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From The Inheritance.

The Arts / Column

Film bends time to explore themes that are all too timely

‘The Inheritance’ immerses us beyond the screen into tensions of race, class, and gender. It also forces us to confront deep questions.

Shanta Lee Gander is an artist, writer, poet, reporter, and multi-faceted professional in the areas of marketing, management, event planning, and more.

BRATTLEBORO—“On May 13, 1985, at 6221 Osage Avenue, an armed conflict occurred between the Phila. Police Dept. and MOVE members. A Pa. State Police helicopter dropped a bomb on MOVE’s house. An uncontrolled fire killed eleven MOVE members, including five children, and destroyed 61 homes.”

So reads a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission 2017 historic marker.

* * *

What does it mean to awaken, and what sacrifice is required? And as we talk about decolonizing, what does it require? In other words, what does it cost of us beyond our ability to use the accepted social justice language of the moment?

These and other questions are posed by the film The Inheritance, a directorial debut by Ephraim Asili, in ways that stretch the imagination of the viewer. This speculative narrative and sensorial film is rooted within the very real events related to the Philadelphia group MOVE, founded in 1972.

From Saturday, March 6 to Friday, March 26, Brattleboro-based Epsilon Spires — a center of communication, illuminating the relationships between creative arts, natural sciences, and sustainability using multimedia platforms — is streaming The Inheritance to Vermonters and all who want to access this film. Tickets, available through Epilonspires.org, will be $10.

MOVE started in Philadelphia in 1972, seeking to deconstruct and seek self-liberation. True to the facts taken directly from a historical marker that opens this piece, the group’s home was bombed by the Philadelphia police.

Asili’s film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, defies category in terms of how it bends time to connect facts related to MOVE and connect the characters to the history of that time and space.

The viewer is immediately enveloped and greeted with surprises around each turn of the film. This is especially true within the opening scenes, which include an image of a “do not enter” sign along with an image upon a concrete wall with a heart and words in the center of it — “What’s Mines is Yours.”

* * *

No different from the opening chapter of a book teaching its reader how to read it, the opening scenes of The Inheritance teach us how to engage with the film and its characters as the neighborhood, the art, the history, and the bodies involved are intimately, and charmingly, intertwined.

As a young man inherits his grandmother’s house in West Philadelphia, we are taken through the experience of the transformation of the space, his relationship to his grandmother’s possessions, his relationship to his partner, and their relationship to others as they work to make it a collective in response to the events of the era.

We are not given any specific date, but we do know that the main characters are navigating the tension among historical, political, and artistic revolutionaries — with the appearance of figures like Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and poets Sonia Sanchez and Ursula Rucker — and what their response needs to be for this specific moment.

This film couldn’t be more timely, given that we find ourselves within a moment in which we have experienced an unbroken continuation of violence against the Black body, especially at the hands of law enforcement.

The Inheritance immerses us into the tensions of race, class, and gender while raising questions about those who are educated and those who do not fall into that category.

Or, to quote one of the characters reading from a text, this film encourages one to think about “art versus aint, life versus death, creativity versus destruction.”

* * *

Asili’s skill shows in the way that these layers are uncovered in ways that extend beyond the usual on the screen. One of the characters is reading from a text that asks, “For whom do you write? What do you celebrate? What do you attack? From this, we can tell whose side you are on. The oppressed or the oppressor.” It feels like he breaks the fourth wall.

The layers and textures are also embedded in the skillful incorporation of live music that balances with the speculative narrative. Words are woven in from a few powerful quotes that are strategically placed within scenes as key parts of the visual landscape, such that the viewer is often enmeshed within scenes that become spoken word.

We are physically brought inside of that space, where we see the characters transformed. We are also given well-paced opportunities to explore the other space that all of this occupies: the surrounding neighborhood and events that navigate between nowness and past.

* * *

I encourage you to watch The Inheritance. Be ready to be immersed beyond the screen. And — this is key, especially for many of us who live in the Zoom-verse these days — be prepared for this sensory and multi-textured experience to take you beyond images, to transcend place.

And be prepared to think about even more questions.

What are the ancestral voices that laid foundations for us to think about how to respond to this moment? What does it mean to be a revolutionary? As we use words like “decolonize,” what will that demand of all of us and our relationships to others?

All to say, how do we craft a life to match fighting against what does not work?

And, on a personal level, what does it mean to inherit? As the film implies, an inheritance of history, revolution, and even art, demands that we make space for it.

It demands that we open ourselves to an expectation that breaks beyond anything that does not work for us within the pressure of a status quo.

As you open yourself to Asili’s film, be ready to question how we are awakening to the now.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #602 (Wednesday, March 3, 2021). This story appeared on page B1.

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