First Impressions of
The PREMIERE of
The New Film of REVOLUTION AND RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion
A Dialogue Between CORNEL WEST & BOB AVAKIAN
A correspondence from Andy Zee, co-director of the film
April 6, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
“This film brought an awareness that we do need an actual change....” A young Latino brother echoed what was felt by audiences across the country who came to the March 28 premieres of the new film of the historic Dialogue between Cornel West and Bob Avakian that took place last November at Riverside Church in New York City. Wherever you were coming from, whatever experience you have had with what this system does to people every day, whether this was your first encounter with the revolution or you’ve been fighting to get rid of this system your whole life, you came away from seeing REVOLUTION AND RELIGION feeling this brother’s sentiment.
In this correspondence, I am going to share some of my own and others’ first impressions. I urge everyone to watch, dig into, promote, and raise funds so that many more can experience and be moved by what Bob Avakian and Cornel West did on November 15, 2014.
Seeing the film on the big screen was special. Look, there was nothing like the excitement of being at Riverside with 1,900 people “live,” experiencing Bob Avakian and Cornel West together on this topic—I won’t ever forget it—being a part of something really historic.
Yet, watching this on film is just a different experience: profound and provocative. I found myself drawn deeply into their insights, their arguments, how they related to each other and engaged and struggled with the audience, the different methods by which they analyzed and approached big questions. I found myself learning more and anew. The film brings you up close inside Cornel West’s and Bob Avakian’s presentations and exchange: the passion, the audacity, the science, the morality, the revolutionary substance. Two courageous voices modeling a morality that refuses to accept injustice—pouring heart and soul into standing together challenging all of us to fight for a world worthy of humanity.
I attended the New York City premiere at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. It was fitting that this film was welcomed and debuted at this beautiful institution that resonates with the history of Black people. Watching the film on the big screen at the Schomburg—a screen that must be 40 feet across and 20 feet high with big, rich sound—was new for me after months of being a part of editing the film on small monitors!
BA and Cornel West really are two courageous moral voices of this moment. They hold and fill the big screen. The topic, Revolution and Religion, is huge: The fight for the emancipation of humanity and, in that context, looking at religion, which holds sway over much of humanity, especially the oppressed of the world, is an urgent question that demands and holds attention. But the dynamism and passion of both BA and CW, their humor and substance, their concern and struggle for the future of humanity, amplify and resonate in a special way through the film. Whether watching in a dark theater or up close on computer, TV, or smartphone, the film brings you into a personal experience with “Cornel and Bob,” so much so that afterward people who had never met either of them came up to me speaking of them by their first names as if they were life-long friends!
Cornel West and BA speak to the conditions and the potential of those who catch the hardest hell from this system. BA brings out why and how they rise to be emancipators of humanity. I want to return to what the young Latino brother who has lost a relative to the murdering police said right after the premiere:
You know, what struck me is that people do not have to have 100 percent the same views. Both of them are fighting for the same things, to free us. Especially with the system that’s been put in forever, that’s been keeping us oppressed, and you know, they criminalizing us, killing us. And this film brought awareness that we do need actual change, because it’s been too long a system that don’t work for us, it never has worked for us. And I think they brought that awareness to everybody—that we need real change.
...It feels like I just drank gasoline every time I hear about a new case the police killing somebody. Because it feels like my insides are burning, like my chest and my stomach are burning inside every time I hear about a new case of the police killing somebody... it feels like my insides are burning, like my chest and my stomach are burning inside. I feel so much anger inside. I feel like, oh my god, what can I do about it? And you know that’s why I thank god I found the revolution. It’s the only people who really back me up on how I feel... And I constantly argue with family and friends, but you know what I do? I don’t give up...
I highlight this not just for the fury of the poetry, but because he speaks for so many whom this system despises, whose loved ones were killed or crushed in other ways by this system, and what they expressed after experiencing the film. So why should this film be spread far and wide? Because “it’s been too long a system that... never has worked for us... it feels like I just drank gasoline every time I hear about a new case of the police killing somebody... I thank god I found the revolution... I constantly argue... I don’t give up.”
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Reading correspondence from organizers of the premieres around the country, I noticed that people repeatedly commented on Bob Avakian’s straightforward, clear, no-holds-barred telling it like it really is. People from very different backgrounds appreciated what BA nailed about this criminal system; the vision he put forth for what kind of world humanity could be capable of—if free from this life- and spirit-crushing system; why and how revolution could make this possible; and why we need a scientific approach to everything and what science even is. BA challenged people to think in a way they never had before about their religious beliefs, while at the same time he struggled for people to act now against injustice and for a radically different world. A student from the prestigious Stanford University said:
This is one of the first times I have come to something of this magnitude.... There is a lot of things that I have been contemplating and meditating on recently that were addressed especially by Avakian, especially about religion and Christianity...
I appreciated his honesty, and I think that the truth of what he was saying, a lot of the history behind what he was saying, and the science, the evidence behind what he was saying. Like I am studying engineering, so I believe, I root myself in science, within math, and in the physical, the real world. So I have been struggling a lot... like how I believe in the spiritual and in the soul, and I believe in a life after this one, but a lot of times those ideas are used to oppress people, and say you are suffering now, but wait till after this life. And so I am struggling with how do we get those people to realize that we can fight for a better world now. But still believe that we can have a better life afterward.
This student, a Native American, went on to talk about how seeing the film helped him recognize that the oppression of all the different nationalities is rooted in the same source.
The actual Dialogue took place last November just before the grand juries in Ferguson and New York failed to indict the police murderers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The rising of the defiant youth of Ferguson was still in the air, and indeed some of those youth were in the house at Riverside, having traveled for a day and a half by bus to get there. But this was a moment of a kind of intense calm, which then burst forth when the indictments didn’t come down, and the streets of the country filled with tens of thousands of youth. As people were walking out of Riverside last November, I spoke with the mother of a young man murdered by the NYC cops, and I asked her what she thought. Fiercely, she responded: “I know what to do.” While she was explicit about the immediate struggle, she was seeing herself more connected to and a part of the fight for the whole thing.
We are in a moment now when the movement against police murder, mass incarceration, and the whole spirit and understanding that Black and Latino lives matter is struggling to retake political and militant initiative. This film can impact how people think and act about that, because it raises sights to the system that gives rise to this outrage, the connection to all forms of oppression, and to revolution for a radically better world.
The film enables people to see what they haven’t seen—the reality that is “hidden in plain sight,” as BA says in the Dialogue. A young Black woman student said she would tell others that the film “actually wakes you up,” elaborating:
You need to understand what is going on around you. This fantasy world we are all living in, this thing that we think we are living in, is not really what’s happening. And if you want that, you need to go watch this film and wake up...
The film gives a vision of a future worthy of humanity. Cindy Sheehan, who has been fighting hard for a decade against the unjust wars of this system, commented after seeing the film: “The film is an invaluable tool to support communist/socialist revolution because it explains so beautifully the utopian vision.”
Watch and spread the YouTube clip from Bob Avakian’s presentation: “WHAT IF...?“ You can hear the exuberant applause and cheers of the audience as BA flips the script on all the outrageously unnecessary oppressions and ways people relate to each other today because of this system, inspiring all to feel what could be. This powerful oratory is the product of years of BA’s study and leadership to qualitatively advance the science of revolution. And throughout the Dialogue, he brings this out in a living way.
This is a film of enormous heart, determination, and struggle with each of us and all of us collectively to rise to the challenge of this time. Standing up against all this system does to people, building a movement for an actual revolution, are not easy. Both speakers acknowledged that. A young woman with the Revolution Club in Atlanta said she had been kind of down because her family has been telling her that being active in the fight against police murder is going to hurt her chances of getting a good job. But when she heard BA tell of the impact on him of the story that Mao Zedong, the leader of China when it was a revolutionary society, had told W.E.B. Du Bois that the one mistake that the Chinese revolutionaries and Du Bois had never made was the mistake of giving up—and heard BA saying this has never left him, this gave her a renewed determination and confidence that she was doing the right thing.
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These first impressions from seeing the new film of the Dialogue between Cornel West and Bob Avakian indicate the impact and import that this film has.
I want to close this correspondence with this: One key thing you see in this film is Bob Avakian modeling the method and approach of the new synthesis of communism that he has developed. He does this in dialogue with Cornel West, a public intellectual who himself models courage and integrity in speaking and acting against injustice. After working on the film, and then watching it again at the premiere, I recalled what BA said about the new synthesis of communism in a seminal work, “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity.” He said: “[W]e should not underestimate the potential of this as a source of hope and daring on a scientific foundation.” I considered these words from BA, and I thought, the film of the Dialogue really brings that. Now, let’s get to work so that this hope and daring on a scientific foundation takes root and spreads all over the world.
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