Romeo Must Die. Fruitvale Station. Moneyball—or in other words, Oakland, Oakland, Oakland. For the first time, The New Parkway Theater is dedicating a full week to showing movies that are hella Oakland, from the actors to the locations and filmmakers.
Oakland Week kicked off Friday, September 16, and runs through Thursday, September 22. Moviegoers can look forward to not just movies but documentary screenings, post-show discussions and even a late night open mic for poets, comedians, actors and dancers.
“We just really wanted to hone in on the fact that we’re based in Oakland, we want to be a part of the Oakland community,” said the theater’s general manager Diane Tadano. “We want people to come here and feel like they’re in Oakland and that we have a certain vibe that goes along being with The New Parkway.”
“I love The New Parkway, I’m definitely here more than once a week,” said Jennifer Arter, a Berkeley resident, who saw Oakland Week advertised on the theater’s Facebook page, and was there Tuesday night with a friend for the sold-out screening of Oakland filmmaker Shakti Butler’s documentary, Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible. In the film, over a dozen different white people from across the country reflected on their experiences of white privilege through a series of interviews, anecdotes and reenactments.
Butler is also the founder and president of World Trust Educational Services, an Oakland-based non-profit that creates films, curriculum and workshops for people to learn about how to have productive conversations about unconscious bias, racism and diversity within the workplace and community.
At the screening, every single vintage sofa and squashy armchair was taken. The smell of popcorn and pizza and the sound of chatter filled the room until Butler asked everyone to put whatever was in their hands down, put their feet flat on the floor and sit up straight.
“Breathe in deep,” she said. “Then just let go—just let go of the day, all the thoughts that are running around in your mind, competing for your attention.”
Audience members’ breaths filled the theater as they inhaled and exhaled three times, keeping their eyes closed.
“Ask yourself, why am I here? What am I really wanting from this time evening?” Butler said. “What is your heart and your brain looking for?”
The audience talked in pairs with one another and then shared with the group. One woman said she wanted to learn how to have conversations with her boyfriend about white privilege.
“I feel like I know a little bit about my white privilege, but I want to know more,” said another woman.
Andrew Risinger, an 8th grade humanities teacher at Oakland’s Park Day School, came seeking resources to figure out ways he can help his students and faculty members have meaningful discussions at a private school that he says is “dealing with the fact that it’s very white.”
“There’s a larger conversation that is starting and people need to have resources to help deal with white fragility that comes up with people talking about race,” said Risinger, referring to defensive behaviors like anger, silence or arguments from people who feel they are being criticized or blamed during discussions.
After a few more words from Butler, the movie started and silence filled the room.
This isn’t the first time a World Trust film hit the screen at The New Parkway. Ginny Berson, World Trust’s director of outreach, said that after the screening of their film Cracking the Code: Systems of Racial Inequity brought crowds to the theater in January, they were approached to be a part of Oakland Week.
“Moses asked for another film,” said Berson, referring to her conversation with J. Moses Ceasar, the theater’s director of programming. “I said, ‘Well, I have a few actually,’” Berson said, laughing.
For Oakland Weak, Ceasar put together a line-up of over 20 films with an Oakland connection, a process he describes as both creative and bureaucratic. “The priorities for us were to have a diverse line-up, feature as many local filmmakers with whom we had a healthy pre-existing relationship, and offer content that would really engage and challenge our viewers,” said Ceasar. That line-up includes The Waiting Room, Licks, and The Matrix Reloaded.
As the crowd filtered out of the theater after watching Mirrors of Privilege, another group waited to be seated for Watermelon Woman, San Francisco State assistant professor Cheryl Dunye’s 1996 loosely autobiographical feature-length film about a twenty-something black lesbian who straddles working as a video store clerk and an amateur filmmaker.
Christina Gomez-Mira hurried into the lobby to meet her friend after spending a few minutes looking for parking. “I want to do more local things and more queer things,” said Gomez-Mira, who identifies as queer. She said she used to come to The New Parkway more frequently, but when she started working 70 to 80 hours per week, she wasn’t able to go to the movies as much. Now, she’s back with a bowl of popcorn and beer in hand.
“It’s a great theater. I love the movies that they show,” she said. “I want to support it.”
After closing in 2009 due to financial challenges, The New Parkway reopened in 2012 at a new location. Todano says she hopes that Oakland Week will help moviegoers think of The New Parkway as a place that serves Oakland and a place where people come to find a new connection to their community.
On Wednesday evening, viewers can catch The Mack featuring a pre-film “lecturette,” The Crow, East Side Sushi or hang in the mezzanine for “Drink and Draw,” which lets visitors do just that while sipping on wine, kombucha, beer or an Italian soda.
For Thursday’s line-up and more about Oakland Week, visit The New Parkway’s website.