Los Angeles Film Festival Review: Documentary Wrap-up, Part I

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Editor’s Notes: The following article is part of our coverage for the Los Angeles Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit http://www.lafilmfest.com/ and follow the Los Angeles Film Festival Festival on Twitter at @LAFilmFest.

American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (2013)

Those who know Grace Lee’s work will recall her 2003 documentary The Grace Lee Project. In the film, Lee looks at the women who share this common name in the United States, and in the process addresses the concepts of ‘Asian American’ and ‘Asian American woman.’ One of the Grace Lees whom Lee interviewed was Marxist theoretician, revolutionary thinker, black power activist, and writer Grace Lee Boggs (b. 1915). Lee knew even then that she would make another film with her. So ten years after Lee’s first set of encounters with Grace comes American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, which traces Grace’s sociopolitical trajectory, from an undergrad student at Barnard College in the 1930s, when she discovered the writings of the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, to becoming a key member in the development of the black power movement in Detroit with her husband-activist James Boggs (1919-1993) beginning in the 1960s. Lee balances a number of interview subjects with Grace as the link, and delivers an indelible portrait of a woman whose ideas, writings, and critical thinking continue at the ripe age of ninety-seven and are connecting with new generations today.

While nothing remarkable by itself, American Revolutionary with Grace as its subject is nothing short of astounding for Grace herself, a maker of her own history beyond the categories of ‘Asian American,’ ‘Chinese American,’ or ‘woman’ attached to the previous two terms or by itself, and eye-opening for the history of the black power movement and the tumultuous socioeconomic history of the city of Detroit of which Grace has been a part. Grace has lived in the Motor City for over fifty years and created youth programs to reclaim it in its socioeconomic, political, and cultural decimation. Rather than lament or declare its passing, Grace uses what is happening to Detroit right now as an opportunity to think critically, imaginatively, and humanistically what a city ought to or can be in this day and age, a question that is not unrelated to revolution and human relationships. Hence the first thing that Grace says in the documentary, ‘I feel sorry for people who don’t live in Detroit.’

Even while putting Grace on a pedestal, Lee does a nice job of humanising her via a marvelous array of interviews and audio recordings: in conversation, giving a lecture, participating in a study group, past or present. The accumulation of this material makes undeniable how much energy and enthusiasm Grace puts to percolating ideas and developments toward revolution, which she always understands as a process of evolution, of the self and other (hence the film’s title). Grace thus places immense importance in that time-honoured social act known as conversation, which must always already be collective, to introduce ideas, allow them to develop and change shape, and lead towards thoughtful action and still more conversations. American Revolutionary has a nice conversationalist tone, including Lee’s first-person voiceover, in keeping with Grace’s approach to imaginative, critical thinking and action.

[notification type=”star”]86/100 ~ GREAT. Lee balances a number of interview subjects with Grace as the link, and delivers an indelible portrait of a woman whose ideas, writings, and critical thinking continue at the ripe age of ninety-seven and are connecting with new generations today.[/notification]

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About Author

Film lecturer at CSULB. Transnational, multilingual, migratory cinephilia.