Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Throwaways: who are they?

Curiously, let’s start with the name of the film – The Throwaways.  What immediately comes to mind when you think of term throwaways - what comes to mind first? Items, things that you no longer want or need. An item that is no longer working or has passed its usefulness to you.  Items or things that do not meet your needs or demands any more. Spoiled food, batteries, shoes, clothes…the list can go on and on for sure. This film, The Throwaways is not about things but about people – people who are routinely dismissed, neglected, and yes – thrown away. Think about that for minute or two - the high school dropout, unemployed, the homeless, the drug addict, and yes, your convicted ex-felon are your typical throwaways.  There’s this notion that they are less than human with little or no value.  Simply put, they’re not look upon in the same way as those whose humanity is recognized. Featured in the film is Michelle Alexander, author of widely acclaimed, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Age of Colorblindness explains it this way in the film:”… That’s ultimately what The Throwaways is all about, right… groups of people who are defined as different enough that you don’t have to care and can be just thrown away…”

And that’s what makes this such a riveting film to watch as issues such as grassroots activism, gentrification, police violence, homelessness and yes the mass incarceration system are tackled.  But it’s the way these hard issues are tackled in The Throwaways that makes this such a compelling documentary.  It’s the personal stories and real emotion around these issues that are chronicled in the upstate New York communities like Albany and Ithaca.  The Throwaways looks at how these communities were affected by the two victims of police violence, Nah-Cream Moore, and Shawn Greenwood.  But in addition to these stories that are being told – the story of one of the co-producers, Mr. Ira McKinley, is also being told – and it’s a powerful one.  This film is actually a direct result of Mr. McKinley’s sacrifice and activism born out of his personal experiences.  From The Throwaways, Mr. McKinley speaks:Before I went to prison, I was addicted to—you know, I was addicted to crack. And, you know, I had to be real about it. And I got addicted to the lifestyle more. I really did. I got addicted to the lifestyle more, and the women, the drugs, all that, you know? So, it got to the point where it got really bad for me, the addiction, that I started robbing bodegas around here. And I got sent to prison for robbing a bodega. It was just a lifestyle of getting that quick fix, and it all is just a vicious cycle.” Mr. McKinley went on to talk about his personal experience with police violence: When I was 14 years old, my father got shot and killed by a police officer. I’ve been beat up twice. This past summer, I almost got tased. So I know these things happen to those of us of color.
Ira McKinley (L) and Bhawin Suchak (seated R)
Just three days after the horrific shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina that saw nine black people shot and killed by a white racist young man during Bible study, the co-producers of The Throwaways held a free screening at the St. Matthews Catholic Church in Baltimore, MD.  After the screening before a packed crowd, co-producers Ira McKinley and Bhawin Suchak spoke with The Blackboard about film, The Throwaways.  This is what they had to say:
The Blackboard: Why is this film so important?
Bhawin Suchak: Well I think this film is important because we see a lot of statistics and a lot of sound bites about issues around mass incarceration and police brutality and specifically how they affect black Americans, and I think partially this film provides people is a real dose of what it looks like out on the street for people who are facing many of these issues.  The other thing to me is that instead of giving you these statistics we give you real emotional content from people's hearts. Because we think if you can connect with us and people can communicate on this level then we can help people become more passionate about this issue and do something because this is not about statistics, this is about people.
Ira McKinley: It's important for certain segments of society to see what's going on in these communities and how mass incarceration and police brutality affects these communities.
The Blackboard: With that being said, what do you want people to take away from this film when they see it?
Bhawin Suchak: I want people to walk away from this film with the understanding that these issues are systemic. It’s not about individual people or a certain group of people being lazy. It’s easier to make it about one single person or like all black people are this way or all Latinos are that way. We want people to understand that this is a system at work that negatively affects everybody and the only people who benefit are the affluent, the rich who are counting their money while the rest of us suffer. So what we need to do is to get together to fight this system. There is an interconnected plan that I see when you corporations owning prisons and the cops on the ground who have no training or no understanding of the communities they’re working in. It's an example of a systemic oppression of many many millions of people.  People have to wake up and that's the problem (because) many people don't see this as a systemic thing.  But if we truly come together not just talk about it but truly get together, I believe that we can change this country.
Ira McKinley: I agree with that wholeheartedly we also need to stop being keyboard warriors and really get out there and do it and we have to push the envelopes and yes some of this will make some people feel uncomfortable but like I said they make me feel uncomfortable just by the way things are going on with this systemic oppression that is going on.
The Blackboard: The one thing that was very clear to me in reviewing this film was your activism and how this movie was a manifestation of your activism what was also clear as you stated in the movie is your use of the camera as a tool you have called this to your equalizer can you talk a little bit about using the camera as a manifestation of your activism.
Ira McKinley: As you see we just had a tragic event happening in Charleston South Carolina where John and being shot some people. I felt that rage. Instead of shooting with a gun I learned how to shoot with a camera so that became my weapon. I wanted to show the world what is going on in these communities because no one was listening and you go to the national media and they give you 3 minute segments. They're not going to go in deep about what is going on in these communities so that's why I wanted to learn how to film and edit.  We presented this film at the USC Film School where Steven Spielberg and George Lucas went to school. We packed the house like we did tonight and there were film students there and when they learned how I learned how to film and they were like “Wow - you mean to tell me I paid $100,000 to go to film school and this guy did it for free and he made a film like this!” We just have to teach our kids not to give up.
Bhawin Suchak: And to me that’s part of what this film is really all about, self-determination, right!  So we're not going to wait for other people to show us ways for us to gain skills to change our own destiny in our own communities. We need to do it ourselves. So part of the work that we're doing is working with youth. I run a program called Youth FX and Ira is working in the community to grow food but it's really around the same thing, taking control of our destiny and realizing that we are the people and we have been what we have been waiting for.  We are the ones who need to make the change.  We can't wait for the government. We can't wait for other people to come in.  But it takes work and that's why I have committed myself to working with young people to help them figure out the ways to find a use for that camera as a weapon for themselves so they can tell their own stories.
The Blackboard: Last words?
Ira McKinley: Let’s get together and be the change that we really want to be.
Bhawin Suchak: People have to be ready to work because this system is not going to change without people really agitating, educating and getting organized.  It’s going to take a lot of work but at this stage in history, we should not be where we’re at. This world should not be so hateful and divisive. So we have to work really hard to change that.
The Blackboard: Thank you gentlemen.

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