Nerdy.
We’re here, theblackauthOrity.
Born in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, in 1946, but living in Canada since 1969, this brilliant African American author and journalist has, during his long career, written everything from novels to screenplays and radio plays to magazine articles on boxing.
Charles is also the founder and father of Sword & Soul – African-inspired epic and heroic fantasy.
I first read a work by Charles in 1987 in Dragon Magazine #122, entitled Out of Africa. Unaware that Charles was Black at the time I said “This white guy got it right, but one day, I’ll do better. As a brother, I have to!”
Ah, the blissful ignorance of youth.
Of course, by the time I discovered Charles – who is now at the top of the list of my favorite authors – he had already published his first Imaro story over a decade earlier and had released the first Sword & Soul novel, Imaro, six years before that Dragon Magazine article.
In addition to the mega-popular Imaro series of books, Charles is also the author of the Dossouye series of novels about the adventures of the titular woman-warrior and Damballa – a pulp novel about a scientist / shaman / warrior who fights against Nazis in 1930s Harlem.
His latest work, “Mtimu”, can be read in the anthology Black Pulp.
A pioneer of the modern black film movement, creating such successful and influential movies as House Party, Boomerang and the animated Bebe’s Kids, Reginald Hudlin is unique in the entertainment business because of his success as a writer, producer, director and executive.
Hudlin is also the executive producer and writer of the Black Panther animated series and was executive producer of The Boondocks.
Hudlin received an Oscar nomination as Producer on the blockbuster film, Django Unchained, which also won two Golden Globes, two NAACP Image Awards and is writer / director Quentin Tarantino’s most profitable film and one of most successful westerns ever made.
In addition to his success in films and animation, Hudlin has found much success on the “small screen” as an executive producer of the 2013 NAACP Image Awards, which aired on NBC. The broadcast got the highest ratings for the show since 2009.
Other works in television include his directing the pilot of the hit series Everybody Hates Chris and his work as producer and director of The Bernie Mac Show. Hudlin has also directed episodes of Modern Family, The Office, The Middle, and Psych.
During his tenure as the first President of Entertainment for Black Entertainment Television, Hudlin created some of the most successful shows in the history of the network including the award-winning reality show, Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is; American Gangster; and Sunday Best. He created the BET Hip Hop Awards and the BET Honors.
Reginald is also one of the most successful Black writers in the field of comics, writing award winning runs of Spider Man and Black Panther for Marvel Comics. He adapted Quentin Tarantino’s original screenplay for Django Unchained into a six issue limited series for DC/Vertigo Comics and co-authored the intelligent, witty and moving graphic novel Birth of a Nation.
A friend, writing partner, filmmaking partner and jegna (“mentor”) of mine, Milton has been a strong influence on my work.
Together, Milton and I produced the successful Mahogany Masquerade: An evening of Steamfunk and Film and the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, now both annual events.
He is the author of two Sword & Soul series, Changa’s Safari (Volumes I & II) and Meji (Books I & II) and he, together with the Father and Founder of Sword & Soul, Fantasy fiction pioneer, Charles R. Saunders, is the Co-Editor of Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, the definitive work of Sword & Soul, featuring stories from fourteen different black writers. The first such anthology of its kind, Milton also published this masterpiece through his multimedia company, MVmedia, a micro-publisher and film production company dedicated to bringing diversity to the science-fiction and fantasy fields.
Milton is also Co-Editor, with Balogun Ojetade, of the Sword and Soul anthology Ki-Khanga –which is an introduction to the world in which the table-top role-playing game of the same name they created is set – and the wildly popular Steamfunk!, an anthology featuring twelve masterfully crafted stories of Steampunk, told from an African / African-American perspective.
Milton is also publisher of Balogun’s Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika, the co-creator of the graphic novel, The Blood Seekers, with artist Kristopher Mosby and will release his own fifth Sword and Soul novel, the highly anticipated Woman of the Woods, in mid-June.
Balogun began his career as an author in non-fiction, as writer of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within, which is also used as the manual for the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute, in which Balogun is Master Instructor and Technical Director.
His career in speculative fiction, however, began as screenwriter, producer and director of the films, Reynolds War and A Single Link.
He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul, Steampunk and fandom in general, on his website, the popular Chronicles of Harriet.
He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk! and is the screenwriter, director and co-producer of the short Steamfunk film, Rite of Passage: Initiation.
Along with creative partner Milton Davis, Balogun produces the popular annual events, the Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk & Film and the Black Science Fiction Film Festival.
At present, Balogun is directing and fight choreographing the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage.
The First Family of Speculative Fiction, these authors and filmmakers are movements by themselves and forces of nature together.
Steven Barnes has written several episodes of The Outer Limits and Baywatch. He also wrote the episode “Brief Candle” for Stargate SG-1 and the “The Sum of Its Parts” an episode of Andromeda.
Barnes’ first published piece of fiction, the 1979 novelette The Locusts, was written with Larry Niven, and was a Hugo Award nominee.
Barnes has gone on to author nearly thirty great novels, including the speculative fiction novels, Street Lethal, Lion’s Blood, Zulu Heart and with Tananarive Due, the Tennyson Hardwick mystery novel series.
The first person of African descent to find success as an author of horror fiction, Tananarive Due is an icon, a living legend and immensely popular worldwide.
Beginning with the scary-as-hell, The Between, in 1995, Due followed up with the equally frightening The Good House, a book that gave my wife nightmares every night she perused its pages and still gives her goose-bumps whenever the book is mentioned. After that came Joplin’s Ghost, and then the African Immortals series – my favorite – then, the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series with her husband, Steven Barnes in partnership with the actor, Blair Underwood.
Recently, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due have teamed up to create the “zombie” YA novel series, which includes Devil’s Wake and Domino Falls.
This series inspired the horror short film, Danger Word, which Barnes and Due wrote and produced.
R.L. wrote, produced and directed his first short film at the age of seventeen. He has since gone on to involvement in over fifty short and feature films in many capacities including writing, directing, fight choreography, cinematography, post production work, and editing.
In 2006, R.L. wrote, directed, produced and choreographed the fan film Black Panther: Blood Ties, a film I, my wife and several of my students had the pleasure of acting and performing stunts in.
In 2007 R.L. brought us Champion Road, a popular martial arts / fantasy feature film he wrote, directed, choreographed and produced and in 2008, took on the same roles for its sequel, Champion Road: Arena.
Full disclosure: I play the heroic hermit / martial arts master, Soleem, in both films.
In 2012, R.L. choreographed the fight scenes for the feature film entitled Call Me King, which stars international superstar Bai Ling (Red Corner). Call Me King is scheduled to be released early 2014.
Recently, R.L. acquired the film rights to the Street Team brand of indie graphic novels, which feature street-level (think Wolverine and Batman) superheroes of African descent.
Rasheedah’s life is one that inspires and educates. A mother at the age of fourteen, Rasheedah raised her daughter while attending high school, and college and, in spite of her many responsibilities, she was able to earn a cumulative 3.79 GPA, graduating Summa Cum Laude from Temple in three years with a Bachelors in Criminal Justice. In the fall of 2005, she began her first semester at Temple University Beasley School of Law, earning her J.D. in Spring, 2008 and becoming a member of the Pennsylvania Bar in Fall 2008.
Because of her perseverance and success in spite of personal difficulties, her story was featured in several publications, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Temple Times, as well as a few books, including It Couldnt Happen to Me: Three True Stories of Teenage Moms by Beth Johnson.
An educator, attorney, activist and advocate for teen moms, Rasheedah writes science fiction stories and essays on Philosophy and Metaphysics in her spare time. She has had a work of short fiction published in an anthology entitled Growing Up Girl, inspirational essays published in Sister to Sister: Black Women Speak to Young Black Women and Professor May I Bring My Baby to Class. She will publish her first science fiction novel, Recurrence Plot, in Fall 2013.
In 2011, Rasheedah created The AfroFuturist Affair, an organization dedicated to celebrating and promoting Afrofuturistic culture, art, and literature through creative events and creative writing.
Through The Afrofuturist Affair, Rasheedah has created the annual Charity and Costume Ball, an Afrofuturist-themed costume ball that features artists, authors, and performers who present creations using Afrofuturism and Science Fiction as vehicles for expression and agency.
Black Tribbles is a radio show about geek culture and media in which five people of African American descent engage in thought-provoking conversation and provide critical insight into a culture that is often devoid of a Black influence. The show is witty, irreverent and informative, simultaneously entertaining as it educates.
Every Thursday night, the Tribbles – Jason “Spider Tribble” Richardson; producer, Len “Bat Tribble Webb; co-producer, Kennedy “Storm Tribble” Allen; Erik “Master Tribble” Darden; and Randy “Super Tribble” Green – gather in the radio studio to banter about the nerdy things that excite them, from comic books and fantasy movies to science, history and ancient mythology.
Recently, they hosted a special show – Octavia City – in which original tales of afrofuturism from some of science fiction and fantasy’s upcoming and brightest stars were performed live.
Of course, this list could be expanded to include many more Black men and women who are doing great things in speculative fiction and film. If you would like more authors and filmmakers featured, please, let me know and I will be glad to introduce you to others.
Until then, happy reading and watching!
WE’RE HERE: Ending the Search for Black Fandom
Recently, I read an excellent – and somewhat saddening – post on the Rude Girl Magazine blog entitled A Search for Black Fandom.
The author laments: “A lot of times when I watch things, and am seeking out internet reactions and discussion, I wish I had access to other black opinions. Sometimes fandom is like watching a movie with a room full of white people – when someone does something kinda shady and racist, you want to lean over and be like ‘did this motherfucker just really,’ but then you realize you’re the only black person there so you have to weigh whether or not you’re in the mood for bullshit, because that’s what you’ll get by bringing this up with white people.”
The author thought that she was all alone in the nerdiverse. That there were no other Black people into Science Fiction, comic books, cosplay, Steampunk and Dungeons and Dragons and she felt crippled by this: “It’s no secret that fandom can be racist. Like, really, really racist…if you, as a black person, want to enjoy something – anything – in most popular fandom, you kind of have to decide not to bring up problematic aspects of the source material if you’re not ready to break out the bingo card for yet another tragic game of ‘No That’s Not Racist Toward Black People, Let Me Tell You Why,’ during which white people from all corners of the globe will gather to attempt to invalidate your thoughts, feelings and experiences.”
I am constantly reminded of just how important the work I and the other members of our authors, filmmakers and artists collective – State of Black Science Fiction – do really is. We tell the stories that need to be told – stories of heroes that have been ignored; history that has been forgotten…or denied.
Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Rococoa are subgenres of fiction, fashion and film that convey the heroes and history of Africa, African-America and, indeed, the entire Diaspora. There are also many great tales of science fiction, horror, action-adventure and the paranormal with heroes of African descent.
I have been a guest and panelist at several small and major fandom conventions and I – along with my friend and author Milton Davis – am the curator of the popular Black Science Fiction Film Festival and The Mahogany Masquerade and I am happy to say that there is a multitude of Black fans of speculative fiction and film and the numbers are growing rapidly and immensely.
However, every time I get comfortable, a blog, an attendee at a panel discussion, or a fan at a convention will say “I thought I was the only one reading, doing and / or writing this,” or “If I had known Black people were writing this kind of stuff (or making these kinds of movies), I would have gotten into this a long time ago.”
Statements like that tell me that there is a lot more work to do and that there are a lot more people to reach.
I want my sister at Rude Girl Magazine to know that she need lament no longer and that she is certainly not alone.
We’re here my dear sister.
Below is a list of great recent fandom events with a strong Black presence. Most are annual events, so put them on your calendar and be sure to attend.
Black Speculative Fiction Film Festival, August 2012 – Auburn Avenue Research Library; Atlanta, GA
OnyxCon 4th Annual Black Age of Comics Convention, August 2012 – Southwest Arts Center; Atlanta, GA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, August 2012 – Dragon*Con; Atlanta, GA
The Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk and Film, October 2012 – Alien Encounters (an annual Black Fandom Symposium); Atlanta, GA
The Afrofuturist Affair Museum of Time 2nd Annual Charity & Costume Ball, November 2012 – Philadelphia, PA (an annual costume ball and afrofuturism presentation / performance)
Black Science Fiction Film Festival, February 2013 – Georgia Institute of Technology; Atlanta, GA (an annual film festival featuring fantasy, science fiction and horror films by and about people of African descent from around the world); Atlanta, GA
Multiculturalism in Alternate History Panel, February 2013 – AnachroCon; Atlanta, GA
Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts, March 2013 – Spelman College; Atlanta, GA
12th Annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), May 2013; Philadelphia, PA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 2013 – SciFi Summer Con; Atlanta, GA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 15, 2013 – Wesley Chapel Library; Atlanta, GA (upcoming)
“If you have ever gone crabbing (which i have), once you begin to put the crabs in the pail you have to not only put a lid on it but a weight on top of the lid because they put a lot of energy into getting out. they do this by assisting each other, by creating a ladder out of each other with the last one being pulled out by the others. “ – Mwalimu K. Bomani Baruti on the ‘Crabs in a barrel’ myth
Recently, on Facebook, I posted this photo of a Steampunk crab as my profile picture. One of my Facebook friends asked what the significance of the photograph was.
I posted the photograph as a joke with my friend, creative partner and one of the Producers of the Steamfunk movie, Rite of Passage author Milton Davis after he and I were unceremoniously booted from a little website for having a “crab-in-the-barrel mentality”, according to the Administrator of that little website.
Since anyone who disagrees with this person is labeled a “crab-in-the-barrel” and because the crab-in-a-barrel mentality among Black people is just another excuse – along with the “White man”; the Illuminati; Satan; the Boule and Hollywood – for our own laziness and / or complacency, I wasn’t bothered by the accusation and really didn’t care one ounce I was removed from that little website, which I rarely frequented anyway.
For those who don’t know, the Crab Mentality is a phrase popular among People of Color – particularly Filipinos and Blacks – and was first coined by Filipino writer and feminist, Ninotchka Rosca. The Crab Mentality describes an “if I can’t have it, neither can you”-way of thinking. The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition that prevents any crab from escaping and ensures their collective demise.
The analogy in human behavior is that members of a group will attempt to “pull down”, or “hate on” – diminish the importance, or negate the efforts, of – any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, self-hate or competitiveness.
While there may, indeed, be others who seek to pull you down, the only one who can keep you down is you.
If you give someone so much power over you that they can prevent your rise and ensure your eventual demise, you are a fool…or were not going anywhere anyway and using that as an excuse.
And we do love our excuses, don’t we?
A student in my martial arts class – a man in his very early twenties, yet possessing the muscle tone of a cup of chocolate pudding wrapped in silk – said to me that he decided he would no longer go to school or work because he wasn’t “plugged in” (initiated) to the Boule (also known as Sigma Pi Phi – believed by many to be the Black branch of Illuminati), so any attempts at success were futile. Since he considers me successful, I took that to mean he felt I was “plugged in”. He went on to say he would get plugged, but he refuses to have “relations” with another man, as the Boule is allegedly required to do, according to him and others. I asked him how he, or whoever his source is, knew this was a requirement unless they are Boule and participated in such “relations”. He paused for a long time and then responded “Damn, I fell for that bullshit.”
Yep. He did. It was easier to sit on his ass and do nothing, with the excuse that, since he wasn’t “plugged in”, anything he tried would fail anyway, than to get up, get out and get something.
Because, God forbid, he might break a sweat…or a nail.
He let himself fall for “that bullshit.”
And many of you have, too.
Many people seek to blame some external force for their lack of success, or wait upon some external force to deliver it. Whatever we call this external force, we should call it by its real names – laziness and/or ignorance, which are both rooted in fear, the very opposite of power.
Furthermore, I am an African traditionalist. As such, reliance on external forces is completely foreign to me, so I do not – I cannot operate from a position of fear. I refuse to wait on some savior to rescue me. I rely on my wits, my skills; my experience and my relationships with others.
And no, I’m not “plugged in” – not to the Illuminati anyway (*insert evil laugh here*).
Okanran-Osa, one of the 256 patterns of life in the ancient binary system of the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria says “Hoes cannot cultivate a farm by themselves; we human beings are the force behind them…cutlasses cannot, by themselves, clear a forest; we human beings are their aids…but what forces are working as aids to humanity, other than Olorun (the source of creation; the essence of evolution) and human beings themselves?”
Simply put, you are the catalyst for your own growth; for your own success; for your own failure. Others may assist you, but it is you who is ultimately responsible.
So, get off your ass, claw your way out of that barrel and get to work…or prepare to get eaten… with a buttery garlic sauce and some cheddar biscuits.
ORGANIZED NOISE: Prison Songs in the Age of Steam & Beyond
Prison – a form of political organization for the United States, at least since the beginning of the 19th century – has, in all its cold, hard cruelty, produced its own form of music (or “organized noise”). This music – all of its songs from, or about, prisons and prison life – helps trace the history of human containment sonically. Prison music awakens us to the possibilities of sonic and political escape from incarceration.
The beginnings of prison music in the United States can be traced to the War of 1812. A poet named Francis Scott Key met with British officers aboard a ship off the coast of Maryland to negotiate the release of American prisoners. He was detained and from his dank cell on that ship, Key watched the Battle of Baltimore at Fort McHenry and reported at dawn to the prisoners below deck that he was still able to see the American flag waving.
He chronicled the experience in a poem titled, In Defence of Fort McHenry, which he later put to music. Eventually, the song came to be known as The Star-Spangled Banner. In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy designated “The Star Spangled Banner” as the official tune to be played at the raising of the U.S. flag, and in 1916 the song was declared the national anthem of the United States.
The relationship between prison and music in the United States can be heard most clearly through Black soundings of voice, tools, instruments and technology. It is a sonic protest against imprisonment, even as prison labor is being performed. It is simultaneous containment and escape.
Prison is a necessary function of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism – a warehousing of surplus bodies for exploitation or elimination. Prison music is a documentation of this process. Listening to, and perhaps playing, prison music is our attempt to hear ourselves survive within these dehumanizing systems.
Prison inmates were put to work in the various institutions where they were housed. Working in the cotton or tobacco fields, road and chain gangs, or clearing forests, there were different types of songs for each type of labor. A team would choose a leader as their singer, usually a man with a clear voice who could easily be heard. Proper singing wasn’t necessary but the volume of the voice was. Sometimes, teams or crews of as many as eight men were put to work cutting a tree down, with each member of that team supplied an axe. The reason the work song was so important to the team was simple; with eight men swinging individual axes at the same target, without a rhythm to work by, havoc would be the natural outcome. In an eight man team, four men would follow the lead voice on the downbeat, swinging their axes into the base of a tree, the opposite team would strike the tree on the next downbeat.
These songs were often sang in coded language and expressed the prisoners’ – many of them former slaves – feelings of re-enslavement after Emancipation. These songs of the Steam Age and beyond represent testimonials about the injustice of the criminal legal system for Black people.
Take, for instance, these lines from the haunting prison song Early in the Mornin’, which lament the rape of prisoners by the Caucasian guards:
Boy, the peckerwood a-peck-in on the,
On the schoolhouse door, sugar
Well the peckerwood a-peck-in on the,
On the schoolhouse door,
Well the peckerwood a-peckin on the,
On the schoolhouse door, Lordy, sugar,
Well he peck so hard, Lordy, baby, until his pecker got sore
The theme of wrongful imprisonment and mistreatment of prisoners permeates many prison songs, which have become the foundation of what we now know as the Blues and even today, songs about the hardships of prison life are commonly found in Hip-Hop. R&B / Hip-Hop star, Akon, had written for mega stars, including the King of Pop – Michael Jackson – but his own career as a performer did not take off until the release of Locked Up, his song about his time behind bars.
What type of music provides escape for you? Which songs set you free?
THE ORIGIN OF A STEAMFUNK FEATURE FILM
A Story of History, Fantasy and Steamfunk
Rite of Passage is a Steamfunk movie collaboration destined to change the perception of historical fantasy. It’s the tale of the city of Nicodemus, Kansas and the special souls that have gathered to protect it. Based on a story by Milton Davis, Rite of Passage blends history, fantasy and Steamfunk into an exciting action movie that draws you into the mysterious, intriguing – and sometimes frightening – world of Rite of Passage and the even bigger adventure yet to come.
How It Began
In 2011 author Milton Davis wrote a short story entitled, Rite of Passage. The story was about a young black man who was escaping the antebellum South to freedom under the protection of Harriet Tubman. That night the young man had a unique encounter with another man who possessed amazing powers and abilities. Years later he encounters that same man and is recruited to help him. At the end of their adventure the ‘superman’ passes onto the young man a necklace that gives him the powers he first witnessed in his youth. His charge is to use those powers to protect those like him.
Balogun Ojetade read Rite of Passage and was captured by its message. A writer, director, martial artist and admirer of Harriet Tubman, he saw the potential of the story encompassing much more. The young man in the story became the young woman Dorothy and through the imaginations of both Balogun and Milton, the Rite of Passage mythos expanded, introducing new characters and exciting stories.
From Paper to Film
As the story ideas continued to flow, Balogun and Milton’s vision grew from prose to film. Balogun pulled together a skilled and creative team of filmmakers to produce Rite of Passage: Initiation. The purpose of this short film was to give a glimpse of the Rite of Passage world and show the skills of those involved in order to raise funds to make a Rite of Passage feature-length movie.
An Unexpected Proposal
In addition to working on Rite of Passage together, Balogun and Milton are a part of the State of Black Science Fiction Collective, a group of speculative fiction writers dedicated to promoting black speculative fiction. Their first program was held February 2012 at Georgia Tech in partnership with Lisa Yasek, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, School of Literature, Media, and Communication. In 2013, the group returned to Georgia Tech, this time for the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, which Balogun and Milton produced. The event was a rousing success; so much so that, when Lisa heard of the Rite of Passage project, she gathered together the creative resources of the university and offered their help with the creation of the movie.
A Unique Story Uniquely Told
Roaring Lions Production, MVmedia and the School of Literature, Media and Communication at Georgia Tech have come together to create a movie that combines the history and spirit of the African American experience with the fantastic foundation of Steampunk to create the first Steamfunk movie. Join us in making history and in telling the stories that need to be told!
Milton Davis is a research and development chemist who lives in Metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and two children. A publisher, author and film producer, Milton is dedicated to bringing diversity to the Science Fiction and Fantasy field. His books and films focus on presenting people of color in positive ways, thereby challenging the stereotypes and misconceptions common in the general marketplace. Find him and his amazing works of Steamfunk and Sword and Soul at his website and at his social media site, which is dedicated to authors, filmmakers and fans of science fiction and fantasy.
THE (almost) FORGOTTEN FRIEND OF STEAMFUNK!
Crowdfunding - or crowdFUNKing, in our case, dear Steamfunkateers - fundraising (or funkraising) by collecting relatively small amounts of money from many different people, has become quite popular in recent years.
We all know about the ever-so- popular Kickstarter, considered by many to be the king of crowdfunding, but we often forget the first startup to help the “little guy” bring his or her big creations to the world: San Francisco-based IndieGoGo, which has proven to be quite successful at helping to bring amazing Steampunk projects to life.
Founded in January 2008, IndieGoGo has continuously fulfilled its vision by helping multitudes fulfill theirs. “We’re really aiming to empower the dreams of many, whether it be through getting money for a liver transplant, or a new album, or a restaurant,” says CEO Slava Rubin.
IndieGoGo campaigns receive all the money they have been pledged, whether the initial funding goal was reached or not. Kickstarter campaigns only receive their money if they reach their initial funding goal by its designated date.
IndieGoGo is available internationally, while Kickstarter requires a U.S. bank account.
IndieGoGo takes a 4 percent fee on funds raised. Kickstarter’s fee is 5 percent.
To be sure, both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have their perks. Kickstarter is hugely popular, particularly because it is fantastic for finding and funding creative projects such as music albums or independent graphic novels. But IndieGoGo funds all kinds of projects, from helping bands travel to – and play at – the Steampunk World’s Fair to raising money for an individual who needs cancer treatment.
When we decided to crowdfund our film, Rite of Passage, we decided to entrust our project to IndieGoGo because they provide better perks and a more intimate relationship with their customers than the other startups.
We felt that the first Steamfunk feature film in the history of man deserved a crowdfunding site as magnificent as the series is. After extensive research, we went with Indiegogo.
Please share your crowdfunding experiences. We would love to hear them!
To support our project and to help tell the stories that need to be told, please visit http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rite-of-passage-the-steamfunk-movie/x/3264298.
RITE OF PASSAGE: The Web
The full moon cast a silver glow upon the leaves that crackled beneath Jake’s heels.
He no longer heard the dogs, or the curses of Master William Jessup’s slave-catchers, so he stopped to rest his weary muscles and catch his breath. “For a short spell,” he thought.
“Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”
Jake whirled toward the source of the voice, raising a silver carving knife – still sticky with his former master’s blood – chest high.
The most beautiful woman Jake had ever laid eyes upon stepped out of the shadows. The corners of her full lips were spread in an inviting smile. “I’m sorry, did I frighten you?” Her husky voice revealed a hint of an English accent.
“You obviously ain’t from around here,” Jake said, studying her tall, muscular frame. “You sound like this man who come from England and train me and the other catchers.”
“I’m from London, England,” the woman said. I moved here a while ago. I bought my freedom from…wait…catchers? What did you catch?”
“Runaways,” Jake replied.
“And now, it appears that you are the one who is running away,” the woman said.
“I was the worst catcher ever born,” Jake said. “Every runaway I went after got away.
“They just happened to get away, eh?” The woman snickered.
“My old master got wise to me,” Jake replied. “He decided to make an example of me…killed my wife; my daughter…so I killed him. Been runnin’ since.”
“Well, you are safe here for the night,” the woman said. “The locals are afraid of this forest. They say a terrible beast roams these parts.”
“Then, what you doin’ out here?” Jake asked.
“I love the outdoors,” the woman replied. “Besides, beasts don’t frighten me; men do.”
“Well, this man won’t do you no harm,” Jake said. “My name’s Jake, by the way. Jake Jessup.”
“I’m Tara Malloy,” the woman said, offering her hand.
Jake took Tara’s smooth, mahogany hand in his and kissed the back of it. “Pleasure, ma’am.”
Suddenly, Tara’s hand became a vice around Jake’s fingers, crushing the dense bones as easily as if she was squeezing an egg in her fist.
Jake screamed in agony.
Tara threw her head back as a growl escaped her throat. She snapped her head forward, fixing her maddened gaze on Jake. Her beautiful face had been replaced by what Jake could only describe as the visage of a rabid wolf.
Jake tried to snatch his pulverized hand out of Tara’s grip, but she was too strong and his pain was too great.
Tara yanked Jake toward her. The runaway’s head snapped back from the force as his feet skittered across the dirt and dry foliage.
Jake thrust forward with his carving knife, sinking it deep into Tara’s chest.
Tara staggered backward, coughing as a crimson cloud of ichor spewed from her mouth.
Jake collapsed to his knees. Tara fell onto her back, convulsed once; twice; and then, lay still.
Jake crawled to a large tree and rested his back against it. The pain in his hand and shoulder made it difficult to think; to understand what just happened and darkness encroached upon him, blurring his vision.
“Still alive, eh?”
Jake turned his head toward the voice. Tara stood beside him. He turned his gaze toward her beastly form, still lying where she fell.
“How?” Jake whispered. He wanted to leap to his feet and run, but the pain would not allow it. “What are you?”
“What was I, you mean,” Tara replied. “A werewolf; a child of Eshu; blessed with his gift.”
Tara pointed toward Jake’s wounded shoulder. “Now, you have his blessing, too.”
“I…I’m gon’ turn into a thing like you, now?” Jake spat.
“Maybe,” Tara answered. “You become what your spirit is.”
“I’m gon’ kill you!” Jake bellowed.
“You already have,” Tara said, nodding toward her corpse.”
This was all too much for Jake to bear. He shut his eyes and succumbed to the darkness.
Jake felt soft, warm flesh on his chest. He looked down. Staring up at him was a pretty woman with full, pouty lips and skin the color of sweet cream.
“Good morning, lover,” the woman said, flashing a smile. Her dimpled cheeks accented her beauty.
“You’d better give up that body, Tara,” Jake said, looking at the clock on the far wall of the inn’s room. “You only have a few minutes.”
“Jake, can we talk?” Tara asked, caressing his chest with borrowed fingers.
“Time’s tickin’,” Jake replied.
“I love you,” Tara whispered.
“You what?” Jake pushed Tara’s head off his chest and sat upright.
“I love you, Jake,” Tara repeated.
“We don’t have time for this,” Jake said. “A second past those six hours and this woman dies from shock or goes mad.”
Jake hopped out of bed. His flesh shifted; flowed, as if it was some thick, ebon fluid and then trousers, boots, a shirt and a leather overcoat – all a very dark brown – formed around his naked frame.
“You’re a haint, Tara…a ghost…the undead. I – hell we – hunt the undead. Love ain’t in the cards for us. ‘Sides, you did try to kill me, remember?”
“That was two-hundred forty-seven years ago!” Tara replied.
“Seems like yesterday to me,” Jake said.
A loud, sucking din echoed throughout the room as Tara rose out of the woman’s body. “We’ll talk more later.”
The woman sat bolt upright. She leapt from the bed, locking her gaze on Jake’s broad back. An ebony, wide-brimmed planter hat formed atop Jake’s head. The woman gasped and darted out of the room.
“Creole women,” Tara said, shaking her head. “So…emotional.”
“Let’s go,” Jake said, sauntering toward the door. “Ms. Tubman should have sent that telegram by now.”
On the ground, carriages carried people to-and-from the retail shops, restaurants, inns and houses of ill-repute. In the sky, out of the view of the common people – but not out of Jake’s view – the very wealthy and the military traversed the bustling city by ornate airships and hot air balloons.
“Isn’t it beautiful? Tara sighed.
“Nope,” Jake replied.
“What do you see, then, Mister Doom-and-Gloom?” Tara asked.
“I see smoke…and steel,” Jake answered. “I see children worked to death in dirty factories…widows turned into whores to feed their babies…and we’re still swingin’ from the end of the white man’s rope.”
“Like I said…Doom-and-Gloom,” Tara snickered.
Jake entered the telegraph office. A man sat before each of the three telegraph machines.
“How can we help you fine folks?” One of the men asked, looking up from his machine.
Jake and Tara exchanged glances. Jake took a step back toward the door.
“Oh, don’t worry,” the man said, smiling. “Negro money spends here.”
“That’s not our concern,” Jake said.
“What, then?” The man said, rising from his chair.
“Well, considerin’ my lady friend here is a haint and y’all can see her without her willing it, y’all must be haints, too.” Jake replied.
The man directed his attention to Tara. “You’re a ghost, correct?”
“That’s right,” Tara replied.
“The two other men stood.
“Hmm…ghasts,” Jake said, studying the trio. “Never had the pleasure of killing one of you. Ms. Tubman said you’re fast and can possess a body for days at a time.
“Ah, Ms. Tubman,” The ghast crooned. “After we kill you, we’ll have to pay her a visit.”
“The bloodsuckers got you interceptin’ her messages, now?” Jake asked.
“She has been sending her merry, little band all over to hunt down our kind…your kind!” The ghast spat. That nigger has to die!”
“Give me the message,” Jake said, unmoved.
“I don’t think so,” the ghast hissed.
“Jake raised his palms before his chest. His hands shifted, changing into a pair of ebon broadswords. “I reckon I’ll have to take it then.”
The trio of ghasts exploded forward. Jake leapt forward to meet them.
Jake’s body shattered into a cloud of miniscule, venomous spiders. Each of the thousands of spiders was armed with a scythe-like claw on each of its eight legs. The spider-cloud washed over the ghasts. A moment later, a reformed Jake landed in front of one of the telegraph machines.
The ghasts fell, their tattered bodies covered with an uncountable number of gashes; the organs of their hosts reduced to liquid by the venom racing through their veins.
Jake rustled through the telegrams until he found the one from Harriet Tubman. “Ms. Tubman found the nest.”
“Where to?” Tara inquired.
The sweet-green smell of kudzu permeated the night air. Jake stood high above the ground upon the thick limb of an old oak tree. “Go check it out,” he said, pointing toward a large ranch house an acre away.
“Be back in a bit, lover,” Tara said, blowing him a kiss as she leapt from the limb. She floated toward the house like a feather held aloft in a gentle breeze, landing gracefully at the door of the house. With a quick step, she passed through the closed door as if it was not there.
Jake studied the house. The windows were all covered with a dense, black cloth, preventing any light from getting in or out; a sure sign of a vampire nest.
Tara appeared on the limb. She fanned her hand in front of her nose. “Lord, it smells like the flatulence of a thousand mules in there!”
“Any vampires?” Jake inquired.
“Three,” Tara replied. “It looks like they are getting ready to call it a night.”
“The sun will be up in a couple of hours,” Jake said. “Coffins?”
“No,” Tara answered. “Dirt. The whole house is covered in about two feet of it.”
“These are Old Ones, then,” Jake said. “Good. Kill an Old One and all their progeny die, too.”
Jake leapt from the tree limb. He landed silently below. The hunter knelt at the base of the tree and thrust his hands into the dirt. A moment later, he pulled out a suede sack that was filled with something metallic by the clinking sound of it. “Good old General Tubman,” Jake whispered. “Right where she said it would be.”
Jake tossed the sack over his shoulder and sprinted toward the house. His boots made no sound as they glided across the soft, red, Georgia clay.
Tara floated closely behind him. Upon reaching the house, she stepped through the door. A few seconds later, Jake heard the door’s bolt lock slide back. He tested the door, slowly turning its knob. The door opened.
Jake slipped into the house. He reached into the sack and withdrew a tiny, wedged shape device. The device, constructed of bronze, had a miniscule, amber crystal at its center.
Tara raised her thumb and smiled.
Jake placed the wedge back into the bag and crept forward down the long hallway. He felt something hard beneath the dirt sink under his feet. Iron shackles sprang up around his ankles. Jake transformed into the swarm of spiders to escape, but it was too late. Walls of thick glass sprang up from the floor, slamming into the ceiling with a tremendous thud. Jake was encased in an impenetrable, airtight cube.
The Old Ones stepped out of a room at the end of the hallway and strode toward Jake. Huge grins were spread across their pallid faces, exposing their fangs.
Tara floated toward them.
“I can feel you, darlin’,” the lead Old One – a tall, lean man, with the dress and ruggedness of a cowboy – said. “Well done.”
“Tara?” Jake gasped.
Tara turned her gaze away from Jake and cast her eyes downward.
“My kind are the servants of Eshu, charged with keeping the balance between the light and the darkness…between the Natural and the Unnatural, like yourselves,” Jake said. “My kind are the livin’.”
“Living; dead; undead…some of us are hunters; some prey,” the Old One said. “That – and blood – are all that matter.” The Old One stepped closer to the glass. “Where are my manners? In all of this excitement, I neglected to introduce myself. I am Henrick.” Henrick pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “The rather large gentleman behind me is Malloy and the enthralling beauty is Bloody Jane.”
“Let me out of here, so we can all shake hands,” Jake said.
Henrick laughed. “I like you, hunter. It’s a shame you’ll be dead soon. We could have been friends.”
The vampires walked past Jake’s cell toward the door.
Henrick glanced over his shoulder. “We are heading out for a quick bite. Don’t go anywhere.”
The vampires left the house. Their sardonic laughter cleaved the darkness outside and echoed throughout the house.
“How could you do this, Tara?” Jake spat.
“I am sorry, Jake,” Tara replied. “One day, you’ll understand.”
“Just a few days ago, you said you loved me,” Jake said. “You sure as hell have a funny way of showin’ it.”
“I do love you,” Tara cried. “That’s why I’m doing this.”
“You ain’t makin’ no sense at all,” Jake said.
“Soon, you’ll run out of air,” Tara said. “You’ll die; then, you’ll have an eternity to fall in love with me.”
“That’s haint obsession talkin’,” Jake said. “After a while, every haint goes mad. I thought you had it beat. I reckon it just took you a little longer.”
“I am not crazy, Jake!” Tara shouted. “But, love makes us do crazy things.”
“If I die on account of you settin’ me up, do you really think I’m gon’ ever love you?”
“I…I’m not sure,” Tara sighed. I hope that you’ll…”
“I’ll hate you,” Jake said. “But, if you let me out of here, there might be a chance for us.”
“You’re just saying that to convince me to set you free,” Tara said.
Jake stared into Tara’s eyes. “Have I ever lied to you?”
Tara stepped into Jake’s cell. “I don’t know where the release switch is.”
Jake nodded toward his suede sack, which lay at his feet. “Then persuade those bloodsuckers to tell you.”
Tara closed her eyes and stretched her incorporeal fingers toward the sack. For a moment, her fingers became somatic and she grabbed it. A second later, she was, once again, incorporeal, as was the sack and its contents. She walked out of the cube, taking the sack with her.
Tara floated down the hallway and through the door, leaving Jake alone in his cell.
Jake launched a powerful side-kick at one of the walls of the cell. His heel slammed into the glass. Jake’s foot felt as if it had slammed into the side of a mountain. “Magically enhanced,” he mused. Jake sat, cross-legged, on the floor. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing, slowing it.
A while later, Tara returned. “It’s done.”
Jake’s opened his eyes. “Did you get all the windows? The roof?”
“I was quite thorough,” she replied.
“Tara!” A voice wailed on the other side of the door.
Tara floated to the door. She willed her hand to become corporeal and used it to open the door.
A web of intense light crisscrossed the entrance.
Henrick stood a few yards away from the doorway. Malloy and Bloody Jane stood behind him.
You’ve been a bad girl, Tara,” Henrick said. “What have you done to our house?”
“They’re called Thread Bombs,” Tara replied. Each one releases a thread of light akin to the light of the sun. I planted nearly a thousand around your house to encase it in a web of sunlight.”
“Well, be a dear and turn them off, please,” Henrick said, affecting a warm smile.
“I can’t,” Tara said. “Only Jake can.”
“And why is that?” Henrick asked, struggling to maintain his friendly demeanor.
“Every bomb has to be turned off at the exact same time, or they will explode, blanketing a square mile in their light,” Tara answered. “Jake can become a swarm of spiders and turn off each bomb simultaneously.”
“And how do we know he will do that for us once he is free?” Henrick inquired.
“You don’t,” Tara replied. “But, what choice do you have?” If you set Jake free, he might shut down the web; leave him in that cell to die and you’ll all burn.”
“Quite the fickle one, aren’t you?” Henrick said. “Okay, we’ll bite, so to speak, but know that if you cause the death of three Old Ones and their children, there is nowhere you can run; nowhere you can hide. We will find you…and even a ghost can be destroyed.”
“Duly noted,” Tara said. “Now, where is the switch?”
“In the study,” Henrick replied. “There is a brass statue of a tiger in there. Turn its tail clockwise and the walls will come down.”
“I’ll be right back,” Tara said, vanishing from sight.
“Hurry back, child,” Henrick said, looking skyward. “It’ll be dawn soon.”
A whirring sound rose from beneath Jake. A moment later, the glass walls slid back into the floor.
Jake breathed deeply, welcoming fetid, but cool air into his lungs.
Refreshed, Jake sauntered toward the door.
“We have upheld our end of the bargain,” Henrick said. “Your turn.”
“Bargain?” Jake said. “I don’t bargain with Unnaturals.”
Henrick’s smile faded. “Tara said…”
“Your deal was with Tara,” Jake said, interrupting the Old One. “Not with me.”
“Nope,” Jake replied, picking dirt from his nails.
“You bastard!” Henrick hissed, baring his fangs.
Malloy and Bloody Jane screamed as sunlight cut through the clouds and seared their flesh.
“Turn it off,” Henrick wailed, his skin turning black where the sun kissed it. “Please!”
The Old Ones burst into flames. Their chilling screams rending the night sky until their vocal chords were to charred to emit sound.
Within moments, three piles of gray ash lay near the entrance to the house.
Tara materialized beside Jake. “I hope this makes things right between us, lover,”
“Nope,” Jake replied.
“What now, then?” Tara asked.
“We keep killin’ Unnaturals,” Jake answered.
A broad smile spread across the ghost’s pretty face. “So, we’re still partners?”
“For now,” Jake replied. “We make a good team. ‘Sides, huntin’ can be lonely work. But, I promise you, you ever betray me again and you get the sigil.”
“To use a sigil on a ghost, you have to know that ghost’s real name, Jake,” Tara said. “I never told you – or anyone – my real name.”
“Your ex-husband says different,” Jake said.
Tara’s eyes widened and her jaw fell slack. “My ex…?”
“I met a conjurer a few years back by the name of Laveau,” Jake replied. “She channeled your ex-husband, Kayode, and, boy, did he have a story to tell!”
“What did he tell you?” Tara asked.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jake said. This place stinks.”
“Jake, what did he say?” Tara’s voice was shaky. “Jake?”
The corners of Jake’s mouth curled into a slight smile as he stepped through the web and into the welcoming dawn.
EXPRESSING THE INEXPRESSIBLE: A Steamfunk Soundtrack!
Would The Matrix have been a success if its action scenes had been accompanied by a romantic harp and piano score?
Would The Titanic have been a blockbuster if its emotional scenes were driven by a gangster rap score, or even L.L. Cool J’s sugary I need Love?
Of course not.
Music – the type and where it is placed within scenes – can make or break a movie.
One unforgettable scene in Django Unchained is when Django – played by Jamie Foxx – rides off on horseback, using the horse’s mane as its reins, to save his wife, Broomhilda. The scene’s music score – the moving Who Did That To You, performed by John Legend – enhances the powerful image and evokes strong emotions in the audience. The score is an effective one, forcing us to remember the scene long after we have seen the movie. In the movie Malcolm X, when Malcolm – portrayed by Denzel Washington – heads to the Audobon Ballroom for what is to be his final speech and the place where he is murdered, many in the audience were moved to tears by the scene’s image of a sullen Malcolm walking alone toward his fate and the score – the iconic and powerful A Change is Gonna Come – performed by Sam Cooke.
Music has helped to enhance movie scenes since the era of silent films. The first known use of music in a movie are the silent films of the Lumiere family of Paris, who played the piano at a screening of their films at the Grand Café in Boulevard de Capucines on December 28, 1895. The Lumiere family then presented their films – with the piano score – to audiences in London on February 20, 1896. Within a few months, several London theatres adopted the same approach, drafting orchestras to give live music accompaniment to their movies. Audiences felt more fulfilled and enjoyed the musically enhanced films much more than the previous ghostly silence they experienced in the theatres.
The first movie with its own score was L’Assassinat du Dur de Guise, released in 1908.
Filmmakers came to realize that by toying with our emotions through music, our vision of what we see onscreen is enhanced.
For most, the function of a film’s music is not easily defined. It is part of an audiovisual system that allows spectators to escape. Movies allow audiences to perceive reality in a passive framework and a movie’s music provides a reconstruction of old experiences and a proposal of new ones.
A film’s score helps far-fetched ideas to become plausible. Alien abductions, serial murders and love affairs in the White House are not usually associated with our everyday experiences, so how does cinema extrapolate such experiences so realistically? Music plays an important role as it provides a rhythmic beat that enable the audience to measure internally the psychological time of the film, relating it to the basic sensation of real time.
Furthermore, the relative time passed between events on screen can be expressed through the music. A narrative that spans decades can logically take place within a ninety minute film because the music in the movie helps us to experience the sensation and speed of time and recreates our sense of reality.
A film’s score constantly alerts us to the feelings that are congruent with what we see – the worlds on the silver screen are, indeed, emotionally perspicuous.
This concept is well illustrated by the classic martial arts masterpiece, Drunken Master 2, directed by Lau Kar-Leung and Jackie Chan. The use of music in the final fight scene allows the viewer to achieve a comprehension beyond that of real life experience. The depressed, drunken state of the hero, Wong Fei Hung, is portrayed brilliantly by Jackie Chan. At the same time, the aggression and power felt by Wong Fei Hung is illustrated by synchronizing each strike with a driving beat and erratic string instruments and horns. By combining an audible expression of emotion with a visual one, this scene allows the viewer to experience two emotions simultaneously – an effect that is impossible in everyday life.
Not only does music function in allowing the virtual replication of time, it also allows events on screen to achieve clarity beyond that of our everyday experiences.
Through music, the spectator is engaged beyond the visual action into a realm consisting of unconscious emotional receptions. After all, the best film scores are heard at a subconscious level.
Music organizes and dredges memory, invoking something akin to a feedback system. The repetition of musical experience creates a residual psychic structure that becomes archetypal.
A film’s score can convey a wide range of emotions – afraid; happy; sad; romantic; angry –because it involves the coordination of two different symbol systems – music and movies – two symbol systems in a complementary relationship; each system supplying something that the other system lacks, or, at least, does not possess with the same degree of effectiveness that the other system does.
By listening to the music and by employing a comparison between pre-experienced musical idioms (usually unconsciously), the audience can engage contextually with the experience being offered through the film.
Music can use its timeless quality to increase audience understanding and to enhance the effect of a film by serving as a kind of binding veneer that holds the film together.
Music creates tension by setting up anticipations and prolonging their resolution.
Rhythm and intonation also play a part in the emotional effect a score has on its audience. Rhythms familiar to a culture and regularity of rhythm will have a soothing, safe effect on an audience.
In contrast, sudden tempo changes jolt our perceived notions of rhythm and make us feel uneasy.
Lookin’ For the Perfect Beat…through Brass Goggles
In the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, the score will feature what Director, Balogun Ojetade and Producer, Milton Davis have dubbed “Steamfunk Music” – a combination of Funk, Hip-Hop and Southern U.S. Folk Music.
Now, before you blow a cog, let me remind you that, as Joshua Pfeiffer, founder of the Steampunk band Vernian Process, and co-founder of the Steampunk-centric record label/collective Gilded Age Records, says – “There is no defining element to Steampunk music. Steampunk music is different to every individual’s interpretation of it.”
Right on, Josh!
Mr. Pfeiffer goes on to say – “The only true definition (of Steampunk) could be – ‘Music created by Steampunk fans, or music that Steampunk fans find invokes the atmosphere they expect from a Steampunk setting or aesthetic’. Steampunk music, as I see it, more often than not consists of a mixture of genres; usually a mixture of genres from various periods in music history; be it Ragtime with Punk Rock, Industrial and Neo-Classical, Chamber music and Electronica, Swing and Hip-Hop, or any other variety of combinations. The only constant element that must be present is some form of vintage – 19th or early 20th Century – musical influence.”
Some of you may shrug and say “Fine by me; hell, I don’t know exactly what funk is anyway.” Well, let me explain…
What is Funk?
Funk is a very distinct style of music based on R&B, soul and jazz which is characterized by a strong bassline – often in the percussive “slap bass” style of Larry Graham (originally of Sly & the Family Stone), complex rhythms and a simple song structure.
The name “Funk” originated in the 1950s, when “funk” and “funky” were used increasingly as adjectives in the context of soul music — the meaning being transformed from the original one of a strong, pungent odor to a strong, distinctive groove.
Funk de-emphasizes melody and harmony and brings a strong rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums to the foreground. Funk songs are often based on an extended vamp on a single chord, distinguishing it from R&B and soul songs, which are centered on chord progressions.
Funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments such as electric guitar, electric bass, Hammond organ, and drums playing interlocking rhythms. Funk bands sometimes have a horn section of several saxophones, trumpets, and in some cases, a trombone, which plays rhythmic “hits”.
In early jam sessions, musicians would encourage each other to “get down” by telling one another, “Now, put some stank on it!” At least as early as 1907, jazz songs carried titles such as Funky Butt.
Some of the best known and most skillful soloists in funk have jazz backgrounds. Trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker are among the most notable musicians in the funk music genre – both of them working with funk maestros, James Brown, George Clinton and Prince.
Now, I am willing to bet that you know what Hip-Hop is…even you die-hard, Maine born and bred Caucasian Steampunks out there. Why? Because Hip Hop and Steampunk are cut from the same cloth.
Oh, that cog is about to pop, now!
Don’t believe me that Hip Hop and Steampunk are apples that dangle from the same tree? Disagree? Read on.
What is Hip-Hop?
Hip Hop is an art form that includes deejaying (mixing, cutting and scratching records); emceeing/rapping; breakdancing; and graffiti art. Hip Hop originated in the South Bronx section of New York City around the mid 1970s.
From a sociological perspective, Hip Hop has been one of the main contributing factors to the curtailing of gang violence, as many adults and youth found Hip Hop effective for channeling their anger and aggression.
Hip Hop caught on because it offered young urban youth a chance to freely express themselves. More importantly, it was an art form accessible to anyone. A member of the Hip Hop community did not need a lot of money or expensive resources to express any of the four elements of Hip Hop. A member of the movement did not have to invest in lessons or anything like that.
Hip Hop also became popular because it offered diverse and unlimited challenges. There were no real set rules, except to be original. Anything was possible. The ultimate goal was to be perceived as being “def” (“good”) by one’s peers.
Finally, Hip Hop, because of its inclusive aspects, allowed its members to accurately and efficiently inject their personality.
No two people expressed Hip Hop the same, even when mixing the same record, reciting the same rhyme or dancing to the same beat.
The Hip Hop movement continues to be popular among today’s youth for the same reasons urban youth were drawn to it in the early days – it is an accessible form of self expression capable of eliciting positive affirmation from one’s peers.
Throughout history, music, art, dance and literature originating from America’s Black communities has always had an accompanying subculture reflective of the political, social and economic conditions of the time. Hip Hop is no different.
Hip hop is a lifestyle with its own language, style of dress, music and mindset that is continuously evolving.
Defining Characteristics of Hip Hop
Defining characteristics of Hip Hop include:
Most members of the movement take on a nom de plume and many even assume an alter-ego.
Most members of the movement wear fashions readily identifiable with Hip Hop.
Resistance to a hierarchical, oppressive society.
Resistance to mainstream, “industry” representations of the culture.
A literary (rap; spoken word), visual art (graffiti; fashion), musical (deejaying) and dance (breakdancing; krumping) component.
Blends future and past (cave drawings with drawing on walls and trains; ancient African martial arts with modern dance moves; ancient African rhythms with contemporary music).
Uses creativity and innovation to solve problems and to challenge limits. A do-it-yourself attitude.
Defining Characteristics of Steampunk
Now, let’s compare the defining characteristics of Hip Hop with those of Steampunk:
Most members of the movement take on a nom de plume and many even assume an alter ego.
Nearly all members of the movement wear fashions readily identifiable with Steampunk.
Resistance to hierarchical society; often attempts to resist oppressive, imperialistic society by ignoring its existence or by rewriting and redefining history.
Resistance to mainstream, “industry” representations of the culture.
A literary, visual art and musical component.
Blends future and past (anachronism; retrofuturism).
Uses creativity and innovation to solve problems and to challenge limits. A do-it-yourself attitude.
Hip Hop and Steampunk bear strong resemblances to one another and both have their origins in resistance to an establishment that begs for escape or rebellion.
For many “Hip Hop Heads” (aka “B-Boys” or “B-Girls”) – what those heavily immersed in the Hip Hop culture are often called – Steampunk provides an attractive aesthetic due to its similarities in attitudes and its differences in style. The gadgets are especially attractive and new to Hip Hop Heads and sightings of Steampunked turntables and headphones are bound to happen soon.
The members of the Hip Hop culture, always seeking to bring something old to the movement and make it new and cutting edge (remember the marriage of Rock and Hip Hop, ala Run DMC and the Beastie Boys?), are fiercely anachronistic and cannot help but find a kinship with their fellow rebels in Steampunk.
Who are the Carolina Chocolate Drops, you ask?
The Carolina Chocolate Drops is an old-time string band from Durham, North Carolina. Their album, Genuine Negro Jig (2010), won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album.
Formed in November 2005, following the members’ attendance at the first Black Banjo Gathering, all of the musicians sing and trade instruments including banjo, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, snare drum, bones, jug, and kazoo. The group learned much of their repertoire, which is based on the traditional music of the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina, from the late African American master fiddler, Joe Thompson, although they also perform old-time versions of some modern songs such as Blu Cantrell’s R&B hit Hit ‘em Up Style (Oops!).
For the closing credits for Rite of Passage, we hope to get permission to use the song Shut it Down by The Harlem James Gang – a throw-back Neo Vaudevillian performance troupe that puts the entertainment factor back into music, combining music, dance, theatre, song and magic into their live show.
The Harlem James Gang mashes up the sounds of the 20s and 30s with hip-hop to create a unique, original and infectious sound sure to have audiences at the end of our film bobbing their heads and dancing in the aisles.
Be sure to reserve your seat for the red carpet premiere of Rite of Passage in February, 2014…and let the movie and its masterful musical score transport you through time and space to the town of Nicodemus.
THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNK MOVIE, Part 3: Inside the Mind of an Actor
Recently, the great character actor, martial artist and fight choreographer, Osceola Thaxton – who plays the physician / scientist / inventor Dr. Walcott in the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage – sent an inquiry about the character: “PEACE FAM! I hope all is well….please, send me some background info on Dr. Walcott. Is he a mad scientist? Is he crazy at all? What kind of GENIUS is he? What drives him? Money…..power…women? What are his fears…his passions?
Oh, and does he speak proper English?”
Why so many questions? Why not just learn his lines, show up on the set and “act”?
From the perspective of someone who has never acted before, or from someone who has only done a school play, acting probably seems like an endeavor in which all you have to do is memorize lines.
To this effect, the way in which actors engage with material – by thinking about characterization, intention and the subtext underneath their lines – increases their memory for the material. It is by thinking about the meaning behind the words, rather than just the words themselves, that actors are able to memorize long scenes and entire plays.
This approach can help individuals, including elderly adults, who have never had an acting lesson increase their memories. So, the next time you need to memorize a speech, think about why you are speaking each sentence, in addition to just what words need to come out in what order.
An actor’s role (pun intended), however, goes far beyond just memorizing lines.
Actors are charged with creating a character from words on a page. To achieve this daunting task, first the actors have to figure out what the character wants – the goals and objectives that must be achieved within the context of the play, movie, or television program. Often a script is only the bare bones of the character’s objectives – the lines the character will say, and the lines that others will say in response. From these bones the actor creates a skeleton of characterization – a frame upon which his or her character is built.
There is a trio of critical psychological skills that help an actor create such a skeleton: theory of mind, empathy, and emotion regulation.
Theory of Mind
The ability to understand what others are thinking, feeling, believing, and desiring. Infants seem to have a preliminary theory of mind and children are able to fully understand the beliefs and desires of others by three years of age. The ability to read another’s intentions and desires varies as a function of our relationship with that person, our own attention, and the degree to which we are trained to do so. Actors, psychologists and individuals who read a lot of fiction normally have highly developed Theory of Mind skills.
Refers to a feeling we get that is appropriate and emotional in response to someone else’s emotion. This can mean being happy that your best friend is having a baby, or anger when that same friend’s now teenaged daughter stays out all night with her loser boyfriend. The use of empathy in acting is somewhat controversial – some actors think they must feel all of their character’s emotions – that they that must really feel sad, angry, or in love if you are to portray that emotion correctly. Other actors think that all that feeling gets in the way of acting, and that physical portrayal of an emotion will be enough to get it across to the audience and create a realistic portrayal and then there are those actors who will switch between both methods, depending on their personal mood and the needs of the performance.
An actor’s control of his or her own emotions and the replacement of them with the emotions of the character.
Most of the methods used by an actor, however, are unconscious. Too deep of a conscious analysis of character by an actor can be detrimental. Stellar actor Denzel Washington does extensive preparation and uses physical reminders in order to masterfully play his roles. However, when it comes to the moments of actually acting, of creating that character’s words and actions while the camera rolls, Mr. Washington has no idea how he is going to bring the character to life; he just does it. In fact, Mr. Washington believes that analyzing the character too deeply might make his grasp on the character go away. He has, instead, learned to just trust himself.
Acting is difficult. Ask any director or actor. There seems to be a delicate balance between overt preparation and unconscious performance. Bad performances are often criticized as being “self conscious” – the actor was aware of what she was doing, or aware of the character’s faults, and could not help projecting them as she played the character.
Our behavior is changed by all sorts of unconscious processes, motivations, and influences that we don’t even notice. And these influences can be manipulated extremely easily. In a classic study, John Bargh, a psychologist at Yale University, primed students with words relating to old age.
After rearranging lists of words into sensible sentences, the subjects – all New York University undergraduates – were told that the experiment was about language ability. It was not. In fact, the real test began once the subject exited the room. In the hallway was a graduate student with a stopwatch hidden beneath her coat. She pretended to wait for a meeting but was really working with the researchers. The grad student timed how long it took the test subjects to walk from the doorway to a strip of silver tape a little more than 30 feet down the hall.
The words the subjects were asked to rearrange were not random, although they seemed to be. They were words such as “bingo,” “retirement,” “Florida,”, “wrinkles,” “bitter” and “alone.”
Reading the list, you can envision a stooped, elderly person shuffling about a tiny studio apartment that reeks of mothballs, hissing curses at the television.
A control group unscrambled words that evoked no theme. When the walking times of the two groups were compared, the Florida-retirement-bingo-alone subjects walked, on average, much slower than the control group.
Bargh and his associates conducted another similar experiment in which they tested Caucasian and Asian subjects to see if they were more hostile when primed with an African-American’s face. They were.
In a third experiment, the subjects were primed with rude words to see if those words would make them more likely to interrupt a conversation. They did.
Currently, Dr. Bargh’s work is showing surprising findings about unconscious priming of behavior and attitudes, such as how holding a warm cup of coffee can make you feel socially closer to those around you – no wonder most of my meetings are held at Starbucks.
So, tell me your thoughts – is acting intuitive? Can the author of the screenplay, play or teleplay use certain words to put an actor into character? Or, does preparation enable actors to “forget” themselves when in the moment of acting? Does it matter whether you have “preexisting talent”? Or is training and preparation more important?
Your feedback – as always – is welcome and encouraged.
A STEAMFUNK VIDEO PRIMER
At our first Info Session for the Steamfunk movie Rite of Passage, GA-Tech Professor and an Associate Director of the film, Lisa Yaszek, asked who was familiar with Steamfunk. Three hands – not including those of our crew – went up in the packed room. She then asked who was familiar with Steampunk. Five hands went up.
We then proceeded to give those in attendance a list of books to read and movies to watch to familiarize themselves.
As Lisa defined what Steampunk and Steamfunk are, I realized just how important the making of Rite of Passage is. Steamfunk’s / Steampunk’s do-it-yourself philosophy, reverence for history and its focus on craftsmanship, originality, history and creativity is much needed for the building of a future and for the betterment of the present.
For all of you – and for anyone you know who may struggle with the concept of Steamfunk – I offer below a video primer that defines the subgenre and can serve as a reference for future works. Enjoy!
As always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged!
STEAMFUNK WILD WEST: Black Lawmen and Outlaws in the Age of Steam!
We continue our League of Extraordinary Black People Series with an in-depth look at those who enforced – and those who gave the finger to – the law and carved a trail of tears, blood and bullets across the Wild West.
The son of a Black Chickasaw Freedman father, and a Black Creek Freedman mother, Grant Johnson was born in northern Texas during the Civil War and raised in Indian Territory. This same territory is where Johnson would become renowned as one of the greatest U.S. Deputy Marshals in history.
Serving under Judge Isaac Parker for at least 14 years, his career as a U.S. Deputy Marshal began in 1887. His contribution was invaluable and in high demand as he was well-versed and proficient in the customs and language of the Muskogee Creek nation. Johnson often worked with Bass Reeves, the man considered by many to be the greatest lawman in history. Together, they captured one of the most notorious outlaws in the territory – Abner Brasfield. Johnson also captured the noted counterfeiter, Amos Hill; Choctaw outlaw Chahenegee; the murderers, John Pierce and Bill Davis; the Cherokee outlaw, Columbus Rose; train robber, Wade Chamberlee and dozens of others.
One of the most noted peace officers in the history of the Indian Territory, Judge Isaac C. Parker mentioned him as one of the best deputies that ever worked for his court.
In 1898, Johnson transferred to the Northern District, which was headquartered at Muskogee. For many years, Johnson worked alone, patrolling in and around Eufaula, Creek Nation. He developed one of the best arrest records of any of the deputies that worked the Northern District under Marshal Leo Bennett.
Johnson became a policeman for Eufaula in 1906, primarily patrolling the African American section of town. He died in Eufaula on April 9, 1929.
The Buck Gang
The gang had a total of five members – Creek First Nation natives, Sam Sampson and Maoma July and brothers, Lewis and Lucky Davis, who were Creek Freedmen. All of them had been apprehended on minor offenses and served time in the Fort Smith jail prior to their crime spree that summer.
It is rumored that the spree came about as a result of Buck boasting that his “outfit would make a record that would sweep all the other gangs of the territory into insignificance.” However, it is more likely that the spree – driven by Buck’s rage, poverty and desperation – was in response to the horrific and tragic event in which Creeks and Cherokees, along with the escaped slaves who married into those nations, were forced, by the U.S. government, to march over 1,000 miles during the infamous Trail of Tears. Many died along the way and the First Nation and Black people forced to settle in the region dubbed the Indian Territory struggled in that bleak region for fifty years, but finally carved out a decent living for themselves. The government’s attempts to take back that land and give it to Caucasians who now desired to settle in the Southwest was met with outrage, which – in the case of the Buck Gang – became, simply, rage.
On July 28, 1895, the gang shot and killed another Black Deputy U.S. Marshal, John Garrett, near Okmulgee. On their way from that murder, they allegedly abducted and raped a white woman known only as Mrs. Wilson. They killed horse rancher, Gus Chambers when he resisted the gang’s theft of his horses and then robbed a stockman of his clothing and boots, firing a hail of bullets just past his head as he fled naked to safety. Two days later, the gang raped a white woman, Mrs. Rosetta Hansen, while they held her husband at bay with Winchesters.
The gang was finally apprehended, brought to Fort Smith and convicted in a rape trial. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court which upheld the verdict, and the gang died together at the gallows on July 1, 1896.
After Buck’s death, a photograph of his mother was found in his cell. On the back, Buck had written a poem:
I dreamt I was in heaven
Among the angels fair;
I’d near seen none so handsome,
That twine in golden hair;
They looked so neat and sang so sweet
And play’d the golden harp.
I was about to pick an angel out
And take her to my heart;
But the moment I began to plea
I thought of you my love.
There was none I’d seen so beautifull
On earth or heaven above.
Good by my dear wife and mother
All so my sisters
Crawford Goldsby, an Oklahoma outlaw better known as Cherokee Bill, was born at Fort Concho, Texas, on February 8, 1876, the son of St. George and Ellen (Beck) Goldsby. He had three siblings – a sister named Georgia and brothers Luther and Clarence.
Bill’s father – a man of Black, Sioux, Mexican, and Caucasian heritage – was a highly decorated Buffalo Soldier – a Sergeant Major in the 10th U.S. Cavalry; however, because of a fracas in Texas, St. George went AWOL and escaped to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
Bill’s mother was reportedly half black, one-fourth white, and one-fourth Cherokee. She had been born in the Cherokee nation, Delaware District. Her parents had been owned as slaves at one time by a Cherokee, Jefferey Beck.
After St. George left his family in Texas, Ellen moved with the all the children to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, except for Crawford (Bill) – who was too young to travel – whom she left behind in the care of a Black woman, Amanda Foster. Ms. Foster took care of Bill until the age of seven when he moved with his mother to Fort Gibson and then on to Cherokee, Kansas, where he attended Indian school for three years. He then attended the Carlisle Industrial School for Indians in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for two years.
After leaving school at the age of twelve, he returned to Oklahoma.
His mother remarried when Bill was thirteen. He did not get along well with his new stepfather and started hanging around with a rough crowd, drinking liquor and rebelling against authority.
At fifteen, he went to live with his sister, Georgia, and her husband.
At seventeen, he worked on a ranch where it was said he was well liked by all.
At eighteen, while attending a dance at Fort Gibson, Texas, Crawford shot a man named Jake Lewis twice when Lewis refused to stop beating his own little brother. Crawford then headed for the Creek and Seminole Nations (now Oklahoma) where he met Jim and Bill Cook, a couple of outlaws.
In the summer of 1894, the Cooks and Crawford convinced the owner of a restaurant – a Caucasian woman – to collect some money due to each of them as a payment share for some Indian land called the Cherokee Strip. The government had bought the land. The woman did as she was told, collecting the money for all three, but upon her return, was followed by a sheriff’s posse trying to catch up with the Cooks. There was a gunfight, ending with a posse member dead, one wounded and Crawford and the Cook brothers in the wind. The owner of the restaurant was questioned about the gunfight and was asked if Crawford was among the group. She replied no, but that among them was “the Cherokee Kid”. This, apparently, was where Crawford gained his nickname.
The famous Cook gang made itself known across the Cherokee and Seminole Nations (in what is now Oklahoma) in July, 1894 with train and bank robberies and murder.
Cherokee Bill murdered at least seven people and may have killed as many as thirteen, later forming his own gang and riding with such well-known outlaws as Henry Starr and Billy the Kid.
With the assistance of acquaintances who hoped to receive part of a $1,500 reward, federal authorities finally captured Cherokee Bill and transported him to the federal district court in Fort Smith, Arkansas. There, he was convicted of murder of an unarmed man who happened to witness Bill’s participation in a robbery and sentenced to hang. After an unsuccessful escape attempt in which he killed a jail guard at Fort Smith, Bill received a second murder conviction.
When the United States Supreme Court rejected his appeal of his first conviction, federal officials hanged him before hundreds of onlookers, on March 17, 1896. When asked if he had any last words, his response was, “I came here to die, not to make a speech.”
After his death, Cherokee Bill’s mother took his body to the Fort Gibson area (Oklahoma), where he was buried.
Bass Reeves was born a slave in Arkansas in 1838. His slavemaster, William S. Reeves, moved the household to Paris, Texas in 1846, where he became a prominent politician in the region as well as a farmer. Bass worked as a water boy in the cotton fields of the Reeves farm, where other enslaved Blacks regaled him with stories of adventure featuring Black heroes
When the Civil War broke out, William Reeves’ son, George, was commissioned as a colonel in the Confederate army and took Bass to war with him. Although he was supposedly George Reeves’ servant, Bass fought in several battles during the conflict. However, after a dispute with George over a card game which led to fisticuffs and the large and powerful Bass opening a can of whoop-ass on the colonel, Bass escaped and fled into the Indian Territory (which we now know as Oklahoma) as a fugitive slave. There, he lived among First Nation peoples from the Creek and Seminole, developing an understanding and appreciation of their languages, cultures and customs. During this time, Bass served in the Union’s first Indian Home Guard regiment under an assumed name.
Bass eventually moved to Arkansas where he acquired property near Van Buren. He met a young woman named Nellie Jennie and in 1870, the two were married and settled into Bass’ farm, where they raised five boys and five girls.
By 1875, however, he had found a new profession – as a U.S. Deputy Marshal, under the direction of Judge Isaac C. Parker. Bass’ family continued to reside in Van Buren during these years.
This change, from farmer to lawman, began the most colorful, noteworthy, and successful careers of all the western frontier marshals. Bass worked in the Parker court at the time of the execution of James Diggs, a notorious criminal, who had been wanted for years. He assisted in the capture of deadly outlaws Bob Dozier and Johnson Jacks and in 1884, he is noted for bringing a caravan load of prisoners from Indian Territory.
Bass served as a Deputy U.S. Marshal in Indian Territory for 32 years and was the only one to serve from Judge Parker’s appointment until Oklahoma’s statehood. He became one of the most successful lawmen in American history, arresting more than 3,000 fugitives. Bass’ work as a Deputy U.S. Marshal ended in 1907 when Oklahoma was granted statehood. He then went on to work for the Muskogee Police Department for two years until he was diagnosed with Bright’s disease. He died on January 12, 1910.
Bass Reeves has been immortalized in literature and in film. We continue this tradition in the Steamfunk movie, Rite of Passage, in which Bass Reeves – one of the guardians of the town of Nicodemus, Kansas – is the possessor of a pair of pistols and a rifle that gives him extraordinary powers and enhances his already formidable skills. Veteran film director and actor, Omar Sean Anderson is tasked with bringing this amazing character to life and you are sure to love how we – and Omar – envision the legendary Bass Reeves.
Following is a complete list of Black Deputy U.S. Marshals who worked in the Ft. Smith, Arkansas region. Their numbers – and their stories – are quite amazing.
Jefferson, Edward D.
THE ROAD TO NICODEMUS: Black Towns in the Age of Steam!
Black Americans have played a vital role in building this nation. Eager to live and prosper as free people, we have established our own towns since Colonial times. Many of these communities were destroyed by racial violence or injustice, while some just died out. Let’s explore a few of these symbols of freedom, courage, hard work and ingenuity a bit more in-depth.
Fort Mose, Florida
Although this settlement was established well before the Age of Steam, it still merits mentioning, as it is a fascinating place with an even more fascinating history. Established in 1738, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose – or Fort Mose – was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States and played an important role in the development of colonial North America.
Amid the fight for control of the New World, Great Britain, Spain and other European nations relied on African slave labor. Exploiting its proximity to plantations in the British colonies in North America and the West Indies, King Charles II, of Spain issued the Edict of 1693 which stated that any male slave on an English plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom, provided he joined the Militia and became a Catholic. This edict became one of the New World’s earliest emancipation proclamations.
By 1738 there were 100 Black men, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. Many were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. With accompanying women and children, they created a colony of freed people that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.
When war broke out in 1740 between England and Spain, the people of St. Augustine and nearby Fort Mose found themselves involved in a conflict that stretched across three continents. The English sent thousands of soldiers and dozens of ships to destroy St. Augustine and bring back any runaways. They set up a blockade and bombarded the town for 27 consecutive days. Hopelessly outnumbered, the diverse population of blacks, First Nation peoples and whites pulled together. Fort Mose was one of the first places attacked. Lead by Captain Francisco Menendez, the men of the Fort Mose Militia briefly lost the Fort but eventually recaptured it, repelling the English invasion force. Florida remained in Spanish hands and for the next 80 years remained a haven for fugitive slaves from the British colonial possessions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
The site was abandoned in 1763 when the British took possession of Florida. The residents of Mose evacuated to Cuba and formed a new town, Ceiba Mocha, Matanzas province, considered the hub of African spirituality in Cuba.
The town prospered as the Florida Railroad established a small depot to handle the transport of cedar wood to the pencil factory in Cedar Key and the transportation of timber, turpentine rosin, citrus, vegetables, and cotton throughout the State. In 1890 the cedar depleted and many of the white families moved to Sumner, three miles west of Rosewood and worked at the newfound saw mill established by Cummer and Sons. By 1900 Rosewood had a black majority of citizens.
On the morning of January 1, 1923 Fannie Coleman Taylor of Sumner Florida, claimed she was assaulted by a Black man. Although she was supposedly knocked unconscious for several hours due to the shock of the incident, she was not seriously injured and was miraculously able to describe, in detail, what happened. No one disputed her account, of course and no questions were asked. It was assumed she was reporting the incident accurately.
Sarah Carrier a Black woman from Rosewood, who did the laundry for Fannie Taylor and was present on the morning of the incident, claimed the man that assaulted Fannie Taylor was her white lover. It was believed the two lovers quarreled and he abused Fannie and left. However, in 1923 no one questioned Fannie Taylor’s account and no one asked Sarah Carrier about the incident. The Black community claimed Fannie Taylor was only protecting herself from scandal.
A posse was summoned and tracking dogs were ordered by James Taylor, Fannie Taylor’s husband and the foreman at Cummer and Sons saw mill. The local white community became enraged at the alleged abuse of a white woman by a Black man – an unpardonable sin in a world in which it was punishable for black men back then to even look at a white woman.
James Taylor summoned help from Levy County and neighboring Alachua County, where a large number of KKK members had been rallying and marching in opposition of justice for Black people.
A telegraph sent to Gainesville in regards to Fannie Taylor’s allegations provoked four to five hundred Klansmen, who headed to Sumner at the appeal of James Taylor. They arrived enraged and combed the woods behind the Taylor’s home looking for a suspect. Suspicion soon fell on Jesse Hunter, a Black man who had allegedly recently escaped from a convict road gang. No proof of the escape was ever provided.
The posse confronted Sam Carter at his home and Carter allegedly admitted to helping Hunter escape. The posse forced Carter to take them to the place where he last saw Hunter. When no trace of Hunter could be found the posse turned into an out of control lynch mob, torturing Carter, riddling him with bullets and hanging him from a tree.
The posse continued their hunt in Rosewood. They found Aaron Carrier, cousin and friend to Sam Carter, in bed at his cousin, Sarah Carrier’s house. They yanked him out of bed, tied a rope around his neck and dragged him behind a Model –T Ford from Rosewood to Sumner. They tortured him, beat him with gun butts and kicked him until he lost consciousness they then shot him numerous times.
Levy County Sherriff Bob Walker halted the gunfire before a fatal shot could be delivered, however, when he yelled, “Don’t, I’ll finish the nigger off!” Confident that the sheriff would take care of Aaron Carrier, the posse returned to Rosewood to hunt and kill more Black people.
Sheriff Walker threw Aaron Carrier in his vehicle and took him to Gainesville, to the Alachua County jail, begging Sheriff James Ramsey to hide Carrier from the public and his family until tempers settled down. Sheriff Walker also suggested that Sheriff Ramsey get medical help for Carrier. Sheriff Ramsey brought in two local Black doctors – Dr. Parker and Dr. Ayers – to treat Carrier. For six months, without any knowledge of the public or Carrier’s family, the doctors tending to Carrier’s wounds and returned him to health and strength.
Fuming with anger because they had not found the attacker James Taylor sent Sarah Carrier’s son, Sylvester Carrier, a message “We are coming to get you.”
Unbeknownst to the posse, Sylvester Carrier took heed to the threats and made contact with his Levy County friends who bravely traveled to Rosewood to help avert the planned ambush of its citizens.
After dark, the white posse traveled to Rosewood prepared to kill or be killed. The posse, intoxicated with moonshine and ignorance, was met head-on with resistance from Sylvester Carrier and his friends, however and several of them were killed or injured. The surviving posse members fled, returning to Sumner, leaving their guns behind at the order of Sylvester Carrier and his men. Other posse members lay dead and wounded in Sarah Carrier’s yard.
On January 3rd, many citizens of Rosewood fled into the swamp, hiding out and waiting for the train to come and take them to safety. Others fled to white store merchant John Wright’s home. He allowed them to wait there in hiding until they heard back from Sheriff Walker, who travelled back and forth to Cedar Key, Sumner, and Rosewood in an effort to move Rosewood’s citizens safely out of Rosewood on the 4 AM early morning train, which was conducted by the Bryce Brothers from Bryceville, Florida.
When the posse returned to Rosewood days later to make an assessment of the damages, they vengefully shot and killed anyone who remained in the town – mainly those too ill or too old to
Weeksville, New York
What is now Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, NY, Weeksville was the second-largest community for free blacks prior to the Civil War. James Weeks, a freed slave, purchased a significant amount of land from Henry C. Thompson, another freed slave. Weeks sold property to new residents, who eventually named the community after him. The town thrived, becoming a free Black enclave of urban trades-people and property owners comprised of both Southern blacks fleeing slavery and Northern blacks escaping the racial violence and draft riots in New York and other cities. By the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, Weeksville was already a thriving area with its own doctors, teachers, publishers, and social services.
Freedmen’s Town, Texas: Houston’s ‘Little Harlem’
Over a period of sixty years the town thrived, with churches, schools, stores, theaters and jazz spots lining the cobblestone roadways, earning Freedmen’s Town the nickname of “Little Harlem” by the 1920s.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression caused many residents of Freedmen’s Town to lose their homes. Most longtime residents were forced to move to other Houston neighborhoods, while others stayed in the town, only to watch the community deteriorate.
In 1984, Freedmen’s was designated a historic district.
Blackdom, New Mexico
Dispatched from Ft. Leavenworth for the New Mexico Territory in 1846 to fight the Mexican-American War, General Stephen W. Kearny led a force of 2,500 soldiers in the invasion (yes, invasion – just ask the First Nations in the area). One of those detailed to that force as a wagoneer was a Georgia freedman by the name of Henry Boyer. Upon reaching New Mexico, Boyer fell in love with the vast desert expanses of sky and land, upon his return home, he told his wife and children tales of his adventures in New Mexico, emphasizing the awesome beauty of the land.
One of Boyer’s children, Francis Marion (“Frank”) Boyer, was captivated by his father’s stories. Frank, a graduate of Morehouse College and a teacher, grew dissatisfied with his existence in Georgia and joined groups of other Black men who spoke out against the savageries of the Ku Klux Klan and other Southern atrocities.
Fearing for his son’s life, Henry Boyer suggested that Frank leave Georgia and move to New Mexico to seek a better life for himself and his family. In 1896, Frank Boyer and his friend and student, Daniel Keyes, decided to set out for New Mexico.
Being Black, Mr. Boyer and Mr. Keyes could not travel by stagecoach or rail, nor could they get secure passage on a wagon train. Undeterred, they set out on foot, and walked the entire distance from Pellum (nowadays known as “Pelham”), Georgia to Roswell, New Mexico – a distance of 1,200 miles.
Upon arrival, the two men worked multiple jobs while exercising their rights as freedmen under the Homestead Act, laying claim to acreage in the area of what is now Dexter. The following year, Franks’s wife, Ella Louise and their children joined him, and he was able to secure a loan from a bank to begin homesteading. He dug an artesian well, built a house, and began an active outreach campaign to other Black families in surrounding states, urging them to come to the beautiful desert land in the southeastern part of the Territory and help create the New Mexico Territory’s first Black community.
And they came…more than 300 people from across the country…despite the odds; despite the obstacles. Whites would not sell them train or stagecoach tickets and would not permit them to board in the event that they managed to secure tickets anyway; they would not sell wagons or horses to Black families, despite their ability to pay.
But they came…by cart; on horseback; on foot like the town’s founders…and in 1903, Frank Boyer filed the town of Blackdom’s articles of incorporation.
Unfortunately, in the 1920s, a severe drought led settlers to abandon the town.
In the late 1870’s, as the Reconstruction following the Civil War failed to bring the long awaited freedom, equality and prosperity promised to Black people, along came a white man by the name of W.R. Hill – to black families in the backwoods of Kentucky and Tennessee – who described a “Promise Land” in Kansas. Hill told of a sparsely settled territory with abundant wild game, wild horses that could be tamed, and an opportunity to own land through the homesteading process in Nicodemus, Kansas.
The town site of Nicodemus was planned in 1877 by W.R. Hill, a land developer from Indiana, and Reverend W.H. Smith, a black man. Reverend Smith became the President of the Nicodemus Town Company and Hill, the treasurer. The two founders aggressively promoted the town to the Black refugees of the Deep South. The Reverend Simon P. Roundtree was the first settler, arriving on June 18, 1877. Zack T. Fletcher and his wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, the daughter of Reverend W.H. Smith, arrived in July and Fletcher was named the Secretary of the Town Company. Smith, Roundtree, and the Fletchers made claims to their property and built temporary homes in dugouts along the prairie.
The Nicodemus Town Company produced numerous circulars to promote the town, inviting “Colored People of the United States” to come and settle in the “Great Solomon Valley.” The Reverend Roundtree became actively involved in the promotion, and worked with a man by the name of Benjamin “Pap” Singleton , a black carpenter from Nashville, who traveled all over the United States distributing the circulars, which portrayed Nicodemus as a place for African-Americans to establish Black self-government. Singleton, who could not read or write, distributed so many circulars that he was sometimes called the “Moses of the Colored Exodus.” The Blacks who decided to emigrate soon acquired the name “Exodusters”.
At the same time, railroads, needing to populate the West to create markets for their services, exaggerated the quality of the soil and climate in this “Western Eden.”
The desperate families of the South listened with rapt attention and in the late summer of 1877, 308 railroad tickets were purchased to take them to the closest railroad point in Ellis, Kansas. The families then walked the remaining fifty-five miles to Nicodemus, arriving in September 1877.
Building homes along the Solomon River in dugouts, the original settlers found more disappointment and privation as they faced adverse weather conditions. In the Promised Land of Kansas, they initially lacked sufficient tools, seed, and money, but managed to survive the first winter by selling buffalo bones and by working for the Kansas Pacific Railroad at Ellis, the city fifty-five miles away where they originally arrived. Others survived with assistance from the Osage First Nation, who provided food, firewood and staples.
Though most stayed, many settlers were disillusioned by the lack of vegetation and the harsh land and made a hasty return to the green fields of Kentucky and Tennessee. Of those who stayed, the spring of 1878 brought hope and opportunity as new Exodusters, bearing horses, oxen and farming tools began to farm the soil.
A local government was established, headed by “President Smith.”
One woman arriving in the spring, Williana Hickman, said years later of arriving at Nicodemus: “When we got in sight of Nicodemus the men shouted, ‘There is Nicodemus!’ Being very sick, I hailed this news with gladness. I looked with all the eyes I had. I said, ‘Where is Nicodemus? I don’t see it.’ My husband pointed out various smokes coming out of the ground and said, ‘That is Nicodemus.’ The families lived in dugouts… the scenery was not at all inviting, and I began to cry.”
Despite the poor living conditions, Williana and her husband, Reverend Daniel Hickman, stayed, organizing the First Baptist Church in a dugout with a sod structure above it. By 1880, a small, one-room, stone sanctuary had been erected at the same site. This structure evolved from limestone to stucco, and in 1975, a new brick sanctuary was built. Today, the church still stands in Nicodemus.
Zachary Fletcher, one of the town’s first settlers, became the first postmaster and the first entrepreneur in Nicodemus, establishing the St. Francis Hotel and a livery stable in 1880. His wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, became the first postmistress and schoolteacher and one of the original charter members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The complex that Fletcher built, which housed the post office, school, hotel and stable, later became known as the Fletcher-Switzer House and was an important focus of activity in the community. The building still stands in Nicodemus today.
By 1880, Nicodemus had a population of almost 500, boasting a bank, two hotels, three churches, a newspaper, a drug store, and three general stores – surrounded by twelve square miles of cultivated land.
Edward P. McCabe, who joined the colony in 1878, served two terms as state auditor, 1883-1887, the first African American to hold a major state office.
By 1887 Nicodemus had gained more churches, stores, a literary society, an ice cream parlor, a lawyer, another newspaper, a baseball team, a benefit society and a band. Hopes were high in the community when the railroad talked of an extension from Stockton to Nicodemus and in March of 1887, the voters of the Township approved the issuance of $16,000 in bonds to attract the Union Pacific Railroad to the community. Despite the bond issue, the town and the railroad could not agree on financial compensation and the railroad withdrew its offer.
In 1888, the railroad established the extension six miles away south of the Solomon River, leaving Nicodemus a stranded “island”. Businesses fled to the other side of the river to the Union Pacific Railroad camp that later became known as the town of Bogue. With the businesses leaving, Nicodemus began a gradual decline.
Zachary Fletcher, the town’s first entrepreneur, sold his town lots to the original promoter, W. R. Hill, but continued to run his businesses. Eventually, the hotel reverted to Graham County for a time but was brought back into the family in the 1920′s by Fred Switzer, a great-nephew raised by the Fletchers. When Switzer married Ora Wellington in 1921, they made the hotel their home.
Despite all the hardships and calamities that Nicodemus faced, it survived…and thrived.
More than a half-dozen black settlements sprung up in Kansas after the Civil War but Nicodemus is the only one that still stands.
In the world that author Milton Davis and I have developed – the world you will experience in the upcoming Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage – the secret to Nicodemus’ survival lies in its four very powerful protectors – Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Wright, John Henry and Bass Reeves and the town’s President, “High” John Konker. Just as the Exodusters have been drawn by promises of self-government, freedom and economic success, the town’s protectors have been drawn by a mysterious and fearsome entity known only as Jedediah Green, who you will learn more of in the next phase of Rite of Passage stories.
The Rite of Passage movie is a pulse-pounding thrill-ride that introduces you to this dark and gritty world of steam, brass and iron and to the origins of its heroes.
With the might of our heroes – and with the imaginations of Milton Davis and Yours Truly – Nicodemus Town Company will never fall.