Watch the amazing Grace at the premiere of her documentary American Revolutionary talking about our responsibility to converse, reflect and self transform so we may continue to evolve as a human race and galvanize the revolution beyond us.
I’ve no doubt that yesterday at the full-house world premiere of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, we were in the presence of arguably the greatest living American sage. Yet as much of an impact Grace Lee Boggs’ 80 something years of activist endeavors have made to those directly involved or already familiar with the African American civil rights movement, now thanks to director Grace Lee and producer Caroline Libresco, who gloriously bring onscreen her philosophical voice, her legacy will illuminate and inspire the rest of us who had no idea of this woman’s accomplishments. The documentary serves as a re-introduction to a whole new generation and as such, offers a significant tool of social activism within itself. Like it did in me, I trust it will spark a call to spiritual arms for everyone towards fulfilling the visionary quest Grace Lee Boggs dares to predict for human kind.
To say Grace Lee Boggs is a highly thought provoking and profound human being would be an understatement. I was absolutely floored by her wisdom and transcendent way of thinking. Throughout the screening a low murmur of ‘Mmmhmm’s could be heard.
Grace Lee Boggs received her Ph.D in Philosophy in 1940. While translating the works of Karl Marx she became attracted to the socialism beliefs which subsequently and naturally drew her to Detroit, where the catapulting industrialization of the automobile industry provided the most fitting stage to adopt into practice the socialist workers’ theories. She has stayed in Detroit ever since, becoming a beloved and iconic figure in the community. “This is how giants fall”, Grace says at the beginning of the film as she ambles past the old abandoned factory plants of Detroit with her walking aid. The director, Grace Lee has been documenting her for 12 years, and in that time span she has not only created a close bond with her but has also accrued some fascinating archival moving picture and sound footage. The camera fluidly pans through stills and at one point I wasn’t sure if it was animating a still or it was real film, the images are rendered so lively. There is a playful score and humorous graphic sequences here and there informing us of the scholars and philosophers, Grace Lee Boggs tends to reference quite a bit, i.e. “Hegel in 30 seconds”. When she married Jimmy Boggs, a through and through man from Alabama whose deep country accent belied his innovative revolutionary expression, the two became a force, writing pamphlets, books, holding community meetings and organizing marches. In describing one of their very first encounters Grace noticed Jimmy’s ‘unpleasantness’, a trait that you can tell oddly attracted her in some sense. He asked her to marry her right then and there that same night, crystalizing their soul mate debate dynamic they had throughout their forty years of marriage in which they discussed everything around them in the world except the personal. Although the two tried to keep a low profile, as described by the FBI reports, they were a dangerous anomaly and the file they kept on Grace Lee Boggs grew thicker and thicker.
The film doesn’t shy away from questioning her identity as a non-African American member of the community and then much later in life when she reawakens her consciousness of her ethnicity as a Chinese American. More delicately the question of where she fell between the non-violence approach of Dr. MLK or the extreme aggression Malcolm X preached within the civil rights movement is broached. Her authenticity is also challenged by none other than the director Grace Lee, who expresses her frustration directly. How is it that she is so positive, never shares doubt and deflects any personal questions of making mistakes or regrets especially considering acknowledgement of such is necessary for the transformative growth she frequently talks about to take place. Sure enough, as proof Grace Lee Boggs exercises the beliefs she preaches, she listens to Grace carefully and then tells her that it is something she will reflect on. Adding, “I’m really good at that”.
As much as American Revolutionary is a remarkably engaging U.S. biographical and historical portrait, this is also as big picture of a point of view on the human race and where it is going, I’ve ever seen in a documentary. Somehow, Grace Lee Boggs has become more lucid with age. Time is a funny thing we hear her say, and its almost as if she’s figured out how to contract time itself. Conversation is how she is an activist these days and as you can see above she continues to articulate the questions we should be asking of ourselves and challenging us to expand our imagination. Looking ahead, she reminds us that the question of what a revolution means today is critical to think about and address. The conversation could not be more timely.
The film has a second screening at the LA Film Festival tonight at 7:20. East coast, it will screen at AFI Docs June 21 and 23 in D.C.. For all you Motor City peeps, in celebration of Grace Lee Boggs 98th birthday (!) there will be a screening on June 29 in Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The film will be broadcast on POV next year. Follow the film and Grace on Twitter and Facebook.