Black Lives Matter formed in 2014 as a reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Subsequent shootings of especially young black men by police officers have sparked conversations about race probably not heard and seen in America in decades.
But discrimination against black and brown people is not limited to the United States. Bronx based film-maker/rapper/poet Bocafloja has produced a documentary that details in first-person narratives the struggles experienced by black and brown people in a number of North and South American countries.
Bocafloja said he intentionally shot his subjects for “Nana Dijo” to obscure their occupations.
“By ‘placing’ the occupation and background of certain people, automatically the audience will give more credit to certain narratives than others,” said Bocafloja. “So in a way, we were trying to let the audience in the body of the oppressed in general, express itself in ways that were not necessarily attached to geopolitical borders or to academic backgrounds.”
Bocafloja also intentionally placed his subjects in settings that often made it difficult to discern the country from which they were speaking.
“We wanted to push the discussion beyond the construction of Latino identity and nationalism. By producing it that way, we were able to push the discussion deeper,” said Bocafloja.”
Through first-person stories by people of various nationalities and languages through the Americas, Bocafloja attempted to show through “Nana Dijo” that discrimination against black and brown people lives outside the United States, and can manifest in different ways. He also didn’t flinch from including people who outlined their own prejudices, adding that is has been powerful during screenings of the film to watch Americans react to people in other countries who would experience discrimination in the U.S. talk about their own prejudices against black and brown people in their own country.
“Sometimes in the U.S. we face a lack of understanding of the black experience beyond the borders of the continental U.S.,” said Bocafloja. “In the context of Latin America, there is a huge process of denial based on the fact that Latino identity in general is deeply connected to anti-indigeneity and anti-blackness. Commonality in those understandings of race and identity is expressed in different forms and places, but at the end of the day, the documentary is trying to open a dialogue in which all those differences can mesh and find very similar origins.”
As America continues to struggle with how to deal with its century’s old tension between races, so does other North and South American countries. Bocafloja said despite racism manifesting itself differently in other countries, he feels the problem will have to be understood as a as a systemic structural problem before real progress can be made.
“For the specific cases of Mexico and some places in Latin America, the discussion is very new, because it challenges the national construction of identity,” said Bocafoja. “For example, in the last 10-15 years, there have been several initiatives that are opening dialogue and creating political institutions coming from grass-roots movements and autonomous initiatives in a way that start negotiations at the institutional level, kind of like creating a political force.”
For example the Mexican government didn’t recognize the existence on paper of people of African descent in Mexico until 2001. For example, on government forms like the census, there was no checkbox that included “African.”
Bocafloja said as a Mexican citizen of African decent, he said producing "Nana Dijo" was self referential.
"All the conversations in the film were revealing parts of my life that historically quite difficult to digest," said Bocafloja.
He said learning about himself and the history of his own community while shooting the documentary was quite revelatory. He said going through very similar experiences himslef in Mexico or like some other people in the United States, he was shocked to hear some of the stories his subjects were telling.
"It was a learning experience through the process, very organic in terms of the actual production," said Bocafloja. "We had tons of footage we couldn't use because the discussion is so huge. At the end of the day, we were trying to produce a documentary that was bringing a narrative that was in opposition to most of the documentaries I've seen about those topics that were focused on the cultural aspects, but not really discussing the political and historical facts that are very, very important when talking about race."
Bocafloja will appear at the Normal Theater on Sept. 20 for the showing of Nana Dijo. He will answer questions and perform his spoken word poetry following the film, which is presented by Illinois State University's Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
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