Afros in Space: Lando Calrissian

My last post on Afrofuturism explored the term’s origin and how I felt Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is the A-1 example of the intersection of African Diaspora culture with technology in 2018. I still believe that to be true, but should mention another stellar example of Afrofuturistic representation this year:

Lando

Admittedly, I threw heavy shade on Solo per the lackluster first trailer and all the drama that went down during shooting. Truth be told, it’s pretty good.

For those who have yet to see it, Solo basically reveals how Han Solo: got his name, captained the Millennium Falcon, acquired his blaster, met Chewie, met Lando, got his swagger, and became a smuggler. So, while the movie initially feels like a Solo get list, the overall project comes together in an slick, intergalactic swashbuckling package that’s entertaining even for those not totally into Star Wars.

Lando-Calrissian-Movie-Star-Wars-Spin-Off-PlansThe biggest surprise for me was finding out not only that Lando is in the film, but that Donald Glover would play the role. As a kid, I never thought much of the Lando character, first introduced in The Empire Strikes Back. He wasn’t a jedi; he was no longer a smuggler; he no longer owned a cool ship. He was just a businessman in a cape, a mayor of some city in the clouds, who double-crossed the main cast only to somewhat redeem himself after getting choked by Chewbacca. Boring! His appearance in The Return of the Jedi was only slightly better as he had some slick maneuvers in the Falcon near the film’s end.

As an adult, though, I can see the layers. First of all, he wears capes even though he isn’t a Jedi. Actually, his capes are better than all of the Jedis’. Second, getting out of the smuggling business to become a legit entrepreneur and boss who wears silky Count-von-Count-style capes is way better than getting hunted down by the Sith or galavanting around the universe with Yoda on your back, berating you with object-subject-verb commands.

While Lando may not get his own movie any time soon, there are positive rumblings Billy Dee Williams may be reprising his role as the caped crusader for Episode IX, which is great, but homeboy is 81 years old, so they should probably wrap production sooner than later.

West Berkeley Shellmound Development Update

The following article was written in July 2018 and published in the Fall 2018 edition of News from Native California

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, hundreds of people gathered in support of the West Berkeley Shellmound and Historic Ohlone Village Site, which is in danger of being developed.

A nearly 15-foot effigy of Dr. King blew in the light breeze on the overcast day as Ohlone activist Corrina Gould spoke to the crowd in the 2.2-acre parking across from Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto at 1900 4th Street in Berkeley. Against the backdrop of the University Avenue overpass, she asked supporters to imagine a five-story building on the site. “This entire space—not one inch will be left for us to come and say our prayers,” she said. “My children and my grandchildren, and other Ohlone people come, and many of you have come out at other times to lay down our prayers here for the ancestors that still remain under this asphalt.”

Gould, said the sacred site is 5,700 years old, the oldest of 425 shellmounds that used to ring the entire Bay Area.

For over five years, Gould, Indigenous activists, and other supporters have been fighting the development of the site by West Berkeley Investors, a subsidiary of Danville-based Blake Griggs Properties, LLC, who invoked Senate Bill 35 when filing its second application with the City of Berkeley in March.

SB 35, enacted in January, is designed to expedite the approval process for residential developments by requiring California cities that aren’t meeting state-mandated housing goals to approve more residential and mixed-use projects.

Jennifer Hernandez, an attorney who represents West Berkeley Investors, said the project is a prime example of the type of development SB 35 is intended to encourage and that it would single-handedly provide enough affordable housing for Berkeley to meet SB 35 standards, according to reporting by Mercury News.

However, the City of Berkeley Planning and Development Department issued a letter in June claiming the proposal could not be approved due to the submission of an incomplete Use Permit application and the site’s status as a city landmark.

In response, West Berkeley Investors refuted the city’s letter, stating that it will press charges against the city if the proposal is not approved by Sept. 4, the last of the 180-day legal time limit for the proposal to be considered. As of this writing, the project website, 19004thst.com, contains a countdown for city council approval under SB-35.  The slogan “Housing for People. Not Parking for Cars” overlays alternating images—one of an artist’s colorful rendering of the proposed site with people strolling, shopping, and generally enjoying the newly-developed space; the other, a black and white photograph of the Spenger’s parking lot populated with a smattering of stationary vehicles and no people in sight.

The website also contains a link to the history of project site, which illustrates through charts, historic maps, and other resources the developer’s position that the West Berkeley Shellmound was not located at the proposed project site:

“These areas were exhaustively excavated in 2014.  Ground-penetrating radar and hand excavation were used.  Shell residue in these locations had been deposited through secondary sources and did not constitute intact shellmound. No evidence whatsoever was found of the West Berkeley Shellmound on the site. Investigation was performed under supervision of an Ohlone Indian representative.”

Lauren Seaver, Blake Griggs Vice President of Development, echoed this message in an interview with KPIX5. “We’ve conducted five years of research—the most extensive research ever conducted—and spent millions of dollars doing so. And none of that research has ever showed that this was ever the site of the West Berkeley Shellmound.”

Human remains have been recently discovered in the area, however, according to Andrew Galvan (Chochenyo Ohlone), the curator of the Mission Dolores Museum in San Francisco and on-site Indigenous artifacts consultant to developers. One of the project sites for which Glavin consulted, the redevelopment of Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto and adjoining parcels, was under scrutiny in 2016 due to “pre-contact” Indigenous remains found by construction workers while digging a trench on Fourth Street near Hearst Avenue, according to reporting by Berkeleyside.com. Jamestown, the corporate owner of the property, commissioned a bone expert, who determined that the remains, which lay among remnants of the ancient shellmound that sat for centuries in the area, were human. The Alameda County Coroner’s office has since confirmed the finding.

Seaver said Blake Griggs has spent over half a year working with tribal leaders and have made various offers, including an offer to give the tribe the entire property subject to a ground lease on which the developer would build the project, and then the tribe would own the entire parking lot thereafter.

Gould said there could be no further compromise and disputed the legitimacy of Blake Griggs/West Berkeley Investors’ claim that the land is not tribal property. She said it is unfortunate that the developers are still fighting to build on a historic site.

News’ Roundhouse Outreach Coordinator, Vincent Medina (Chochenyo Ohlone), works with Galvan as an assistant curator of the Mission Dolores Museum and is the spokesperson for one-third of the autonomous Ohlone Family Bands vowing in a letter released in late 2017 to stand together in opposition of the development of the West Berkeley Shellmound. Representatives of the united front—the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, represented by Gould, Himre-n-Ohlone represented by Ruth Orta, and Medina Family, represented by Medina—have worked diligently to raise awareness on social media platforms as well as in public gatherings.

West Berkeley City Council

credit: shellmound.org

As with the MLK Day gathering, hundreds of people showed their support at June Berkeley City council meeting, packing city hall to protest Blake Griggs Properties’ invocation of SB 35 to develop the West Berkeley Shellmound. The council reportedly gave the Ohlone 35 minutes to advocate for the site.

“We stand united because we know that this is bigger than any one of us,” Medina said.  “Developers ask us—they say, ‘Why?  It’s a parking lot?’  They don’t understand the depth and the history that’s underneath that pavement.”

He continued, referencing a saying in the Chocheyno language, “‘The ground had turned to stone but below the world is still alive.’ We know this is a sacred site because we know our direct ancestors.  We know our direct family members. Our direct ancestors are buried there.”

Gould said she thought the City Council meeting went well. “I want to thank the hundreds of people that showed up and gave up their time, and the wonderful speakers that spoke. I want to thank our legal team, Michelle LaPenna and Tom Lippy for coming and explaining and sharing our legal strategy with the city council members, as well as their legal council and the city department manager,” she said. “One of the things we want people to do, in order to make sure that the city of Berkeley does the right thing, is to send letters to the legal staff, the city planning department and the city manager asking them to do the right thing, to not qualify this project for SB 35 and to do it in a good way!”

Note: featured image photo credit: Berkeleyside.com;  for the latest information, visit: shellmound.org

Deets and Geets: WE GOTTA PODCAST!

Deets and Geets is a new pop culture podcast I produce and co-host with LRK.

AC15-May-Ms-Marvel-picThe first episode covers our deep thoughts about fate of heroes against the mighty Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, the possible Ms. Marvel entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and our love of country music, specifically that of Kacey Musgraves.

Episode two delves into recent Kollywood and Bollywood entries. We’re in the process of building up our social media pages, but you can absolutely follow us now on Twitter and Instagram @deetsandgeets, and, as always, you can follow my antics on Twitter as well.

Also, be on the lookout for an update to this site along with my visual site agnimitrakhan.com.

More later.