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Houston, We Have a Problem

Posted 5/2/2001

On behalf of everyone involved in this year's Maryland Film Festival, I would like to say thank you to City Paper for all of the hard work you put into last week's Film Fest Frenzy issue. I have friends at film festivals in other cities who are jealous of the amount of support the whole Baltimore film scene gets from the local media. You really go above and beyond.

However, there is one thing I must clarify regarding something that was printed about the film The American Astronaut. As a festival-appointed liaison between filmmakers and City Paper, I may have done a poor job of communicating my request for the gentle treatment of this special, unusual film. It was yours truly, not the filmmakers, who did not want the film reviewed unless the review was favorable. Having seen the film at the Sundance Film Festival and loved every minute of it, I couldn't imagine it receiving anything less than a positive review anyway but, then, I realized that not everyone enjoys a good black-and-white/ outer-space/Western/comedy/musical the way I do. We're showing the film three times during the festival (including a half-price midnight screening). The band in the film, the Billy Nayer Show, is playing in town twice this weekend (including our closing-night party). There is a lot at stake.

Rather than risk the damage that could be done from potential negative press, I opted to simply forego having the film pre-screened for the press, in favor of other means of promotion. Please do not let this incident reflect badly on the filmmakers or their film, The American Astronaut. It was merely the action of a passionate fan trying to protect the interests of a brilliant film that runs a great risk of being misunderstood.

Skizz Cyzyk
Programming Manager, Maryland Film Festival

Baltimore

Blood Read
Many thanks for your article "First Blood" by Ralph Brave (April 18). My schooling in Baltimore also left me passively ignorant of Maryland's role during the Civil War. My history teacher at Forest Park High in the 1960s taught us that "the South did not lose, they just gave up fighting."

Not until 1972 did I realize that Maryland was a tobacco-growing, slave-owning, Southern-sympathizing state. In 1972, a bigot named George Wallace won the Republican presidential primary in Maryland. But I was still ignorant of the facts. Years later in the 1980s, I saw Moses of Her People, a TV special about Harriet Tubman, who led 19 groups of escaping slaves, more than 300 people, out of the Eastern Shore to safety in the North. I was intrigued by this heroine. I never heard about her in school, yet a friend tells me that she learned about Harriet Tubman in high school, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Until your article, I never had any idea of the facts--when and how Maryland was "occupied" by Federal troops to protect our national capital, Washington, to our south. And yes, this issue continues to simmer, 140 years later.

Carol Schreter
Baltimore

I thoroughly enjoyed Ralph Brave's "First Blood." In addition to the factual reporting of the riot itself, the what-if speculation regarding Maryland's choice of sides in the Civil War made me come up with some speculations of my own.

The Baltimore riot may have saved the Union, or at least Washington, D.C. The riot forced President Lincoln to take steps that were needed to keep the lines of communications and transportation open between the capital and the North.

The 90-day-enlistment troops from Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania may have been green, but they at least presented a deterrent to Confederate incursions into Maryland and a quick strike at Washington. Prior to the arrival of the militia, there were at best two or three companies of regular soldiers and Marines in the capital.

Although the Confederates were better prepared for war than were the Union troops at the time, the failure of the militia to arrive and of Federal troops to secure the port of Baltimore and the vital road/rail bridges might have caused the first major battle to occur, not at Manassas, but somewhere between Baltimore and Washington. The results of this might have resembled the seesaw actions in Kentucky and Missouri early in the war. With Baltimore being too risky to move Union troops through, transportation would have to be made by sea through Annapolis. The Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland were pro-Confederate while Central Maryland was split fairly evenly. Western Maryland, as Robert E. Lee would find out in 1862, was pro-Union and would likely have broken off to become part of the new state of West Virginia in 1863.

Of course, any of these possibilities hinged on how quickly the Confederates could have assembled their forces and crossed into Maryland, with their first goal presumably being the seizure of Washington.

Paul Penrod
Towson

Your writer Ralph Brave did an excellent job writing "First Blood." His article gave me further evidence that the Civil War was about slavery, economics, state's rights, white supremacy, and white Southern pride in a rag of a flag.

As an Afrocentric feminist who moved to Baltimore in 1998, I am interested in the history of black Baltimore. My maiden name is Custis. The black Custis family came from Accomack County, Va. I know that my grandfather Howard Custis participated in the Civil War. Indeed, our Custis family had 17 members who served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War; 16 were privates and one was a corporal.

I am going to fight for the liberation of black people in America because white people are still fighting the Civil War in their heads and hearts. It is the reason why this country cannot move ahead spiritually and politically. That's why we have bouts of festering racism. I recommend reading Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland During the Nineteenth Century by Barbara Jeanne Fields.

Larnell Custis Butler
Baltimore

Paint-by-Dollars
Brennen Jensen's assertion that discussion about the paint-by-number craze is moot because the paintings are largely viewed as campy collectibles misses the entire point of painting, not just painting-by-numbers (Gallery, April 18). The process of putting paint on a surface, the joy, frustration, discipline, and satisfaction gained, is the product of painting. It is unfortunate that these intangible products have little or no meaning in our society because they cannot be quantified or sold, but they exist for those with the intelligence and sensitivity to understand them.

Kini Collins
Baltimore

Lactation Nation
I am responding to the letter "Tit for Tat" (The Mail, April 18), although the author's comparison of breast-feeding to excretion barely even deserves acknowledgment. If the state were to fail to support the public display of nose-picking, or gas-passing, or of people sticking their tongues down each others throats, hey, I'm all for it. But I hardly put breast-feeding in the same category as these activities. Breast-feeding women are merely feeding their children. Why is that so threatening and uncivilized?

As other writers have done before me, I feel compelled to announce my own breast-feeding status: Attempts: 2. Successes: 0. Would I want to breast-feed in public? Absolutely not, except in an extreme emergency. I can't even stand on a corner in a business suit without cars full of passing men yelling sexual innuendoes at me; I can only imagine what behavior breast-feeding would incite. Therefore my opinions are not influenced by my own desire to breast-feed in public.

The author of the letter suggested that certain natural functions should be screened from public view. Easier said than done. Bathrooms are provided in virtually every public establishment and are mandated in some, such as restaurants. If breast-feeding rooms were provided as copiously as are bathrooms, it would be much easier for nursing mothers to screen themselves if they so desired.

In addition, most people excrete about once a day, if that (OK, maybe several times if you're into fiber). Sexual intercourse usually occurs even less often than that. Babies, however, must be fed much more frequently than once a day or every other day and twice on Sunday. Especially at first, nursing can be an almost continuous process. People don't realize that you can literally be nursing almost 24 hours a day. Unless we are trying to prevent any nursing mother from appearing in public until her milk dries up--much like the ancient practice of banning women from villages during their menstrual periods because they were considered unclean--we either need to provide places to breast-feed or "allow" women to breast-feed "in public."

If we're going to fail to support public nursing, then we need to mandate clean, appropriate breast-feeding rooms in every business that provides bathrooms, no matter what the cost. I trust that the state will pass such a law next session.

Julie Farrell
Baltimore

Compensation Nation
My first impulse was to ignore Mr. Dennis Lynch's letter (The Mail, April 11) because it was obviously written out of ignorance. But I cannot in all conscience let his screed against my people go unanswered.

While it is true some Africans participated in the African Holocaust, it is also true that a number of Jews had dealings with the Nazis. That fact does not serve to lessen the culpability of the Nazis, so why should African participation in enslavement let whites off the hook? An estimated 6 million Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis; the United Nations has estimated that 217 million African people died during the years of the Arab, European, and American participation in the African slave trade. Not only did African-American people lose their knowledge of their history and their sense of themselves during this period, but Africa lost countless scholars, scientists, religious leaders, kings, philosophers, and civilizations. Most Americans are not made aware of these facts because they contradict the myth of white superiority. Americans are deliberately not taught that Africa was a civilized place before its contact with whites. Far from being civilizers or saviors of Africans, European contact with Africa marked the beginning of a 500-year period of enslavement, genocide, exploitation, dehumanization, discrimination, and colonialism from which Africa is still collectively reeling. The problems facing Africans and African-Americans in the 21st century can be directly traced to this history.

Even white Americans who never owned slaves or who emigrated to America after slavery had ended still benefited from living in a country whose wealth was largely created through this slavery and enforced "white is best" beliefs via Jim Crow laws, redlining, restrictive covenants, and discriminatory labor and educational practices. Even if slavery is eliminated from the debate, how would you compensate African-Americans for Jim Crow, lynching, Plessy v. Ferguson, segregation, police brutality, exclusion from institutions of higher learning, or the Tuskegee experiments? I'm quite sure Mr. Lynch could offer justification for each of those historic transgressions of whites as a group against blacks as a group, but my question is, why have these things happened? Why is the list of transgressions so long, when blacks have never done anything comparable to whites? The term "racial problems" is in reality a euphemism for white collective misbehavior against nonwhites, particularly black people, and also for the unwillingness of the white race to honestly examine the source of its animosity toward black people.

All affirmative action did was reserve one out of 10 good jobs for someone who wasn't a white male, while in the recent past 10 out of 10 were reserved for them. Whites have never collectively experienced the treatment that has been visited upon black people.

People respond to the conditions in which they live, and the conditions in which Africans in general and African-Americans in particular find themselves have been imposed on them by the collective white community, so it is to the collective white community we must look to for some fair form of compensation.

Gregory Logan
Elkridge

An Immodest Proposal
Jon Swift's letter (The Mail, April 14), in which he churlishly and petulantly derides Elizabeth and Brian Weese, is beside the point: The original City Paper story ("Closing the Book" April 4) was more balanced and tentative, unsure (as any quickly conceived feature story must be) as to where precisely to place the blame for Bibelot's demise. I do not know either Brian or Elizabeth: I simply note that their guts, money, determination, vision, and hard work helped to create a magnificent institution that brought immense pleasure to so many men, women, and children in the Baltimore area. That this monument of reading pleasure failed is sad; that a bitter and apparently puerile former employee such as Jon Swift could have remained, taking the Weese's money while simultaneously faulting his employers, is sadder still.

David Zeiger
Baltimore

Corrections: In the frenzy of putting together last week's Film Fest Frenzy, our guide to this week's Maryland Film Festival, we made a couple of goofs. The review of Steve Yeager's film The Connection said that he had directed the play the movie is based on at Goucher College. The production was staged at Villa Julie College. We regret the error.

Also, due to an editing error, the star of Hollie Lavenstein's short Cleave, was identified a greyhound. He is instead a hound who happens to be gray. We apologize to him and will have a lot to think about as we bide our time in the doghouse.

The page 3 photograph in last week's paper should have been credited to Mitro Hood. Because we feel terrible about it, we're running Mitro's photo again this week, properly attributed.

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