Napoleon Wells on Fruitvale Station
Feb 14, 2017 by Marketing on The Nickelodeon Blog
By Sarah Nichols
Fruitvale Station, directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan, begins on the last day of Oscar Grant III’s life. The film follows the events that led to his death and gives insight on his character. He wasn’t just a victim; he was a man with friends, family, a life and a story. Although watching a film might not single-handedly resolve the racial problems our country faces, Fruitvale Station does not allow us to turn a blind eye. It makes us stand up.
The Nick will be screening the film as a part of our Black Stories series on February 20 at 6:30 pm. Leading the talkback will be Napoleon Wells, who is an American author, psychologist, speaker and activist, noted for writing A Field Negroes Handbook. In 2015, Wells spoke at a TEDx talk in Columbia, where he focused on racism as a mental health issue and how we can cure it.
To give a preview of what we might expect at the talkback, I interviewed Mr. Wells on Fruitvale Station, his activist work and more. Here is what he had to say:
Did you hear about the true story of Oscar Grant III on the news, or was it through this film that you learned of it? Can you reflect on those initial moments when you first heard the story?
Napoleon Wells: I first heard the story through a close friend from northern California. When the film was in development, I kept my ear to its progress. Like most people, I was saddened by the story. It felt like yet another concussive blow. Yet another trauma for our children to process. I wondered about how our family in the Bay area were coping. I knew emotionally, that the film would wash over us all, rather like wave. It did. It felt rather like too many other accounts of lives lost, victim blame and a nation family reluctant to see this, and address it. The film is brutally powerful.
2. It seems that since Oscar’s death and the movie’s subsequent release, there have been even more shootings of Black males, or, at least, more publicized shootings. Do you think this movie helps explain to people how we should treat, discuss and handle this issue?
Black men, women and families haven’t ever been properly policed in the United States. This is historical, and generational. Social media has simply allowed us more access to these accounts, but has also brought about a shared trauma at having to witness these atrocities and our society’s refusal to provide justice, protection or empathy. I don’t believe that the film was created to offer answers. The film is a piece of art. The discussion was meant to be projected onto it by its audience. It is one piece of evidence, a document that has prompted the dialogue, rather than explaining. It is critically important in that way. We aren’t meant to empathize or sympathize. We are tasked with bearing witness.
3. Can you explain a bit about the education work you have done?
Certainly. I have developed the theory of A Cure For Racism and the #IAmTheCureforRacism movement. I work with the HipHopEd project and Dr. Christopher Emdin, and the army of dedicated souls working to engineer better, more aware classrooms and educators for our children. In South Carolina, my work has involved pressing the conversation of racism as a public health crisis forward, beginning with the community and working with groups like SCPA and departments at USC to engage the community.
4. Through your activism, have you had any especially notable interactions or discussions with others, either on your side or the opposition, that have stuck out in your mind that you would like to share?
Interacting with a living, growing, struggling nation family has been educational. Most notably, I imagine, has been how to process receiving a few pieces of hate mail about my theory and work. Receiving those suggested to me that my work was reaching all intended audiences. I had a rather interesting conversation with an older White woman who wanted to take me to task for not better taking the perspective of those who celebrate the confederate flag. I took it as an opportunity to listen and teach. My discussions with colleagues, students, and collaborators have typically been fascinating. Outlining race trauma in classrooms with the HipHopEd collective stands out. I was contacted by a Black British student some weeks back for a project she was completing. She had watched my TEDx talk and wanted to discuss the feasibility of expanding it across the pond. There have been too many to identify since I’ve started this work.