Friday, January 28, 2022

Bringing Lumumba Home

Artwork: “The Death of Lumumba” by Tshibumba Kanda Matulu.

Last Monday, January 17, was the 61st anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Émery Lumumba (1925-1961), a leader of the Congolese independence movement who served as the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Republic of the Congo). Throughout much of his adult life Lumumba resisted colonialism and corporatism, a defiant stance that without doubt led to his murder.

As I’ve noted previously, I first became aware of and interested in the life of Patrice Lumumba when I attended a special screening of Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s film Lumumba at the University of Minnesota Film Society in 2000. (Today, Peck is probably most well-known for his 2016 film based on the writings of James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro.)

According to The Guardian, Peak’s 2000 film, Lumumba, which features French actor Eriq Ebouaney in the title role, is a “commendable effort” and a “corrective to imperialism.”

After seeing the film shortly after its release, I did some research on Lumumba and found myself moved by the images that show him captured and bound while on his way to be executed. I was struck by his calm countenance, even as he no doubt knew what awaited him. To this day I find myself wondering if I could be so brave and calm in the face of torture and death.

In commemorating the life of Patrice Lumumba on the anniversary of his murder during a US-backed coup 61 years ago, I share a recent op-ed by Ira Dworkin on the long overdue return of Lumumba’s remains to his family. These remains (comprising of a single tooth) are held by the Belgian government responsible for Lumumba’s death. Dworkin documents how Lumumba’s family “continues to be victimized,” and he compellingly argues that the return of Lumumba’s remains “must not be an occasion for Belgium to congratulate itself, but for a full accounting of the colonial violence that led to [Lumumba’s] assassination and cover-up.”

Dworkin’s op-ed was first published last Friday, January 21, by The Elephant, an online publication dedicated to “speaking truth to power.”


Bring Patrice Lumumba Home

By Ira Dworkin

January 21, 2022

For much of the past year, there have been plans for the sacred human remains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s first post-independence prime minister, Patrice Émery Lumumba, to finally be returned to his children in Belgium, and then repatriated to the Congo. Originally scheduled for a ceremony on June 30, 2021, the 61st anniversary of the country’s independence passed with Lumumba’s remains still in the custody of Belgian authorities. The ceremony with Belgian King Philippe, current Prime Minister Alexander de Croo of Belgium, and Congo President Félix Tshisekedi, was then planned for January 17, 2022, the anniversary of the assassination. Last week, Tshisekedi announced another delay – this time until June 2022. The official reason for the delay was the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Congo, but the pandemic crisis is deeply entangled with a series of other political maneuvers and other crises that are undoubtedly factors in the decision.

At the center of this story, Lumumba’s family continues to be victimized. As Nadeen Shaker recently reported, his children were forced to escape to Cairo during their father’s house arrest, never to see him again. The disturbing fact that the remains of Lumumba spent another Independence Day in Belgium may provide opportunities for metaphor and analogy, but, amid the widespread complicity in this ongoing desecration, the most important outcome must be to respect the ethical and legal claims of his children, which daughter Juliana Lumumba described in an open letter to the Belgian king last year.

The story of the execution and its aftermath is well told by Ludo de Witte in The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba. On January 17, 1961, Lumumba was killed along with comrades Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito by Belgian authorities, with the support of neocolonial Kantangan separatists and the US. Two days later, Gerard Soete, Belgian police commissioner of Katanga, and his brother exhumed the body to chemically eradicate all physical evidence of their crime in order to prevent the kind of mobilization which its identification would inspire. Though the execution was kept secret for nearly a month, its announcement inspired exactly what his executioners feared, as African people throughout the world engaged in protest and other revolutionary acts of remembrance – from the well-known demonstration at the United Nations, and other cities throughout the world to a legacy in a visual, musical, and literary culture that continues to this day.

In February 1961, while the Cultural Association of Women of African Heritage organized a major protest at UN headquarters in New York, Lumumba’s widow Pauline Opango Lumumba led a march of family and supporters to the UN offices of Rajeshawar Dayal in Kinshasa. There, she requested that the UN help her receive the remains of her husband for a proper burial. After Ralph Bunche offered “apologies” for the New York protest, Lorraine Hansberry “hasten[ed] publicly to apologize to Mme. Pauline Lumumba and the Congolese people for our Dr. Bunche.” Meanwhile, James M. Lawson of the United African Nationalist Movement and other Black activists organized a wake for Lumumba at Lewis Michaux’s Harlem bookstore. When Pauline died in Kinshasa in 2014, she was still waiting to bury her husband. She, and her iconic demonstration, are memorialized in Brenda Marie Osbey’s poem “On Contemplating the Breasts of Pauline Lumumba,” which is part of a long line of African American efforts to uplift the Lumumba family. The immediacy of Pauline’s demands remains after 6 years.

While Lumumba’s body was dissolved in sulphuric acid, Soete, like the US lynchers of Sam Hose and so many others, kept trophies of his victims as he traveled from the Congo to Belgium, often displaying them for friends and journalists. After Soete died, his daughter Godelieve continued her father’s tradition, culminating in a bizarre 2016 interview, during which a reporter found the remains in her possession. (In her efforts to defend her father, Godelieve further revealed that his brutality was visited upon his children.) The Belgian police intervened and, for the past five years, Lumumba’s remains have been held by the Belgian government responsible for his death. In September 2020, a court finally ruled they should be returned to the family.

These most recent delays are occurring at a time when the ongoing mistreatment of human remains is receiving public attention. The case of the Morton Collection at the University of Pennsylvania led activist Abdul-Aliy Muhammad to uncover the ongoing desecration of the remains of Tree and Delisha Africa, who were killed when the city of Philadelphia bombed their family’s home on May 13, 1985, leading to the discovery that the city held additional remains of the victims of its violence against the MOVE organization.

Since 2005, in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) created the Missing Persons Task Team to identify the remains of the Black victims of the country’s apartheid era. Drawing on the expertise of researchers with experience in similar initiatives in Argentina and elsewhere, this government project has been deliberate in its efforts to include the families of the missing at all stages, while seeing their work as integral to the larger mission of the TRC, and further representative of a larger model of repatriation of human remains and possessions. As different as these cases of violence may be, government sanction – at multiple levels and taking different forms – remains constant.

In an October 2021 program hosted by Friends of the Congo, Juliana Lumumba explained that for her, as the daughter of a martyr, repatriation and memorialization of her father’s remains were not finite events to be completed like items checked off of a to-do list. Rather, the return must be part of a wider and ongoing process: “I told Belgium, that if we want a reconciliation we need reconciliation of memories because we can not make a reconciliation when our memories [are] so different and so contradictory.” Juliana’s words carry a particular weight at a time when the Special Parliamentary Commission on Belgian Colonial History has received a sharply critical historical report that may or may not lead to meaningful action of the sort that the family has demanded.

Lumumba’s son Guy-Patrice Lumumba opposes Tshisekedi’s efforts to exploit the repatriation for political gain. Félix Tshisekedi himself is familiar with some of the political challenges of memorialization after the remains of his own father, longtime popular opposition leader Étienne Tshisekdi, spent more than two years in Europe before their return in 2019 after Félix’s election. Félix is quickly losing whatever claim he had on his own father’s mantle (see Bob Elvis’s song “Lettre à Ya Tshitshi” for a recent indictment of the president’s abandonment of his father’s mantle). He may find value in an association with a revered nationalist icon amid political protests from opponents concerned about his overreaching efforts to control the country’s powerful electoral commission as the 2023 election cycle approaches.

Meanwhile, the younger Tshisekedi’s international standing has been consolidated through his position as head of the African Union, where his responsibilities include negotiating for the provision of COVID-19 vaccines for member states. He recently met with President Biden and made an official visit to Israel, the latter of particular concern given its historical involvement in mercenary efforts against pro-Lumumba rebels and its ongoing role in the plunder of the Congo’s resources (to say nothing of Tshisekedi’s support for Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem and its status as an observer at the African Union). Such actions highlight the extraordinary distance between Lumumba’s legacy and Tshisekedi’s leadership.

For decades, the Lumumba family has made a series of unanswered demands through formal inquiries and legal appeals. A group of scholars and activists have also asserted the return of Lumumba’s remains must not be an occasion for Belgium to congratulate itself, but rather an opportunity for a full accounting of the colonial violence that led to the assassination and its subsequent coverup.

Hopefully soon, Lumumba’s family can mourn on their own terms and have all of their demands for justice met immediately and without equivocation.

Ira Dworkin
January 21, 2022

Above: Patrice Lumumba, about whom Colin Legum, a journalist, author, and notable anti-Apartheid activist, wrote in 2001: “I had got to know Lumumba reasonably well. . . . I found him gentle, and advanced in his social ideas, formed by his Christian beliefs and admiration for social democratic ideas. . . . Under different circumstances he could have been an impressive leader and saved the Congo from its terrible fate under the likes of the kleptomanic Mobutu.”

Related Off-site Links:
Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) – Sean Jacobs (Jacobin, January 17, 2017).
Brussels Sets Straight Historical Wrong Over Patrice Lumumba Killing – Patrick Smyth (The Irish Times, July 5, 2018).
Congo Rising to Produce Feature Film Patrice Lumumba in Africa; Compelling Story of Martyred Congo Leader Coming to the (January 14, 2021)
In Search of Lumumba – Christian Parenti (In These Times, January 30, 2008).
Patrice Lumumba: The Most Important Assassination of the 20th Century – Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja (The Guardian, January 17, 2011).
Death of Lumumba – A History of Foreign Involvement – S.A. Randhawa (I/R/M, December 13, 2019).
Both Belgium and the United States Should Be Called to Account for the Death of Patrice Lumumba – Tim Butcher (The Spectator, March 7, 2015).
Patrice Lumumba’s Daughter: I’m Demanding Belgium Give Back My Father’s Remains – Juliana Lumumba (Jacobin, August 1, 2020).
Belgian Princess Condemns Her Family’s Brutal Colonial History in Congo and Calls for ReparationsDemocracy Now! (July 9, 2020).
Congo’s Patrice Lumumba: The Winds of Reaction in Africa – Kenneth Good (CounterPunch, August 23, 2019).
The Tragedy of Lumumba: An Exchange – Ludo De Witte Colin Legum and Brian Urquhart (The New York Review, December 20, 2001).
Martyr by Choice – Catherine Hoskyns (The New York Review, April 5, 1973).
An Exchange on the Death of Lumumba – A.C. Gilpin and Catherine Hoskyns (The New York Review, April 22, 1971).
Who Killed Lumumba? – Catherine Hoskyns (The New York Review, December 17, 1970).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Raoul Peck on Patrice Lumumba and the Making of a Martyr
Remembering Patrice Lumumba
John Pilger on Resisting Empire
Resisting the Hand of the Empire
New Horizons

Opening image: “The Death of Lumumba” by Tshibumba Kanda Matulu. Notes the website Lumumba and Art:

We can see Lumumba in the clothes familiar to us in many of the photographs of him, dressed in a white shirt and the pants of his suit. He is lying dead on the ground, with other bodies in the background. These are those of Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito. From a large wound on the right side of Lumumba the word unite (or unité) is formed in blood.

Although creating the familiar image we know from the photos and video images of his arrest, it creates a picture that we do not know, because there is not a photograph of Lumumba murdered. Tshibumba, with this painting, then fills a mystery gap in the history of the final moments of Lumumba, while staying true to the images we do have of him.

Mary Nooter Roberts says about this picture that the light on the forehead of Lumumba, which forms a cross, is again derived from an interpretation of a photograph of Lumumba with the light probably caused by the flash of a camera. This cross is then extended in the three symbolic crosses on the right-side of the painting.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Difficult Choices

My workplace, Mercy Hospital, which is part of the Allina Health system, has been in the news lately.

The details around the situation are complex, and I’m not going to go into certain specifics about the (now deceased) patient in question. What I will say is that during the time this patient was being cared for at Mercy, his spouse was interviewed on a national rightwing podcast whose host has falsely called coronavirus vaccines “poisonous shots” and given a platform to pandemic conspiracy theories. During this interview the patient’s spouse made misleading and inflammatory statements about the care her husband was receiving for COVID-19 at Mercy. The host then encouraged his listeners and followers to call the hospital, resulting in a bomb scare at the hospital that very night and an overwhelming number of harassing and/or threatening phone calls in the following days. It was, to say the least, a very difficult time for all of us at Mercy.

In response to all of this and, more importantly, the deeper issues at play, two insightful and informative pieces were recently published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper – an op-ed and a letter-to-the-editor. The latter was written by my good friend Phil. Both pieces are reprinted below.


Difficult Choices Must Be Made
When Death Approaches

Opinion Exchange, Star Tribune
January 20, 2022

As critical care and emergency physicians on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic we were saddened and frustrated to read of the recent court order requiring Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids to keep a patient on life support after it appears medical teams had determined that continued treatment would not benefit the patient (“COVID Patient Must Be Kept on Ventilator, Judge Rules,” January 15, 2022).

Since the advent of critical care in the 1950s, cases have been common in which a patient has no chance of survival despite best efforts, and essentially is dead but for the machines and interventions that keep the patient in medical purgatory, awaiting an infection, stroke or other event that yields final closure. This can take weeks, months or even years, but the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

The U.S. is nearly unique in allowing families and courts to intervene in these situations, and to order that artificial life support must continue. During times when adequate resources are available, these circumstances pose difficult financial and ethical considerations. When resources are scarce, the community consequences of continued active treatment become more significant and urgent – because other community members’ lives are often at stake.

Today, as for the past several months, hundreds of patients are waiting in emergency departments in Minnesota for beds that are not available due to sustained and severe demands on hospitals. Some of these patients are critically ill or injured; they need trained personnel, a critical care unit, ventilators, dialysis machines, specialized treatments and diagnostics to prevent complications and death. Unfortunately, many of these patients never get a critical care bed. Many nonetheless recover, but some get worse and some die.

The average stay in intensive care, whether for a severe infection, a heart problem, trauma or other emergency condition is three days. Even during the 30 days the judge ordered Mercy to continue to provide artificial support (the patient has since been transferred to a Texas hospital), the intensive care resources involved could have benefited an additional 10 patients needing help.

It is never easy for families and care providers when a care team arrives at the decision that a patient cannot be benefited by further active treatment. Multiple opinions are sought, every angle is considered. The decision could not be more important, and it is treated that way.

Currently, it is estimated that 5 to 10% of all of our Minnesota critical care beds are occupied by patients receiving non-beneficial care at their families’ request. Given the severity of illness and limited resources across the region, there are often no places to send them, so we continue to support them, expending precious resources, and experiencing the anguish of declining request after request from outside hospitals with other patients who need and could benefit from our services.

This is not to say that we are lowering our threshold for stopping active treatment due to scarce resources, but that the current scarcity sharply defines the trade-offs in devoting limited resources to a patient who cannot benefit.

Our resources are finite. Our citizens are suffering. Our hospital resources belong to the community and should not be used by individuals indefinitely to the detriment of others. The tragedy of the commons is real and we are compromising patient care today for many in our community by providing care that does not offer benefit.

We urgently need to establish a national consensus and change the U.S. culture and expectations surrounding what treatments are provided at the end of life.

Health care teams are dedicated to serving our community; we spend years training and working to promote healing, relieve suffering, and help others survive and live as well as possible. We understand and share the desire to live, and the often excruciating challenge of making difficult treatment decisions as chances of survival fade and death approaches.

But there will be for each of us a point when death is coming. And often, when dying is not accepted, heroism becomes torture and harm is caused at every level, from patient to family to care team to community.

We do not know the specific details related to the case at Mercy Hospital; but we know our colleagues, and we know the very common circumstances faced in intensive care in all hospitals. We, your health care teams, are distressed, and these situations amplify that distress. Our workforce is exhausted and is contracting. We need your help.

For now, the best tool we have is to increase our vaccination and booster rates. With a fivefold reduction in illness and a 13-fold reduction in death, vaccinations clearly reduce demands for hospital care. Multiply this one case by the thousands of unvaccinated patients who dominate the demand for critical care in Minnesota, and we could have prevented unnecessary deaths and provided lifesaving care to countless others.

Please get vaccinated. Please consider what it means to be part of our community. We will do our best to care for you and continue to figure out the ethical boundaries where technology meets death.

John Hick, Michele LeClaire and Heidi Erickson are emergency and critical care physicians at Hennepin County Medical Center. The opinions expressed here are theirs alone and should not be interpreted as an official statement or position of Hennepin Healthcare.


The piece by Drs. John Hick, Michele LeClaire and Heidi Erickson about medical futility and scarcity of resources could not be more timely, nor could it have come from more authoritative sources (“Difficult Choices Must Be Made When Death Approaches,” Opinion Exchange, January 20). As a colleague of theirs I can attest that they know what they are talking about.

It is sad that it has taken a global pandemic to shed light on a problem that we in the health care profession have known about for decades, and it is even sadder that this has done little to sway many people's views on the matter. There remain those who, in the name of “defending life,” are more than willing to expend valuable medical resources for no discernible benefit, even as hospital beds become scarce and we become strained in our ability to provide even basic care. And when we are unable to deliver the miracle they expect, these same people are more than willing to threaten us with lawsuits, bodily harm and death.

Phil Jacquet-Morrison, St. Paul

Related Off-site Links:
COVID Patient Dies After Wife Has Him Moved for Alternative Treatment – Bob Shaw (Mercury News, January 24, 2022).
Judge Dismisses Mercy Hospital Lawsuit Filed by Wife of COVID-19 Patient
– Rebecca Omastiak (KSTP News, January 25, 2022).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Out and About – Autumn 2021
Renae Gage: Quote of the Day – November 28, 2021
COVID Observations From a General Surgeon
Richard LaFortune: Quote of the Day – August 20, 2021
Something to Lament
A Pandemic Year
Out and About – Spring 2020

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Quote of the Day

[President Biden] made a big deal saying he’s not a socialist like Bernie Sanders. [Yet he] is a corporate socialist, completely. Throughout his career, Joe Biden has supported subsidies, handouts, giveaways, and bailouts [for corporations] . . . And he’s continuing to do that. And the reporters [at yesterday’s press conference] didn’t take him to task there. . . . I mean, they never raise the [issue of] corporate supremacy over our country. There isn’t a single agency in the federal government that isn’t influenced maximally by corporate lobbies. And Congress is swarmed by corporate lobbies. . . . [And yet] the press never asks about it. The self-censorship of the press is overwhelming. That’s why we have to have a more independent media.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Deeper Perspective on What’s Really Attacking American Democracy
Norman Solomon: Quote of the Day – July 8, 2021
Inauguration Eve Musings
Biden’s Win: “As Much the Sounding of An Alarm As a Time for Self-Congratulations”
We Cannot Allow a Biden Win to Mean a Return to “Brunch Liberalism”
Progressive Perspectives on the Biden-Harris Ticket
Progressive Perspectives on Joe Biden’s Presidential Run

Related Off-site Links:
The Meaning and Importance of Independent Media – Marianne Williamson and Jordan Chariton (Transform, January 19, 2022).
COVID Surges and Kabul Chaos Among Defining Moments of Biden’s First Year in Office – Ayesha Rascoe (NPR News, January 19, 2022).
No, Ralph Nader Did Not Hand the 2000 Presidential Election to George W. Bush – Anthony Fisher (Reason, August 3, 2016).

Image: Ralph Nader, pictured in 2014. (Photograph: Getty Images)

Monday, January 10, 2022

“So Damned Beautiful and Strong Inside and Out”

Lee Grant Remembers Sidney Poitier

Legendary actor Sidney Poitier died this past Thursday, January 6, at the age of 94.

One of the books I read during my recent COVID quarantine was actress, documentarian, and director Lee Grant’s 2014 autobiography, I Said Yes to Everything. Following is what Grant writes about Poitier and their work together on the groundbreaking 1967 film In the Heat of the Night.

I got a call to meet Norman Jewison about In the Heat of the Night. When I read the script, I knew why he’d sent for me. It was about a businessman who is murdered while on a short trip to the deep South. You never meet the businessman, but the wife, me, is given the news of his death. Sidney Poitier is a Philadelphia detective, held as a suspect because he is black and a Northerner. Rod Steiger is the Southern sheriff.

In his office, I sat across from Norman, who introduced me to Hal Ashby, his longtime friend and the editor of the film. At that point Hal had not directed anything, and he still had a wife in Idaho. We looked at each other across the desk and connected in a hundred ways without exchanging a word. I knew about losing a husband, which was what the role was about, and I let myself go there, sitting across from them. By the time I left, they knew everything they needed to know about me and had found what they were lookng for.

[. . .] A day before I left for the Midwest, where Heat was filming, I’d done a day’s work in Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin’s Divorce American Style. I went from fun and silly to deep and dark as I entered the set.

I had pretty much cocooned myself preparing for the part, had done a lot of remembering and breaking down behind locked bathroom doors. All I wanted was to keep myself in that wounded place through the filming. Rod and Sidney were both my friends, and they went out of their way to greet and hug me, but I needed to keep my concentration internal and in character to play the part.

When Sidney’s character finally gave me the news of my husband’s death, I reacted the way I had in life. I thought if I didn’t hear it, I could turn back the clock and it wouldn’t have happened. My throat closes with pain still as I write.

I kept saying “No, no, no” to block out the reality. Sidney’s sensitivity in that scene was true and unscripted, and he was there for me every step of the way. Sidney’s eyes, concerned, sensitive, his body – I can’t see him as an actor, he was that good. He was so talented, I forgot he was actng. Norman Jewison encouraged this fresh exploration to happen and take its course. Haskell Wexler, the director of photography, was doing handheld, and wherever we went as actors he followed with his camera.

I don’t think there is a better film about race in America than In the Heat of the Night. Rod Steiger’s journey as the Southern sheriff reluctantly brought to enlightenment is so remarkable, and Sidney is so damned beautiful and powerful inside and out.

Lee Grant
Excerpted from I Said Yes to Everything
Blue Rider Press, 2014
pp. 236-237

Related Off-site Links:
In the Heat of the Night Star Lee Grant Remembers Sidney Poitier: “He Was Ahead of Everybody” – Julian Sancton (The Hollywood Reporter, January 8, 2022).
In the Heat of the Night’s Norman Jewison and Lee Grant Say That Sidney Poitier’s Famous Slap Scene “Echoed Around the World” Following Its Release – Sam Joseph Semon (The Daily Mail, January 8, 2022).
Interview With Lee Grant on the Making of In the Heat of the Night – The Criterion Collection via YouTube (2018).
Sidney Poitier Was Far More Than Just a Symbol of Racial Progress – Aisha Harris (NPR News, January 7, 2022).

Saturday, January 08, 2022

“How Can One Overreact to a Mortal Threat to American Democracy?”

This past Thursday was the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

In marking this deplorable event and its aftermath, PBS Newshour host Judy Woodruff moderated a panel discussion which explored the broader effects of the insurrection on American politics, culture and democracy itself.

Woodruff’s guests were George Packer, staff writer at The Atlantic; Jelani Cobb, who covers race and politics at The New Yorker and is a professor of journalism at Columbia University; Stuart Stevens, a former Republican strategist and author of the book, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump; and Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist at The Washington Post.

As you’ll see from the video below, it was an informed and insightful (albeit disturbing) discussion and exploration, with all the guests but Abernathy expressing the belief that the January 6 insurrection was a “warning shot” and likely a “harbinger” of things to come.

I should note that although I appreciated what everyome had to offer, I thought it was unfortunate that the panel was comprised only of men. It’s a pity the producers of the show didn’t reach out to some of the many female social and political commentators out there, such as Heather Cox Richardson and Marianne Williamson, both of whom published thought-provoking pieces that same day (see here and here).

One last thing: This post’s title is taken from the following statement by George Packer (right) which he shared during the panel discussion.

How can one overreact to a mortal threat to American democracy, the first in my lifetime that actually seems to be on a road toward making it impossible for the popular will to be respected at the ballot box?

That’s been the goal of all these [Republican-backed] bills passed or debated across legislatures in Georgia, in Arizona, in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, which are not just about restricting access to the ballot, but are about putting elections in the hands of reliable partisans, so that, next time around, we will have states that claim that the election was somehow wrongly held, and that it’s thrown into the hands of a partisan legislature, which sends its own electors to Congress to choose the next president.

That’s exactly the strategy going on right now, and it’s building on what the Republican Party learned from January 6 and these events around it, which was: You need the right people in the right offices to be making these decisions in order to seize power.

They didn’t have it last time. They’re trying to get it next time. I can’t possibly overestimate the seriousness of that.

Following is video of the complete panel discussion, the transcript of which can be found here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Deeper Perspective on What’s Really Attacking Democracy
“The Coup Attempt on January 6th Was a Warning for What’s to Come If We Don’t Act”
“My Biggest Worry Is for My Country”
Republicans Pose an “Existential Threat” to American Democracy
The Big Switch
Two Conservative Voices of Integrity
David Remnick: Quote of the Day – February 13, 2021
Dan Rather on America’s “Moment of Reckoning”
The Republican Party in a Nutshell
Acknowledging Where We Are
Michael Harriot: Quote of the Day – January 7, 2021
Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol

Related Off-site Links:
Are We Doomed? – George Packer (The Atlantic, December 6, 2021).
A Year Later – Dan Rather (Steady, January 5, 2022).
The January 6th Criminal Case Against Donald Trump – David Rohde (The New Yorker, January 5, 2022).
Trump Thrashed for Lie-Laden Response to Biden’s January 6 Anniversary Address – Brett Wilkins (Common Dreams, January 6, 2022).

UPDATES: The White Christian Nationalism Tearing America Apart at the Seams – Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis (Common Dreams, January 11, 2022).
January 6th Is Just the Beginning of the Assault on American Democracy – Christina Baal-Owens (Common Dreams, January 11, 2022).
Evidence Mounts of GOP Involvement in Trump’s Attempt to Stay in Power – Farnoush Amiri (AP News, May 1, 2022).

Image: Leah Millis / Reuters.

Friday, January 07, 2022

André Holland: “There Are So Many Stories in Our Community That Are Yet to Be Told”

My COVID-19 quarantine continues. I’m now basically symptom-free, and so have been up and about my attic apartment – reading, cleaning and organizing, re-potting some plants, and catching up with a number of Netflix series, including Grace and Frankie, Sex Education, and the rebooted Lost in Space.

I also watched the Netflix movie Passing, the feature directorial debut of Rebecca Hall. The film is based on the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, and its title refers to African-Americans who had skin color light enough to be perceived as white, referred to as “passing.” The movie explores the experiences and issues of two mixed-race African-American women, Irene and Clare, who were childhood friends and have taken different paths of racial identification and marriage. Irene (Tessa Thompson) identifies as Black and married a Black doctor (André Holland); Clare (Ruth Negga) passes as white and is married to a racist white man (Alexander Skarsgård), without revealing her African ancestry. The film explores Irene and Clare’s experiences of reuniting as adults.

Passing is a very well-made and thought-provoking film; I definitely recommend it. One reason I appreciated and enjoyed it so much was that it features one of my favorite actors, the talented André Holland. He plays Irene’s husband Brian.

There is an undercurrent of homoerotic desire in the film, one that I picked up on and which the following from Wikipedia insightfully explores in relation to the film’s source material, Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel.

Scholars have identified a homoerotic subtext between Irene and Clare, centered on the erotic undertones in Irene’s descriptions of Clare and appreciation of her beauty. As scholar Deborah McDowell’s writes, “the idea of bringing sexual attraction between two women to full narrative expression is [. . .] too dangerous a move, which helps to explain why critics have missed this aspect of the novel.” In that interpretation, the novel’s central metaphor of “passing” under a different identity “occurs at a surprisingly wide variety of levels,” including sexual. This suggests that there are other forms of “passing” that take place in the novel that is not just based on race. Larsen has a clever way of “deriving its surface theme and central metaphor-passing,” disguising the plots “neatly” and “symmetrically.” The apparently sexless marriage between Brian and Irene (their separate bedrooms and identification as co-parents rather than sexual partners) allow Larsen to “flirt, if only by suggestion, with the idea of a lesbian relationship between [Clare and Irene].”

. . . The character of [Irene’s] husband, Brian, has been subject to a similar interpretation: Irene’s labeling of him as queer and his oft-expressed desire to go to Brazil, a country then widely thought to be more tolerant of homosexuality than the United States was, are given as evidence. It is also shown that Brazil is considered to be a place with more relaxed ideas about race. Irene begins to believe that Clare and Brian are having an affair to hide or distract from her own feelings for Clare. McDowell writes, “the awakening of Irene’s erotic feelings for Clare coincides with Irene’s imagination of an affair between Clare and Brian.” Although she had no reason to accuse him, Irene did so to protect herself from her own sexual desires.

In promoting Passing, André Holland was recently interviewd by Stefan Pape of the movie website, HeyUGuys. In this interview, Andre talks about his personal connection to the film and his admiration for director Rebecca Hall’s work.

André was also recently interviewed by Kimberly Truong of In Style magazine. Following (with added images and links) is an excerpt from Truong’s November 10, 2021 article. Enjoy!


To hear André Holland describe it, he discovered acting by chance, and has been “stumbling forward ever since,” but his filmography has been anything but accidental. The 41-year-old actor has been intentional when it comes to taking on roles, resulting in a KonMari’d CV that’s as interesting as it is unpredictable, ranging from Stephen King horror (Hulu’s Castle Rock) to historical drama (Selma). Perhaps not so coincidentally, Holland has been in two Broadway plays both written by August Wilson: a 2017 production of Jitney and a 2009 staging of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

“When I’m reading something, first of all, I want to make sure that it doesn’t do anything that denigrates my culture,” he says. He has other questions, of course: is it a project that moves him, something that gives him an opportunity to do things he hasn’t before? Does he believe in the people he’s working with, and in their vision enough to work with them for 12 to 14 hours a day? But at the end of the day, it comes back to his main priority.

“After I’ve gone through all of that, I come back and revisit the question of, is there anything here that denigrates my culture?” he says. “I was just reading this book today called Colorization by Wil Haygood, which is about the history of Black people in Hollywood, and the first chapter is about D.W. Griffith and [the 1915 silent film] The Birth of a Nation, and the damage that film did to Black people. And so I just want to make sure that we’re telling stories that highlight the beauty, the complexity, the joy, the anger – all of the things that we are – but in a real, actual way.”

To that end, Passing, based on Nella Larson’s 1929 novel of the same name, ticked essentially every item on Holland’s list. The Netflix film [which premiered on] November 10, follows Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), two light-skinned Black women in 1920s Harlem, the latter of whom has chosen to live and “pass” as a white woman.

Holland says that having grown up in the South, he was familiar with the idea of passing, and heard stories from his parents and grandparents about people they knew who had passed. As Brian, Irene’s husband, he enlivens the screen opposite Thompson, their chemistry coming to a head in a scene in which Brian and Irene argue over whether or not to talk to their children about the dangers of the racial discrimination they’re bound to face.

“It felt like a conversation that I had with my parents, it brought back memories of that,” he recalls. “It also felt like a conversation that people are having today and sadly will likely be having tomorrow. I’m not a parent yet, but I hope to be one day, and I felt a lot of sadness around what it must be like to be having this debate about how to keep your Black children safe in this country.”

The film is actress Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, and Holland says the experience of working with her in this new capacity was revelatory for him: "Seeing her on set as a writer and as a director revealed to me that I also have an appetite to write and direct my own stories," he says. “Seeing her in action made me think, 'OK, not only can I do this, but I also feel like I have to do this.'”

Holland already has experience working behind the scenes, having produced High Flying Bird, the 2019 sports drama he also starred in [right]. Through his production company, Harper Road Films, he’s working on over a dozen different projects, one of which he’s directing, and a slew that he’s slated to star in as well.

“Storytelling was a part of my tradition growing up, I love stories maybe more than acting,” he explains. “Producing, I think, has made me feel as though I have more agency over the kinds of stories that I want to tell. It's given me the opportunity to learn things about history and about culture that I didn't know before. It's been really, really thrilling.”

Holland hopes to elevate stories he believes in, and to make space for new voices to come in. He talks excitedly about a meeting he had earlier in the day with a writer, telling me, “This amazing brother was a scholar, teaches African American history, and we were just kind of riffing on all the story ideas we both have and realizing there are so many stories in our community, in our culture, that are yet to be told, you know what I’m saying?”

In a sense, he’s now in the position of opening doors for others the way Moonlight did for him. The Oscar-winning film, he says, allowed him to meet filmmakers he thinks he otherwise wouldn’t have met, and to be sent scripts and opportunities he remains grateful for.

Above and below: Andre Holland in Moonlight (2016).

Moonlight made me feel hungry to have more experiences like that, where you make something that feels important, relevant, that has something to say,” he says. “But the truth is that projects like those don’t come along every day, you know? In some ways, there was a little bit of disappointment, I think, on my part, just because I had such a wonderful time working on Moonlight and I wanted to recreate that experience.”

He might have that chance now that he’s re-teamed with [Moonlight director] Barry Jenkins for a new follow-up season of The Knick, which Jenkins is picking up from the series’ previous director, Steven Soderbergh. But otherwise, Holland is taking things into his own hands.

Right: André Holland in The Knick (2014-2015).

“That’s where producing feels like a lifeline because it’s like, well, maybe rather than waiting for something like [Moonlight] to come along again, what about getting in there and trying to figure out a way to make those things happen, to put those projects together?” he says. “So that makes me feel a little less anxious and yeah, it makes me feel excited.”

To read Kimberly Tuong’s interview of Andre Holland in its entirety, click here.


I must admit that the prospect of The Knick returning is something I’m very much looking forward to. I enjoyed this series, and André’s character was my favorite. He played Dr. Algernon Edwards, an African-American assistant chief surgeon at a fictionalized version of the Knickerbocker Hospital (the Knick) in New York during the early twentieth century.

Algernon manages a secret after-hours clinic in the basement for African-Americans, who ordinarily are turned away from the hospital. He also encounters constant racism from white doctors and patients, all the while engaging in a clandestine relationship with Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance), head of the Knick’s social welfare office and daughter of Captain August Robertson (Grainger Hines), a prominent member of the Knick’s board of directors.

Above: Juliet Rylance and André Holland in The Knick (2014-2015).

Above: André’s Dr. Algernon Edwards in a rare relaxed moment.

Above: A more typical look for the beleaguered Dr. Edwards.

Above: Clive Owen as Dr. John Thackery and André Holland as Dr. Algernon Edwards in The Knick (2014-2015). Reports Rodrigo Perez: “Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s turn-of-the-century medical drama ran for two seasons on Cinemax from 2014-2015. Director Barry Jenkins and The Knick co-star André Holland are discussing the idea of reviving the series for a third, or brand new season now starring Holland’s Dr. Edwards character (Clive Owen’s lead character died at the end of season two).” Perez also notes that the show’s original creators, Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, have written a pilot episode for the third season.

Interestingly, André’s character in The Knick, the Harvard-educated and Paris-trained African-American surgeon Dr. Algernon Edwards, is said to be based on the historical Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (left) and Dr. Louis T. Wright. The lives and accomplishments of these two medical pioneers are among the many stories of African-Americans that are rarely told in films or TV series – something that André Holland is clearly dedicated to rectifying.

I conclude this post with a 2014 interview with André in which he talks about his character in The Knick.

For more of André Holland at The Wild Reed, see:
Vulnerability Is Power
Stephen A. Russell on Moonlight

Related Off-site Links:
André Holland Is Taking the Reins – Kimberly Truong (In Style, November 10, 2021).
André Holland: “I Grew Up Feeling Afraid of White Folks” – Dan Einav (The Financial Times, October 21, 2021, 2020).
We Need to Give André Holland His Flowers – Ineye Komonibo (Refinery 29, May 8, 2020).
Steven Soderbergh Details The Knick Original Six-Season Plan and Teases “Very Promising” Season 3 – Zack Sharf (Indie Wire, February 25, 2021).
André Holland Says The Eddy Isn’t a Musical, But Tells a New Narrative Through Music – Kristen Lopez (IndieWire, May 6, 2020)
The Eddy’s André Holland: “I Still Have a Lot to Learn, and a Lot to Offer” – Maxine Wally (W Magazine, May 4, 2020).
André Holland Talks Netflix’s High Flying Bird and the Racial Politics of Sports – Andy Crump (Thrillist, February 21, 2019).
Interview: André Holland on High Flying Bird – Scott Siman (NPR News, February 2, 2019). High Flying Bird: André Holland Explains How He Pitched a Movie to Steven Soderbergh – Tambay Obenson (Indie Wire, February 8, 2019).
André Holland Is Working on a High Flying Bird Sequel – Tyler Hersko (Indie Wire, May 19, 2020).
Actor André Holland Explores: “Where I Fit, How I Fit, If I Fit”Fresh Air (August 22, 2018).
Othello Review – Mark Rylance and André Holland Get to the Heart of the Play – Michael Billington (The Guardian, August 2, 2018).
Here’s What Critics Are Saying About Hulu's André Holland-Led Stephen King Series, Castle Rock – Monique Jones (Shadow and Act, July 25, 2018).
André Holland Shines in Moonlight – Jerry Nunn (, November 4, 2016).
Moonlight’s André Holland Talks About His Unforgettable Performance – Bené Viera (GQ, October 26, 2016).
The Knick’s André Holland: “I Don’t Want to Be 'the Black Friend'” – Sarah Hughes (The Guardian, October 13, 2015).

UPDATE: André Holland to Lead Apple TV+ Historical Black Panther Drama Series, The Big Cigar – Joshua Meyer (, April 7, 2022).