For Thursday April 7: Do the Right Thing

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For Thursday April 7: we’ll spend the entire class on an in-class screening of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, which won the class poll this week despite a late flurry of votes for The Warriors. DTRT is now a classic film, but was extremely controversial at the time, commenting on race relations, gentrification, and much more. There’ll be a writing assignment on the film after we’re done, so it will help to be there even though it’s widely available online.
 

For this week’s class, we’ll focus on the aspects of race relations, police brutality, gentrification, and urban space as seen in the film.

 
Read the excerpt from from Murray Forman’s The ‘Hood Comes First: Race, Space, and Place in Rap and Hip Hop on reading urban space in DTRT. (PDF on the Readings page.)
 
Also Read this article from New York magazine on the intersection of race and Brooklyn gentrification.
 
Finally, watch this short summary of Spike Lee’s “rant” about gentrification that caused a lot of controversy and discussion in 2014.



Optional Bonus: Watch the “Making of” documentary by Spike Lee and legendary, now deceased filmmaker St. Clair Bourne, via YouTube.

 
No student presentation this week, but we return to the regular schedule next week with Angie Cruz’s Soledad.
 
Announcements:

  • The National Black Writers’ Conference is this weekend at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Has an informative mix of discussions and presentations by writers and scholars on various areas of African American literature and culture. Single day registration is $15 for students.
  • The New York African Studies Association Conference is happening this weekend also: Friday at the City College of New York; Saturday at Columbia University. Registration is more expensive ($30), though it’s not unknown for fees to be waived/lowered for undergraduate students. Shameless self-promotion: I’m talking about jazz musicians Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln and the political connections of their music on Friday.
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  • Thursday March 31: Bodega Dreams conclusion and film selection

    For Thursday March 31: Read pages 107-213 (end of book) in Bodega Dreams.

    We’ll start with a presentation by Franco, Penelope, and Angela.

    To guide your reading, think about the following things:

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  • What are the key themes of the book? Mark specific examples of them in the text.
  • How do characters develop. What changes do you see? Are there any surprising changes? Again, note specific examples in the text.
  • What seem to be key turns of the plot?
  • How does Quiñonez present urban space and the urban experience? How do different characters see the neighborhood that they live in?
  • What is the role of culture?
  •  

    Now for the fun part: you get to choose the film we watch in class on April 7. Here are the options: Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Walter Hill’s The Warriors. Both show a New York from earlier time periods and have a lot of outdoor scenes of various neighborhoods. The Warriors spends a lot of time in subway/el trains while Do The Right Thing gives us a look at pre-gentrification Bed Stuy — with a lot of familiar (and current) themes. Warriors is pure camp and a lot of fun; DTRT is drama with the signature Spike Lee touch and style and fantastic acting and script.

    Here are trailers for both films, courtesy of YouTube. Take a look at both, choose one, then make your choice with the poll below! One vote each (and current students only, please). We’ll decide next week by the end of class.

    Announcements: [To be added]

    Assignment for March 24: Bodega Dreams and Midterm

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    Reminder that I will be away at a conference on Thursday March 17, so class will not meet. Instead, your task for the week will be completion of the midterm, which will be posted on the new midterm exam page and will be due at the beginning of class (or before) on Thursday March 24. The page is password protected with the same password as the readings page. Check your printed copy of the syllabus or email me if you’ve forgotten it.
     
    The exam will be due at or before the beginning of class on Thursday March 24. If you won’t be in class, make arrangements to drop it off before 2 PM on 3/24 in my mailbox in the English Department office in Carman 302.
     

    For Thursday, March 24:, we move to the first novel of the semester. Read the first half — pages 1-107 — in Ernesto Quiñonez’s Bodega Dreams.

    Presentation by Andrew, Mo, Kianna, and Willie.

    A few things to pay attention to in the book are:

  • The characters Quiñonez creates and what slice of city life they show
  • How urban space is shown in the book and what different characters think about their surroundings
  • More specifically, track how different characters see their neighborhood
  • The role of culture and what it means
  • Quiñonez’s relationship as a writer to Pietri and Piñero (there are numerous references to both and their poetry throughout the book)
  • The “American Dream” and what it means to the characters in the book
  • How different generations of immigrants/migrants relate to the city and city life
  • Race and gender relations
  • This isn’t a complete list, but these are a few key things that jump out at me. Begin to look for connections/ similarities / differences in things we’ve read (and other things you’ve read/ watched /studied in other classes, etc).

    Assignment for Thursday March 17: Take Home Midterm

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    Photo: George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye.
     
    Reminder that I will be away at a conference on Thursday March 17, so class will not meet. Instead, your task for the week will be completion of the midterm, which will be posted on the new midterm exam page and will be due at the beginning of class (or before) on Thursday March 24. The page is password protected with the same password as the readings page. Check your printed copy of the syllabus or email me if you’ve forgotten it.
     
    The exam will be due at or before the beginning of class on Thursday March 24. If you won’t be in class, make arrangements to drop it off before 2 PM on 3/24 in my mailbox in the English Department office in Carman 302.
     
    Looking ahead, we’ll begin Bodega Dreams on March 24, when I return, and we’ll cover the first half of the book. Reading questions and more detail will be posted next week. We’ll have a presentation by Kianna, Mo, Andrew, and Willie.

    Assignment for March 10: Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman

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    Photo: Still from the 1967 film version of Dutchman

    Reminder: I’ve sent out emails to connect all the group members for the presentations. (You can see the final groups at the Doodle poll here.) It’s going to the same email you put on your cards in the first class. Check that and let me know if you don’t see it.

    For Thursday March 10th:, we take a sharp turn and read the classic play Dutchman from Amiri Baraka (then named LeRoi Jones). For Thursday, read only the first half of the book :the play Dutchman. Even though it’s short, you need to read it slowly and carefully.

    Pay attention to the following to guide your reading:

  • What are the key themes or topics that you think the play talks about?
  • How does the setting of the play affect the action? What role does the subway train play?
  • What does it say about life in the city or urban environments?
  • There are crucial points in the play where the plot (action) turns that decide the outcome. What do you think they are?
  • Read the final few pages of the play more than once. What’s the significance of Clay’s final speech?
  •  
    Watch the following short YouTube video with Baraka discussing the context of the play and some of what influenced him to write it.



    Extra: Watch this biographical overview of Baraka and discussion of Dutchman I did for the television show The Queens Grapevine. It’s a little less than a half hour long.