Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rights Reel: Young Lakota on Independent Lens

I've just started reading Louise Erdrich's The Round House (a Cleveland Rights Readers selection). This fictional narrative draws on realities like those described in the Amnesty International report, Maze of Injustice, about sexual violence against indigenous women, and institutional barriers to redress. Now I'm really looking forward to another look at gender issues and Native Americans in the up-coming PBS Independent Lens presentation of Young Lakota
South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation is no stranger to strife and heartbreak, stark realities, and inspired idealism. In Young Lakota, we are brought directly into the emotional and often uncertain journey of Sunny Clifford, her twin sister Serena, and their politically ambitious friend Brandon Ferguson, who all share the desire to make a difference for themselves and their community. 
Their political awakening begins when Cecelia Fire Thunder — the first female president of the Oglala Lakota — defies a South Dakota law that makes abortion a crime, even in cases of rape or incest. Fire Thunder takes a stand by proposing a women's health clinic providing abortions on the reservation but open to all local women. While Serena is unwed and with a toddler, and Brandon is raising two little boys, Sunny is just back on the reservation after two years in college. All three find themselves immersed in this political battle as they struggle between opportunity and principle.
The film comes from the team that made the excellent documentary, The Education of Shelby Knox.  Young Lakota premieres on November 25th.

While I'm at it, another Frontline/Independent Lens offering on these themes is last spring's Kind Hearted Woman, the film follows Robin Charboneau, a 32-year-old divorced single mother and Oglala Sioux woman living on North Dakota’s Spirit Lake Reservation.

Robin’s battles in tribal court with her ex-husband for custody of the children, even after he is convicted of abusive sexual contact with his daughter, illuminate how serious this problem is on the reservation. Her quest to heal her family, find a man worthy of her love, build a career, and fulfill her goal of returning to her reservation to help prevent the abuse of women and children, takes her on an intimate and inspiring journey full of heartbreak, discovery, and redemption.

The film is available to watch online at the PBS site, or you can download the audio on iTunes (a good way to work through it's full five hours). Both films are great companions to Erdrich's award-winning novel.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Read for Rights on International Children's Day

Need a break from the Gettysburg Address and JFK assassination anniversaries? How about a celebrating International Children's Day by learning about some great children's books?

The panel discussion above is from last year's PEN World Voices Festival and takes its inspiration from Janusz Korczak, the Polish educator and orphanage director who chose to stay with his charges upon transfer to the Warsaw Ghetto and Treblinka, where he was killed. Author Patricia McCormick further explores the theme of genocide in her book Never Fall Down, along with the subject of the book, Cambodian genocide survivor, musician and activist Arn Chorn-Pond (also the subject of the film, The Flute Player). Debby Dahl Edwardson's novel, My Name Is Not Easy, was a National Book Award finalist and concerns the impact of boarding school on the language and culture of Inupiaq children  in the 1960s. Polish journalist Wojciech Jagielski, the author of a book (for adults) about child soldiers, The Night Wanderers: Uganda's Children and the Lord's Resistance Armyrounds out the panel.  I was inspired to read both McCormick and Edwardson's books after listening to this panel and recommend them for young readers interested in learning more about human rights through stories about their peers. Arn Chorn-Pond's story of survival and healing, in particular, is an inspiring one for people of all ages.

To learn more about children's rights, please visit Amnesty International's FAQ on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and while you're at the site, take action on behalf of Syrian children.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

For January: In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

This January, join Pasadena Rights Readers in reading and discussing PEN/Hemingway Award finalist, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner,
For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus. 
Over the next four years, as she endures the deaths of family members, starvation, and brutal forced labor, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood—the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival. Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is testament to the transcendent power of narrative and a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Eyes on Nigeria: Human Rights Supplement to Transwonderland

This month we are travelling to Nigeria via Noo Saro-Wiwa's Looking for Transwonderland. While we are on tour, one stop definitely needs to be Amnesty International's Eyes on Nigeria website, particularly the interactive map which documents the location of oil spills, forced evictions, police brutality incidents and more. Also worth checking out are Amnesty's 2011 report The True 'Tragedy': Delays and Failures in Tackling Oil Spills in the Niger Delta and a press release from this month: Shell’s false claims on Niger Delta oil spills exposed,
A new report published today uncovers specific cases in which Shell has wrongly reported the cause of oil spills, the volume of oil spilled, or the extent and adequacy of clean up measures.

"Shell is being disingenuous about the devastation caused by its Niger Delta operations. This new evidence shows that Shell's claims about the oil spills cannot be trusted," said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.

New analysis from an independent expert found that so-called official investigation reports into the cause of oil spills in the Niger Delta can be "very subjective, misleading and downright false."

The report highlights systemic weaknesses in the way the cause of a spill and the volume are determined - with some significant errors in the volumes that are recorded as spilled.

The consequences for the affected communities are devastating and can result in them receiving little or no compensation.
Another important report regarding forced evictions was released this past August: If You Love You Life, Move Out! NIGERIA: Forced Eviction in Badia East, Lagos State,
By the end of the demolition, the Oke Ilu-Eri community, which forms part of Badia East, was razed to the ground and a part of the nearby Ajeromi community was also destroyed. At least 266 structures that served as homes and businesses were completely wiped out, affecting an estimated 2,237 households. Ataminimum, close to 9,000 people were affected. No alternative housing was provided by the Lagos state government and people were left homeless after the demolitions.
Finally, here is a short documentary about the oil spill issue. It contains a brief appearance by Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr., Noo's brother.

The Transwonderland Tour

Reading a travel book like Noo Saro-wiwa's Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria is time-consuming, not because it's a difficult read but you need to keep a computer handy because you want to look for pictures or videos of the sights she describes. Of course the first thing I wanted to search out was pictures of the decrepit amusement park Transwonderland, but I kept getting directed to the wonderful book cover illustration by Rod Hunt, so that will have to do.

I did find the video above, offering up the fantastically colorful pageantry of the Durbar Festival in Kano. We here at Rights Readers love a parade and this looks every bit as exciting as what Pasadena has on offer with bonus points for the elegantly costumed horses. (You might want to jump ahead 2-3 minutes into the video to avoid a long credit sequence.) A couple of World Heritage sites are mentioned in the book. Here's the UNESCO website for the Sukur Cultural Landscape and the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove.

And just to balance the picture with a little modern day reality, check out Transparency International's country profile of Nigeria, where among other fun facts, you'll learn that 63% of Nigerians reported paying a bribe in 2010. I'll share more on human rights concerns in Nigeria in my next post.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Our November Author: Noo Saro-Wiwa

This month our reading adventure is a road trip with Noo Saro-Wiwa. The short video above lets you get acquainted with the author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (and offers an endorsement of another Rights Readers favorite, Michela Wrong). Other brief audio interviews (of better quality than the one above) are available from PRI and the BBC. This Guardian profile might be the best introduction and goes to the heart of the book --beyond travelogue to her journey towards reconciliation with the country where her father, writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was executed,
Spending time in Nigeria left her deeply, indelibly impressed by her father's achievements, she says. "It's such an incredibly tough country, just to live in. You see how people struggle. The skills you need merely to survive there … It's just so much more difficult than in the UK. So to truly see what my father achieved, from such a disadvantaged background economically and ethnically, and the challenges he took on over and above that – facing down a massive oil multinational, a military dictatorship. I knew he was brave, but only now do I really understand just how monumental it was, what he did."
One reason we wanted to read Noo's book was because we had so much enjoyed her brother Ken's very moving book, In the Shadow of a Saint: A Son's Journey to Understand His Father's Legacy. It's one of my all-time favorite Rights Readers selections. If you picked up Transwonderland and want to go deeper it's worth tracking down,
What was it like to grow up with such a politically active and socially conscious father? How do you come to terms with your father's imprisonment and execution? How do you cope with the endless international press speculation about your father's life and character? And how do you respond when international attention is focused on you? How do you make your own way in life against your father's expectations of you, especially when you carry the same name? How do you live with such a complex personal history? This frank and memorable depiction of Ken Saro-Wiwa's childhood and relationship with his father vividly recounts the journey he took to answer those questions.
Here's an interview with Ken about the book:

I don't want to leave out sister Zina out either. Get to know this young filmmaker at her home page Check out some of her short experimental films, try The Deliverance Of Comfort which shares some concerns found in Transwonderland or Phyllis which she describes as "alt-Nollywood."

Definitely a lot of talent in the family (Papa would be proud!) and we're looking forward to keeping an eye on their future projects!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rights Reel: Nollywood Babylon and more


This month we are reading Noo Saro-Wiwa's account of visiting her homeland, Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria. As part of soaking in the local ambiance, the author takes in some Nigerian cinema and meets up with a local film director. If you'd like to learn more about Nollywood, the world's third largest film industry, Nollywood Babylon will take you there. This documentary is readily available through Amazon Instant and Netflix streaming. The film is worth it not just for insights into modern Nigerian storytelling and entrepreneurship, but also the glimpses it gives of Lagos' vibrant street life. The relationship between the film industry and evangelical Christianity is also explored.

While we are revisiting the Saro-Wiwa legacy, there are two other films available via Amazon and Netflix that Loyal Readers may be interested in. One is the documentary Delta Boys which investigates the stories of anti-government rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The other is a BBC mini-series Blood & Oil. It's not the BBC's finest hour, but the drama features a young, naive Nigerian ex-pat woman, the daughter of a prominent judge, who returns to Nigeria after rebels have kidnapped some British oil workers, so it's an interesting companion to Transwonderland.  Plus, I'm always interested in how human rights issues get processed through popular culture. Fair warning though, if you are sensitive to on-screen violence, you should proceed with caution with both these films.
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