crossposted to jewschool

A few weeks ago, on a whim I met up with a friend to go see a movie. It had been one of those long days where the idea of sinking into the comfort of surround sound and chocolate was the perfect combination, and I was intrigued by the bit I had heard about a new film about Tony Kushner called Wrestling with Angels. So I headed over to the Film Forum, a theatre after my own heart (they serve peanut butter chocolate chip cookies–that’s all I’m saying) and settled in (watch the trailer here). I had heard bits that it was a film about him growing up, about his sexuality and how it influenced him as an artist–the film turned out to be so much more. I knew of Tony’s work, particularly of Angels in America, but I had no idea of the depth and breadth of the amazing artistry, history and theatre that he has been apart of making in the United States, nor his humility.

What I didn’t know was how much I needed this film.

Some know that I recently started graduate school–more specifically an MFA program in Creative Writing for Poetry. I knew I needed to catapult myself forward, and the changes have been a fresh and needed start. But I have still known this block, this only to be whispered and shared alone, block that some artists have, which is the fear that the work isn’t useful. Particularly for those of us who have been “raised” in organizing and activism, even though we have seeked and attained inspiration, energy and wisdom from the arts, sometimes it is still hard to see ourselves as valuable in producing them. This has been a struggle of my own.

So I thank the producers of this film on this personal level, for opening up to “the world” the very prolific, passionate and humbling man, and I thank them for creating this history. This film, along with attending the 10th Anniversary of Cave Canem‘s celebrations, reminded me, or should I say thoroughly shook me, to do the work I am meant to do.

The film was broken into three “acts”, Act I — As a Citizen of the World; Act II — Mama, I’m a Homosexual Mama and Act III — Collective Action to Overcome Injustice. All of the acts demonstrate how he came and chose to produce work, providing a forum for addressing some of the most critical issues of our time–HIV/AIDS, war, race, sexuality, class and Israel and Palestine.

The last act, in particular, reveals the influence of Kushner’s Jewish heritage in his passionate concern for social justice, expressed in deeply personal terms. It is also this act that made me even more proud that JFREJ will be honoring Tony Kusher, along with Grace Paley and the Transport Workers Union Local 100, this November 16th for the 10th annual Marshall T. Meyer Awards. From the scenes showing the reproduction of the children’s holocaust opera Brundibar to the musical Caroline, or Change–about domestic work and the choices no woman should have to make to live—Kushner pushes all of us to be our best selves. Indeed, he is in good company, with Grace Paley by his side, and the local union which demonstrated its power to all of New York last winter.

We are living in daunting times. I hear this from those who have lived and worked and fought for many more years than I, and I say this even as we may be seeing a Congressional shift in power after November 7th, for I know that electoral politics and change are only one part of the many changes we need to effect larger systemic and societal change.

Knowing this film, knowing the work of artists in keeping us alive, has become, dare I say, a benediction–a lesson in faith. The kind of faith that some who don’t believe in god can believe in, the kind of faith and guidance that may not make it all right, but is a balance, as we take our steps forward in the world–and sometimes even gives us the strength to leap–to dare I say, move in the risk, in the art of risking for change.

I am so unbelievably grateful for the presence of these artists, and am honored that I will be able to bear witness to their honoring. I hope many of you will be able to join me.