Timeca Seretti, an actor, film maker and one of the founding members of Austin based African-American theatre company, Altered Stages, came to the jail today as a guest artist for Conspire Theatre. She brought with her the short film Drama, which she wrote and acted in. Timeca is an impressive woman. I had several conversations with her prior to her visit and have been impressed by her ambition and will. I was really excited not only to show her film, but also to have an incredibly talented, creative and strong African-American woman come into the classroom as a speaker and role model. The women in the class responded pretty enthusiastically to her presence and were as curious about her life as they were about the film.
The film itself is a fantastic conversation starter. In it, a young girl named Drama is singled out by a bully at her school – a bigger girl. Drama runs home after school to escape her but when she gets there, her Auntie won’t let her in the door. Auntie tells Drama to go out there and kick that other girl’s ass, or she’s gonna kick hers. Drama backs away from the door and faces the bully. The two girls fight and when Drama starts to win, Auntie calls her back saying, “That’s enough.” Later that night, Drama looks at herself in the mirror and flexes her arm. She looks proud of herself.
I wanted to find out the women’s reactions to this, so I labeled one side of the room as “Agree” and the other side “Disagree.” I read a series of statements: “Auntie handled the situation the right way.” “Sometimes violence is necessary.” “Parents/guardians should protect their children from all harm.” Opinions varied greatly, as I thought they might. Some women strongly disagreed with Auntie: “Drama’s gonna end up solving all her problems with fighting and wind up in stripes with assault charges!” A few of the women strongly agreed with Auntie: “Drama has to learn to stand up for herself, otherwise bullies will never leave her alone.” A large group was also in the middle, thinking that Drama should learn to stand up for herself but that Auntie could have helped her do that in a different way. Timeca herself said the the film was based on a story from her own life and that it was just as much about kids learning to stand up for themselves as it was about the violence. She noted that many kids today feel like they no way out in that kind of situation – they don’t know how to stand up themselves or who to talk to about it. She discussed how some young people see suicide as the only way out.
“Sometimes violence is necessary” also sent people all over the room. “Sometimes self-defense makes it necessary.” There wasn’t any strong disagreement with this statement, actually. One woman said that she didn’t condone violence and thought that if there was any other way, that should be used. You should go to someone who could help. Another woman disagreed, saying that there really wasn’t anyone else who could help, who could make the situation better.
The women were also divided on how much parents and guardians should protect their children. Responses ranged from “I’m a mother and I’m going to do everything I can to protect my child” to “You can’t keep them from all harm. They have to learn how to deal with it so they can make it in the world.” That all this was sparked off of an eight minute film really shows how rich and thick the material in the film is.
Since Timeca was with us, I asked her take on the role of Auntie (the role she played in the film) and let the class interview her about the incident. Questions ranged from “Where were you when she was making her own breakfast?” to “Why were you partying with that man when Drama was coming home?” to “Why did you make Drama stop beating up that girl when you did?” to “Where is Drama’s mother?” Timeca handled it all beautifully, fleshing out the situation and the character of Auntie in thought provoking ways.
Then we discussed what Drama’s life might be like over the next five to ten years. I was surprised that although many of the women had disagreed with the way Auntie handled the fight, they thought that Drama would have gained a lot of self-confidence and leadership skills from the incident, and would go on to become a successful person. They did think, however, that should the same thing happen to her own daughter, Drama would handle it in a different way.
All in all, it was an interesting day – many thanks to Timeca for contributing her time and energy to the class and for continuing to make theatre and films.
Watch the film for yourself and see what you think!