WHY IS WE AMERICANS?
2020, Udi Aloni, Documentary
LENGTH: 102 min.
COUNTRY: United States
WRITER, DIRECTOR & PRODUCER: Udi Aloni
CO-DIRECTOR/CO-PRODUCER: Ayana Stafford-Morris
LEAD CAST: Amiri Baraka, Ras Baraka, Amina Baraka, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Amandla Baraka, Cory Booker, Amiri Baraka Jr., Roxanne Shanté, Maya Angelou
CREW: CINEMATOGRAPHER: Amnon Zalait; EDITOR: Yuval Shapira; EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Ms. Lauryn Hill, Oren Moverman, Idith Meshulam, Jon Rubinstein, Kiburi Tucker, Randall Wallace, Moshe Edery, David Silber; CONSULTING EDITOR: Jay Rabinowitz; CO-PRODUCERS: Melina Torres, Shimon Azulay; THEME SONG BY: Ras Baraka, Jerry Wonda; ORIGINAL SCORE: Randall Wallace; ORIGINAL MUSIC: Ms. Lauryn Hill, Ray Angry
By turns kinetic and intimate, WHY IS WE AMERICANS? is an in-depth, cinematic exploration of Newark’s legendary Baraka family, the patriarch of which being the one and only Amiri Baraka (formerly known as LeRoi Jones), one of the most prodigious African American poet/playwright/activists of our time. From the Newark Rebellion of 1967 to current day, the city’s narrative has been one of revolution with each generation picking up where the previous had left off. WHY IS WE AMERICANS? weighs in on Newark’s struggle against oppression through the personal triumphs and tragedies of the Baraka family — from Amiri’s civil rights leadership and ultimate artistic marginalization, to the horrific murder of his sister, Kimako, through the homicide of daughter Shani (one of the first openly gay black activists) to the historic election of Ras Baraka as mayor of Newark, NJ…and through it all, it is the matriarch, Amina Baraka, who emerges as the story’s lodestar and moral compass. Spanning decades of social activism, poetry, music, art, and politics, this kaleidoscopic family saga is framed by on-camera interviews with Ms. Lauryn Hill and local civil rights leaders, rare archival footage and revealing personal testimonials. As we connect with the iconoclastic poet Amiri Baraka, his wife, Amina, and their son, Ras, a portrait of a city emerges with an inspiring call to arms in the fight for class and racial justice.
|1/14/22||IFC Center||New York||NY|
|2/4/22||Laemmle Theaters||Los Angeles||CA|
1:30pm Special matinee screening followed by Q&A with Danny Glover
|2/4-2/7, 2/12-2/13||Time & Space Ltd||Hudson||NY|
|2/8-2/10, 2/15-2/17||Guild Cinema||Albuquerque||NM|
|2/7/22||San Rafael Film Center (Virtual)||San Rafael||CA|
|2/11/22-2/13/22||Webster University Film Series||St. Louis||MO|
|2/14/22 – 2/18/22||Cineculture||Fresno||CA|
|2/18/22 – 2/24/22||The Clairidge||Montclair||NJ|
|3/2/22||Alamo Drafthouse Winchester||Winchester||VA|
Q&A with filmmaker Ayana Morris after screening
“Historical accounts of revolutionary icons are often plagued by hero myths that exalt individuals at the expense of the community that formed them. With “Why Is We Americans?,” a documentary about the impact the poet and radical Amiri Baraka and his descendants have had on the city of Newark, the directors Udi Aloni and Ayana Stafford-Morris attempt a different approach. In this compressed account of the multiple generations of artists and activists that make up the Baraka clan, the patriarch, who died in 2014, is a single (if central) node. It’s a story that spans past and present, arts and politics, and kin and country.”
“Importantly, the artist is only an entry point for the film’s focus on the Baraka family as a whole and their individual impact within Newark communities. This acknowledgment of the work both shared and passed on through their family line is welcome and centers the Baraka women. Within this, matriarch Amina Baraka forms the emotional center, holding each of the film’s narrative threads alongside her own experience in a way that echoes her supportive and essential role in both her community and family over the years.”
“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.” READ MORE
“Udi Aloni offers education and insight into amazing people, motivating you to learn more about them.” READ MORE
“The real highlight of the film is Amina Baraka, Amiri’s wife of almost 48 years. An important artist in her own right, poet, actress, singer, and dancer, she was also an avowed activist often to the left of her husband…All in all, I recommend this film because it brings a lens onto the historical aspects of the Baraka family.” – READ MORE
“The late Amiri Baraka was among the foremost authorities on Black American life, music, and art. Baraka was a leader of 1965’s Black Arts Movement, writing compelling works of literature like Blues People: Negro Music in White America and recording spoken word tracks like “It’s Nation Time.”” – READ MORE
“The Baraka Family also encountered triumphs, as Amiri’s son Ras Baraka was appointed mayor of Newark in 2014. Ras’ has been a longtime collaborator of Ms. Lauryn Hill, lending vocals to her epic 1998 debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Baraka family matriarch and Amiri’s widow Amina Baraka will also appear in the film, noted as “the story’s lode star and moral compass”.” – READ MORE
“The documentary initially began as a documentary about Ras Baraka’s 2014 electoral campaign for the Newark, NJ office of mayor. However, once filming, filmmakers saw that there was much more to tell. “Why Is We Americans?” will also touch on the tragic death of Amiri’s sister Kimako, also known as Sondra Lee Jones. Kimako was brutally stabbed to death in her Manhattan apartment. Baraka’s daughter Shani, one of the first openly gay Black activists, was also killed.” – READ MORE
“Ms. Lauryn Hill is putting on for her hometown in a major way. The music icon is stepping into an executive producer role to tell the story of the legendary Baraka family who has worked for decades across generations to combat oppression in Newark, New Jersey.” READ MORE
“Hill has teamed up with screenwriter Oren Moverman on a new documentary on Newark’s prominent Baraka family. Moverman is an Academy-Award nominated filmmaker whose previous works include The Messenger and Rampart. The collborative documentary between he and Hill, currently titled Why Is We Americans?, explores Newark’s struggle with oppression as viewed through the lens of the Baraka family. The family has been influential in the world of social activism and famous for using poetry, music, and politics to push their ideas.” READ MORE
“The legendary Lauryn Hill has teamed up with screenwriter Oren Moverman to executive produce a new documentary that will take a close look at Newark’s prominent Baraka family. The new doc titled Why Is We Americans? will explore Newark’s struggle with oppression through the lens of the Baraka family’s decades-long involvement within social activism, poetry, music, and politics.” READ MORE
Exclusive Trailer for Why Is We Americans? Goes Inside Newark’s Legendary Baraka Family
Baraka family’s art and activism is focus of documentary ‘Why Is We Americans?’ READ MORE
“An in-depth, cinematic exploration of Newark’s legendary Baraka family spanning decades of social activism, poetry, music, art and politics.” – READ MORE
2016 Junction 48 (Feature Film)
2013 Art/Violence (Documentary)
2008 Kashmir: Journey to Freedom (Documentary)
2006 Forgiveness (Feature Film)
2003 Innocent Criminals (Short)
2002 Local Angel (Documentary Film)
1996 Left (Documentary Film)
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