Arts & Culture
11:06 am
Fri June 6, 2014

'We Don't Know Each Other': Film Explores Tension Between Africans & African Americans

The film "Bound: Africans vs. African Americans" details bloody histories of institutional racism on two continents, but the part that got a rise out of some 100 Rainier Beach High School students was a part that deals with an issue closer to their heart: dating.

Halfway through the film, an African woman speaking on camera tells the story of getting approached by an African-American man in a nightclub who told her he wasn't typically attracted to African women.

That got the audience at Rainier Beach buzzing at a recent preview screening. While about half of the school's students share a skin color — some of them identifying as African, some of them as African American, they don't necessarily share a culture.

'Bound,' Beauty & Being Black

"Bound," which premieres Saturday at the Seattle International Film Festival, explores those little-known tensions, drawing laughter, applause and even a few shouts of protest from the crowd of Rainier Beach students.

"You don't see a beautiful African woman on TV. All you see is dark, bald heads," says one African-American man in the film during a conversation between people of various African backgrounds and black Americans.

The students laughed and stirred as others on-screen take the man to task.

"The temerity for you to sit here and say that 'dark' is not associated with beauty. Absolutely not," another African-American woman says on screen, drawing applause from the students.

'Something Is Wrong Here'

The film traces the tensions back centuries to lingering resentment from the trans-Atlantic slave trade — for which some African-Americans believe black Africans bear some responsibility — and explores its modern manifestations, from the use of "African booty scratcher" as an epithet to popular portrayals of black people of different national origins.

When film's director, Kenyan-born actress and writer Peres Owino, came to the U.S. for college, she would hear "whispered" stereotypes about African-Americans while hanging out with others who have African backgrounds.

It was ultimately what Owino calls her own "bad behavior" that spurred her to make a film.

"It's when you find yourself alienating people who, for all intents and purposes, look like you," said Owino, who now lives in Los Angeles. "You have to sit back and say, 'Something is wrong here, there is something inside me that is really, pretty much just being prejudiced.'"

'We Were Taught We Have To Depend On People'

Some Rainier Beach High School staff say cultural differences between African and African-American students can cause undercurrents of tension in the diverse school community.

Credit Kyle Stokes

Rainier Beach students who watched the film followed it with a 20-minute discussion, breaking into small groups to talk about prejudices to which they felt victim and prejudices they were guilty of perpetrating.

One student reacted to the film's exploration of how slavery impacted African-American perceptions, both of Africans and of white people. This student, an African American, said he disagreed with statements made by African interviewees in the film, saying African Americans are haunted by their history of bondage.

"We were taught we have to depend on people," the student said, referring to slaves' forced dependence on their masters. "We were never taught we have to survive. We depend. No one forced them to depend on anyone," he said, referring to people of African descent.

Discussions like this are the solution Owino's film advocates: find ways to bring people across the African diaspora together to talk about the issues.

"You get them all into a room and then you realize it's not that we don't like each other. It's just that we don't know each other," said Owino.

SIFF Cinema Uptown will screen "Bound: Africans vs. African Americans" at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and again at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.