The histories of the West Philadelphia–based MOVE Organization, and the Black Arts Movement, woven with dramatizations of the life of the filmmaker when he was a member of a Black activist collective. Centering on what Asili describes as a “speculative reenactment” of his time in a West Philadelphia collective, the actors scripted lives on set are entwined with cameos by MOVE’s Debbie Africa, Mike Africa Sr., and Mike Africa Jr., and poet-activists Sonia Sanchez and Ursula Rucker.
What inheritance does Ephraim Asili’s first feature-length film present? The answer is given from the outset: it is a heavy trunk that opens onto a treasure trove of books – Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Charles Mingus, Malcolm X. It is a series of records on which the voices of black struggles have been engraved – W.E.B Du Bois, Angela Davis, Margaret Walker. Above all, it is a whole house in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, which Julian (Eric Lockley) inherits after his grandmother’s death and where he invites his ex-girlfriend Gwen (Nozipho McLean) to come and live. Then, as a snowball effect sets in, others come to join them, forming a community dubbed the House of Ubuntu. Asili gives this fictional beginning as pragmatic note as possible, rejecting the screenwriting tricks in favour of the logic of a speculative re-enactment, inspired by the experience of a black Marxist collective. Not without some self-derision, the rest of the film focusses on inventing the rules of community life, furnishing and decorating the house, making music and smoothies, reading revolutionary texts and poetry. Above all, linking up with other stories, other struggles, other times, other writings, other practices. So our actors become the audience for performer playing themselves – for example, poets Sonia Sanchez and Ursula Rucker, or the survivors of MOVE, a Philadelphia-based black community founded in the 1970s and brutally persecuted by the police. The question of inheritance, as we see, is precisely one that seeks to remarry theory and practice, fiction and reality, the inside and outside. A fiction to set the experimental frame of a political exploration; a house to catalyse past struggles in the present.
Ephraim Asili is a New York City–based filmmaker, DJ, and radio presenter. He studied film and video arts, earning his BA from Temple University and MA from Bard College, where he is now full-time artist-in-residence and assistant professor of film and electronic arts. His works as director include the shorts Forged Way (2010), About Being Living (2010), Kinda/One Family (2016), and Fluid Frontiers (2017). The Inheritance (20) is his debut feature film.