“What Now?” – Reflections from the ALF / Netflix sponsored screening of 13th.

By Chike C. Nwoffiah, Class XXI

A few weeks before the New Year, ALF invited us to the screening of the new Netflix original movie 13th. For those of us that attended the screening, we left that encounter different than we were when we arrived. 13th, in my opinion, is one of the most important films of our time and I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to make a point of doing so. I will suggest not seeing it alone because it is that kind of movie. The kind that makes you want to turn to someone and say something or just reflect quietly but knowing that someone else has shared the same experience with you. 13th as the title reflects, is a documentary film about the 13th amendment to the US constitution that abolished slavery. At the heart of the film is the question “did it really abolish slavery or did it redefine slavery for convenience and profit?” I will leave the answer for you to figure out if and when you see the film.

As we sat in the cozy Kabuki Theater on the Netflix campus in Los Gatos that December evening watching 13th, there was total silence except for the occasional sniffles, sobs, quiet whispers and gasps. Yes, it could have been a funeral because if felt like one, or as one audience member described it during the talkback that followed, it felt like we had witnessed a lynching.

For 100 minutes, we sat in that dark theater and watched as America’s layers of clothing, stained by its sin of racial injustice, were meticulously peeled off one layer at a time. When the credits finally flickered off the screen, our dear Lady Liberty lay naked before us with a pile of her stained clothes stacked on the floor beside her. The theater lights came on, we looked like deer in headlights and so we shifted uncomfortably in our seats, wiped off tears, and tried to wrap our minds around what we just saw. It was a raw feeling of pain, guilt, shame, hopelessness, helplessness, anger, embarrassment, all wrapped in one. Like when a loved one reveals they were diagnosed with a terminal illness six months ago and you realize that you may have been too busy to notice. However, for all the feelings, the film may have stirred, the most poignant moment of the evening was when the ALF CEO, Suzanne St. John-Crane, walked onto the stage, took the microphone and uttered the two words that have haunted me and should haunt all of us since that encounter “What now?”

What now? These are two simple words, yet complex in meaning and implication. “What now?” implies a shift, a movement from a place of comfort to a place of discomfort, a disruption, a burden of responsibility that comes with knowing, a challenge to act, to reach beyond self, to be the change we want to see in our world. So the question hung like a sword, dangling in the air – what now? As the panel brilliantly led the talkback session with their own reflections, and the audience engaged in courageous conversations, my mind kept racing through Suzanne’s “what now?”

It is the “what now?” that one should come away with after seeing such a movie. The question means that we must have these courageous conversations, difficult and sometimes messy as they may be, but we must have them. “What now?“ means that we must also move beyond our courageous conversations and act. We must figure out what to do with Lady Liberty’s clothes that are now on the floor, still stained. Do we wash them or make her new clothes, what now? It is what happens after all the circles of courageous conversations that will count. We can talk all day and all night, but until we act, until we shift, move from comfort to discomfort, disrupt the status quo, Lady Liberty will still lie there – naked with a pile of her stained clothes stacked on the floor beside her. So I ask all of us, as ALFers committed to servant leadership, committed to making our world a better place, WHAT NOW?

Chike C. Nwoffiah
Founding Director, Silicon Valley African Film Festival (SVAFF)