I'm one of the founders of the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, which we had in 1992. So it goes back even further then. I attended FESPACO five times. It goes back to a much deeper historic and psychic relationship. Certainly the relationship began for me when I first began to read the writings of various people in the forefront of the movement toward independence. Part of the reason I majored in Economics at San Francisco State was because, in my 20-year-old imagination, I thought I was going to go to Tanzania and work in the government of Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania. So [Bamako] comes out of all of this. Of course, my longstanding relationship with the [Africa Support Committee], the Anti-Apartheid Movement, is part of the process of my own development through my work as an artist and my work as an underlying citizen.
Can you speak to how you, as an artist, meld your activism so seamlessly with your creative work? Were you an activist first and then became an actor?
My activism came first. The main influences in my life at a very early age, when I was 20 years old, happened to be around a collective of people, men and women. We shared views and we fed off of each other ideologically. That was the foundation. I remember we took as part of our responsibility as students at San Francisco State to be engaged in what was happening in the community and our community - the Western Addition at that time - was secretly what we were associated with, where the issues around gentrification - redevelopment, as it was called then - education, the same issues that we're looking at now in terms of urban communities under development, job creation, all those kinds of things that were the first things on our radar screens; the first things that we were all engaged in at some point and time, before I even stepped onto the stage.
To step onto being on the stage was a platform that, had not someone engaged me, would never have been something that I would have approached spontaneously or something that I would have thought should have been part of something I was doing. Because I had never been on stage before in my life primarily. I had done work - of course, as children, everybody's involved in the Christmas or Easter pageant at the church and everything else - but I was always concerned that, whenever I was involved in it or my sisters and brothers were involved with it, we never had anything to say. We stood in the corner holding the palm. [Chuckles.] We never had a line. We never sang or nothin'. So the activism came first. My activism comes out of the more natural occurrence because I'm a child of the Civil Rights Movement. All those things influenced me at the time as a child.
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