Random Row Books is far more than just a great bookstore. Not only does the space host a variety of concerts and theatrical performances, but it also functions as a hub for local activists, a home for lectures, free soup dinners, and politically relevant film screenings. Throughout February, Random Row will again show a series of film events for black history month, organized and hosted by Joe Jordan.
A New Yorker who studied drama at the NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Jordan relocated to Charlottesville last year, after becoming increasingly upset about gentrification in New York. “I’m O.K. being an outsider,” he said. “But not in my own neighborhood.”
Jordan has been active with a local Anarchist People of Color (APOC) group and is organizing the film event as part of a continuing series, which recently included a benefit for CeCe MacDonald and a Take Back the Night march in January, done in part to raise awareness about the disappearance of Dashad “Sage” Smith, the local transgender youth who vanished in November and who remains missing.
He began the tribute to black history month last Wednesday, with a screening of Four Little Girls, Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated 1997 documentary about the victims of a 1963 Birmingham church bombing. “There was a really good turn-out,” Jordan said, “better than I expected. There were some elder New Africans there [Joe prefers not to use the term ‘African-American’] who had heard about it through the Jefferson School. They’d never heard of Random Row, but they came and brought their grandkids. It was cool to have older black folks there. Usually at events I go to in Charlottesville, it’s just the white hipster kids I know from the bar scene, from the Downtown crowd.”
Four Little Girls is a powerful and important film, but it’s also fairly standard fare for black history month. The rest of the line-up includes much more creative, and less conventional, fare. “When I was with APOC in New York, I’d show things like [Charles Burnett’s] Killer of Sheep,” Jordan said. “But thinking about who goes to events like this in Charlottesville, it’s mostly going to be a white crowd, so I geared it towards films that I want white people to see.”
The result is an audacious and interesting mix, likely to appeal to any audience interested in politics and film. It includes the February 13 screening of CSA: the Confederate States of America, a 2004 satire shot in the style of a documentary made in an alternate reality in which the South won the Civil War. The February 21 screening is Heading South, a 2005 narrative drama about sex tourism from French filmmaker Laurent Cantet, starring Charlotte Rampling as one of an aging group of tourists who head to Haiti to hire young male sex workers in the 1980s.
The series will wrap up on the 27th with Tales from the Hood, a spin-off of the Tales from the Crypt horror-comedy anthology series. It’s perhaps the most unusual choice in the program, a mostly-forgotten artifact of the mid-’90s, starring “In Living Color’s” David Allen Grier (in his only dramatic role) and directed by Rusty Cundieff (who was also responsible for Fear of a Black Hat, one of two Spinal Tap-esque gangsta rap parodies from that era). But the finest film series are always the ones that aim low as well as high, mixing the critically respected with the critically neglected; perhaps Tales From the Hood deserves to be revisited? “It’s not a comedy,” Jordan said. “It’s extremely political, and extremely scary. I mean, like all horror movies, it does have some degree of comedy. But it’s not comedy about black characters for a white audience, like you usually see. It’s one of the few black horror movies I can think of.”
Jordan, who is biracial, is also insistent that a black history month film series should be organized by a person of color. “If white people are the ones propagating racism, but then white people are also the only ones speaking out against it, then what happens to all the non-white people? Do they just disappear? Of course, I understand that there are barriers that prevent people of color from becoming radicalized, but what are those barriers?”
Our conversation continued for the better part of an hour, touching on a wide variety of topics, from voting, to drone strikes, to sexism and homophobia at UVA. Jordan defines himself as a “militant anarchist,” and his main focus is on activist work on behalf of political prisoners and prisoners of war. In conversation he’s both animated and excitable, with an exuberance that can easily read as confrontational. But Jordan is also eager to talk with anyone who is open to engaging with him, and his blunt insights have a way of cutting to the heart of any matter under discussion. He’s also extremely knowledgeable about film, politics, and social issues—easy traits to miss, for those who aren’t willing to look past his thick beard, nose piercing, and face tattoos.
Returning to the topic of the film series, Jordan said, “It’ll be awesome, plus it’s the only game in town. I mean, there’s not that much [radical political activity] happening here. I will show up to anything, and I’m willing to work with anyone. For the [film series], I want people to come, and encourage people of color to come. These are great films, and they need to be seen.”
For information on the black history month film series go to randomrow.word press.com.