The life and legacy of the late poet and activist Amiri Baraka is now the subject of a new documentary. And fellow New Jersey native Lauryn Hill is the executive producer who has helped bring it to life.
The new documentary, titled Why Is We Americans, offers a look at the life of Baraka who is regarded as one of the most forthright authorities on Black American art, history, and culture.
As a leader of the Black Arts Movement that first began in 1965, Baraka was acclaimed for his expression of the Black experience through his poetry such as “It’s Nation Time” and his written work beginning with Blues People: Negro Music in White America. The film, which gets its title from the poem Baraka performed on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, takes an in-depth examination of his family, focusing also on his widow, artist, and activist Amina Baraka as the guiding light. There is also insight given to the tragic murders of his daughter Shani (noted as one of the first openly gay Black activists) and his sister Kimako as well as the rise of his son, poet Ras Baraka to his current position as the mayor of Newark. The film will also look at the city of Newark throughout the decades as its Black community felt the impact of systemic oppression through local government policies and law enforcement, and show how that community organized to resist against it.
Ms. Hill is among those interviewed in the documentary, which is directed by Udi Aloni and Ayana Stafford-Morris. She shares executive producer credits with screenwriter Oren Moverman. Ras Baraka is also interviewed along with his daughter, Amandla as well as Larry Hamm, the Chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress. “Spanning decades of social activism, poetry, music, art, and politics, this kaleidoscopic family saga is framed by on-camera interviews with Ms. Lauryn Hill, rare archival footage, and revealing personal testimonials,” distributor Corinth Films states in press releases for the documentary. “And as we connect with the iconoclastic poet, and his tight-knit family, a portrait of a city emerges with an inspiring call to arms in the fight for class and racial justice.”
Why is We Americans will open at the IFC Theatre in New York City on January 14th. It is also slated to run at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles being held in April. Watch the trailer below.