“Cultures of Resistance”
Culture: 1. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group
2. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.
Resistance: the act or power of resisting, opposing, or withstanding
Defining these terms is more for the writer than reader, as I have been grappling with something, well, everything, since watching this enthralling documentary.
How do I explain the experience I had while watching this film? The best way I can describe the feeling is the word agitation. A consciousness-raising splinter deeply imbedded in my usually apathetic psyche. Yet, I am glad that I ventured to touch this film.
“Cultures of Resistance” is both a documentary and an organization founded by the film’s director Iara Lee. Born of her 2003 journey primarily throughout Africa and the Middle East, yet spanning five continents, this film explores how culture can be used to fight oppression, promote peace and facilitate healing. Her passion and empathy infuse the film, making it a clarion call where it could have easily been a guilt inducing infomercial.
Lee achieves this feat by allowing the stark images of victims of genocide, war crimes, and slum violence speak in a way that is harrowingly beautiful when juxtaposed with the superhuman strength of the survivors. These people were beautiful and regal, having earned their wings by going through hell and back. Or, rather, earning their wings by going through hell then reaching back for others. Consider the Hutu women who harbored Tutsi people during the Rwandan genocide. The Burmese Monks who maintain their pacifist beliefs while being clubbed and demoralized by totalitarian authorities. Palestinians held as prisoners by Israelis on their own land. They were able to maintain both their sanity and humanity after enduring the most inhumane treatment imaginable. Their dignity, resolve and spirit would penetrate the heart of the staunchest cynic.
What ultimately makes this documentary so refreshing and inspiring is that the struggle and pain experienced by people of divergent cultures serves as a breeding ground for vibrant culture – singing and dancing in Rwanda, the spiritual lifestyle of Buddhist Monks in Burma, graffiti and hip-hop artists in Iran, female political activists in Liberia, Capoeira performers in Syria and Palestine – the list goes on. Please view the film to get the full essence. However, for now, Capoeira serves as an overarching symbol of how art can be used to inspire a cultural revolt.
The art form of Capoeira encapsulates cultural resistance quite well. Capoeira is a poignant example of how cultural resistance can inspire, incite and unite. Capoeira is a martial art that was created by African slaves in Brazil in the 16th century, and continues as an Afro-Brazilian tradition today. Capoeira means “tall grass” and was named this because the African slaves cut a circle out of the grass to practice, unbeknownst to their masters. Capoeira is aggressive, yet also peaceful and elegant; fusing simulated fighting moves and acrobatics with graceful dance moves.
Capoeira embodies ingenuity, spirit, hope, unity and strength. It is no wonder that Arabic women in “Cultures of Resistance” stated that Capoeira saved their lives, and that ‘we danced under the bombs’. Today, many Arabic youths practice Capoeira as a positive escape from the bleak circumstances that surround them. Essentially, Capoeira teaches Arabic youth stealth rebellion that is antithetical to that which is touted by terrorist organizations. Viva Capoeira.
Although “Cultures of Resistance” is unequivocal in its support of peaceful revolutions, two examples in the film were in stark contrast to the stories of peaceful resistance. Nigerian rebel forces and the Kayapó Tribe of the Amazon chose to fight violence with violence, and the film implores the viewer to use objectivity when considering why they made this choice. Nigerian rebel forces fight against widespread government corruption that fosters poverty that is so horrid it leaves people without food, shelter and clean water to drink. The Kayapó Tribe in the Amazon protest against a major dam project that threatens their very existence by depleting the Xingu River of its natural resources. Both are willing to use brute force in order to have their demands met. However, the film is effective in remaining neutral regarding this violence, while still promoting non-violence as often as possible. These divergent examples help to demonstrate that peace is the difficult choice for those who are subjected to such categorical oppression.
In closing, “Cultures of Resistance” beckons us to promote culture and support passive resistance. Such activism may garner small, yet vital, respites of peace for people suffering oppression throughout the world. While oppressors may strip countries of their natural resources, physically rape and maim victims/land, and commit acts of genocide and imperialism; they cannot murder what cannot be grasped. Culture and resistance are intangible, thus rendered absolutely indefatigable.