Overview: A life spanning documentary feature that looks at the poetic work and political activism of Sonia Sanchez, a preeminent voice of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem during the 1960’s, and a persistent voice for the equality of all of America’s children, black, white, or otherwise continuing into the twenty-first century. 2014; Not Rated; 90 minutes.
Rhythm: Directors Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater, and Sabrina Schmidt Gordon offer a fascinating glimpse into the lyric soul of one of America’s greatest poets. Using a compilation of contemporary live performances, archival images, and a round table of talking head interview segments, BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez captures the aestheticism of Sanchez’s tone, the film pulsating with the rhythm of a voice mellifluously turbulent. The content of much of Sanchez’s work is of a piece with that of the revolutionary black icon Malcolm X, but tempered by a spirit more attuned to the practice of non-violence set by Martin Luther King, Jr. Watching the film is akin to hearing a deeply impassioned voice erupt from the farthest reaches of a collective subconscious affected by a shared history of shame, torment, and tragedy. Sanchez’s voice echoes through the darkness to the beat of the drum of her own making.
Soul: BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez is a remarkable history on African American art in the United States. Taking inspiration from Sanchez, the filmmakers go about tracing the civil unrest of the 1960’s to today, speaking to a Sanchez currently living in Philadelphia who is still as dissatisfied and angered as ever at the hardships still facing black people in America. Sanchez is seen again and again throughout the film still fighting for the souls of black folk as her literary forebears W.E.B. Du Bois and Zora Neale Hurston before her. Her eyes forever focused on a God that does not see people on the terms of the color of their skin. In Sanchez, the Black Arts Movement has never died, her work along with those of her fellow compatriots and artists still of spiritual importance to a communal voice of collective and civil unrest.
Word: Perhaps the most telling moment in BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez comes at the very beginning of the film when Sanchez states that the reason why she became a writer is to “tell people how I became this woman with razor blades between her teeth.” After such a stark statement of intent, her poems take on a personal resonance and cultural incisiveness that is lent a socially relevant finality with each guttural utterance and alliterative turn of phrase. For Sanchez, words mean something more than their literal definition, their juxtaposition against one another within a spoken word performance piece transforming them into something more than sheer poetry. Word is bond, and bond is revolutionary.
Overall: BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez is a documentary not to be missed, its subject an unsung hero within contemporary culture, but whose prestigious visibility as poet laureate of Philadelphia and professor of letters make her a more than remarkable individual. While much of the film is overtly aggrandizing of its chosen subject, Sanchez is more than worthy of adulation and admiration, her praises deserving to be sung and acknowledged. Moreover, BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez is an indispensible and accessible education on the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s for those otherwise uninitiated with its many artists and works of cultural comprehension and critique, Sanchez is one of many.