Stories from the Light & Shadows: Hyderabad-Hollywood-Washington

by Aslam Ansari

Tags: Heterosexual,

Desc: True Story: 1998: An idealist filmmaker from Paris goes to Hollywood, and tries to build up a student movement at UCLA - University of California, Los Angeles for some Black American to become the next president...

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Hyderabad - Hollywood - Washington D.C

It Was Time for My "Black Brother" to Lead...

1998: An idealist filmmaker from Paris goes to Hollywood, and tries to build up a student movement at UCLA - University of California, Los Angeles for some Black American to become the next president...

Barack Obama was quite reasonable in his own right to think and proclaim, "I am American, and not the Afro-American or Black American!" Though here I like to quote a Black American writer Terence Powers who writes in his essay "EXPERIENCE OF BEING A BLACK AMERICAN IN WASHINGTON D.C AND IN PARIS": "Traditionally the black American - I prefer "black American" as opposed to the rather stymied, liberally chaste "African-American" which grates on the skin..."

I remembered my discussion with Terence Powers. He was reading from his essay ... We were in Café Ecriture in Paris, just outside Université de Sorbonne. "Yes, I do understand and fully agree with your preference about using the phrase Black American, and not the African-American. After all, black is simply the name of a colour like so many other colours", I pointed out the aspects of nomenclature and the aesthetics of colours. "Why be "defensive" about using the word "black"?, I said in a sharp tone. In Urdu and Hindi poetry, "sounli-sloni" (brown-browni) has always been a romantic compliment to the beauty of a woman who has a brown complexion. So what's wrong with saying "Black American"?

In 2008, a historical election in America reverberated not only the political circles but also the social and cultural atmosphere everywhere. Barack Obama pointed out, "my campaign has energized Americans who have never before been involved in the political process."His campaign also revealed that as a 19-year old he travelled to Karachi and Hyderabad in Pakistan. "This experience taught me about some of the most important aspects of a foreign policy", Obama said. Here one could visualize a 19-year old Obama strolling somewhere in Hyderabad, sometime around in 1972. Did this city contribute anything to his spirit and awareness? Influences in this age always affect, to a large extent, the visions and beliefs of our future...

At about the same time when Obama was probably absorbing, conceiving, and experiencing some of "his voyages of youth" in this city called "HYDERABAD" (150 km from Karachi), the soul of a dreamer emerged from this same town ... and a while later, merged into Hollywood, with an up-close look at the affairs and the spectacles in Washington D.C.

I had been living in Paris, a city I loved with my heart and soul. I had travelled from Paris to the world capital of movies for an independent research on a "controversial and sensitive" subject in order to explore it through film ... This was after making my debut film "Desperate Connections" on the issue of child labor, and screening it during the 1997 Cannes film Festival. Then at Cannes-1998, I had discussions with some American producers on the project of making another film. Two of these producers invited me to come to Hollywood. One was Sam Lupowitz from PAN AM PICTURES who was in Cannes-1998 with his film "THE VERSACE MURDER" about the world-renowned Italian fashion designer Johnny Versace. The other producer was George Shamieh from PM ENTERTAINMENT whose popular TV series "LOS ANGELES HEAT" was telecast every week on French TV M6, at 18h .30. So, anyway, I was given the green light to travel to Hollywood by the graces of these two men and explore the inspiration for my next film.

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I was sitting with Peter DeAnda, a well-known American actor from the 1970's. He was having his large-size beer while we were in Snow White Café at 6769 Hollywood Boulevard. Peter DeAnda had acted in many landmark movies including Shaft, Lady Liberty, New Centurions, Come Back Charlston Blue - to name a few ... He had also contributed and raised his voice against "BLAXPLOITATION" in the 1970's when a large number of films with black performers were made and aimed at the black audience, though generally made by white producers.

During the time when I met him, Peter DeAnda was having his down-times. Though soon after, he started performing in the TV series "Beverly Hills-90210". Here I meet Peter DeAnda - with some grey hairs at 60, and a lot of wit. Besides being in the movies, he had also performed in many Broadway and off-Broadway plays. He was nominated twice for an NAACP Image Award. To say the least he truly inspired me, "Did we light any fire?" let's just say there was a light in the fire and a fire in the light - or perhaps both. Peter DeAnda contributed a lot to my enlightenment: When I asked him naively, "so why do you call it a "BLAXPLOITATION" period if more black performers were given the opportunity in popular cinema?" He laughed and said, "you know, I was among those who tried to raise an awareness about the irony of that atmosphere. Because during that period, the number of cinema going audience had fallen down significantly, so the white producers started making so many films with black actors in order to capitalize on the black Americans' attention. We explained to the black Americans that this is just a temporary phase, and once the cinemas are packed again with audiences, the white producers will bring back their prominently white heroes to the screen".

Peter was leaning through the rear window of his memoire... : "At that time I emphasized that the black performers should try to utilize the opportunities coming from this periodical phase to establish themselves in their own right, and not just to be carried-away with these "moments" of success". He finished his chilli burger and we made a move to the Studio Café at 6633 Hollywood Boulevard at the crossing of Cherokee. A dreamer and a veteran were sharing their vision...
"So what do you envisage for your venture in Hollywood?", you're gonna make a film here – right?" Peter asked me. "Yes", I responded, "Hollywood is interesting, Yes, but that's all ... I'm sure there is more to the story. I am here to try and make the connection between Hollywood and Washington D.C., which is where the larger balls are thrown out into the arena." "So what kind of bricks and stones are you going to use to construct the bridge to reach up to that end?" said Peter.

"Of course, I am here to do an independent investigation on this controversial and sensitive subject, and explore it through a film", then I shared with Peter DeAnda the subject matter and underlying story that I was working on. "Two CIA agents are shot dead outside the CIA headquarters in Langley by a Pakistani man Aimal Kansi. The story has already hit the world news headlines. I want to investigate and expose the truth beyond the news". I continued, "I am going to utilize the result of this work as "my contribution" to the knowledge of the American people", I said. I had already registered the outline of this subject titled "THE GREAT COVER-UP" with the Writers Guild of America, West in Los Angeles on July 23rd, 1998.

Peter DeAnda and I, almost every day, moved through various hangouts around Sunset Boulevard and in the Westwood Village, which is the neighborhood of UCLA - University of California, Los Angeles. Two cafés GYPSY and NEWS ROOM were our favourite places in Westwood Village.

I finished two large-size American croissants with an Italian cappucino, and walked into the University Campus, just a few steps from here (my days at Karachi University Campus sparked in the mind). Now I was standing in the University School of Law at UCLA - a major institution in Los Angeles. "hmmm ... I should communicate with the students here..."
I was looking through the pages of UCLA Journal of International Law & Foreign Affairs, near its office in room 1357. I approached "UCLA BLACK LAW STUDENTS ASSOCIATION" - Teresa Kerr, its President and Joseph Collier, the Vice President. Then afterward to the "CHICANO-LATINO LAW REVIEW" in room 2246. Its Editor in Chief Theresa Archuletta and Executive Editor Alexis Brunes were energetic people. Educated persons from the marginal sector can always throw a different light on mainstream society, and contribute the meaningful aspects.

Student movements anywhere, when they start taking form and shape, contribute to some great change everywhere. The uprising at Berkeley in the 1960's – awakened the students, women, artists, workers - and reached its peak in Paris in May 1968. I was going to contribute my efforts - for the birth of a student movement in this university. The romanticism and the idealism were whispering to me softly ... My thought being, whatever is happening OR may happen in this world IS my concern. I was not interested in being a "silent spectator" or engaging in the living-room discussions and academic debates. I have to act as a "catalyst" in the implementation-process of practical solutions. Philosophical radicals of the early 19th century in Britain - The Fabian Society - Austin, Ricardo, George Bernard Shaw expanding BENTHAM's concept of "utilitarianism": Translate liberalism from philosophical premises into practical conclusions of law, economics and politics - radical reform through the existing institutions and constitutional governments. There is no future in being a "living-room revolutionary" in an arm chair.

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