Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre will host the world premiere of the newly released documentary “The Black Fatherhood Project” on Thursday evening. Director Jordan Thierry said the film has been in the making for more than five years, but tells a story that has been in the making since the formation of this country.
Combining personal experiences and statistical analysis, the film highlights the negatives and the positives of fatherhood among African American men, Thierry said. One eye-opening stat comes from Kids Count Data Center, an initiative taken up by the Anne Casey Foundation to track the well-being of children in the United States. The group’s website states that as of 2011, 67 percent of black children nationwide live in single-parent families.
Thierry said that he interviewed a wide range of people including his cousin and his godfather. He also interviewed professors, such as Dr. Wade Nobles, a professor emeritus in the department of Africana Studies at San Francisco State.
Thierry said that he had one goal in mind: “I wanted a range of experiences and perspectives.”
To understand the state of African American fatherhood, Thierry said he had to first gain historical perspective on factors that have changed black family structures.
“There are so many causes at different points in time,” Thierry said. “The most critical one is slavery. That was the initial breakup of the black family, not here, but in Africa.”
Moving chronologically, Thierry continued to cite causes: The intentional breaking up of black families by slave masters and Jim Crow laws, which created separate but unequal facilities for whites and blacks. “Black men had no other option but to move north for jobs,” Thierry said, as he talked about the great migration and formation of northern ghettos and slums.
The rise of the prison industrial complex further divided many African American families, Thierry said, while the Vietnam War caused many young men to leave their families and return to a country without the infrastructure for them to successfully merge into society. Heroin and cocaine epidemics, he said, explain why many African American families struggled to stay together during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
“Imagine the cost of the crack epidemic: the cost on community, public services, on society,” Thierry said. “You can imagine how much it has cost our society. But we don’t know much it cost us humanistically.”
Finally, he said, black men are often pictured negatively in the media, something he hopes his film can start to counter.
“I wanted to portray (African American) fathers in a more positive light,” he said.
Thierry, an Oregon native, grew up running around his backyard filming his brother with the camera his aunt gave him. Thierry said he is interested in “telling stories, investigating injustice, and showing perspectives that are underrepresented.”
He said that he is inspired by filmmakers such as Spike Lee and Haile Gerima, who was one of his professors in the film school at Howard University and the director of the acclaimed film Sankofa. Thierry said Gerima’s Third World Cinema class and Lee’s use of documentary work influenced him tremendously.
“Documentary film is the most effective way to engage people,” Thierry said.
After the screening, Thierry plans to hold a discussion. Because the film deals with black fatherhood from a wide lens, he said he hopes the post viewing conversation will bring out issues specific to Oakland. And after he starts a conversation about African American families in Oakland, he plans to pack up and go to the next city and do it all over again.
“Here is a film — it’s free! I’m offering you an opportunity to use it as a tool in your community,” Thierry said. “It’s a grassroots campaign to get people to host our screening and engage their communities in dialog with the film.”
The film screens at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland 6 pm on Thursday, January 31.
The film is set to be released online on Friday, February 1st.
There will be an additional screening on Monday February 4th at the Youth Uprising youth center in East Oakland 4pm