Tag Archives: Race Relations

Conjure Women

“The work is about life. It’s about experience. It’s not about academics and it’s not about theory. And it’s not about processing out who you are. It’s very much about personal experience. And so if I want to talk about personal experience and I have to talk to those people who are interested in that and who live it. Not people who are interested in it, but those who live their experience. You know, those who don’t use theory as a sort of chart  or gauge by which to monitor their lives.”             -Carrie Mae Weems

Conjure Women highlights the work and careers of four African-American female artists: choreographer Anita Gonzalez, performance artist Robbie McCauley, photographer Carrie Mae Weems, and singer Cassandra Wilson. The film explores the complex identity of African-Americans and the positionality of women within this identity. Each woman portrays African American culture in arenas it which is hasn’t typically been acknowledged. Their work is a way to teach, but also to find their place within and connection to the community from which they originate. For example, Anita Gonzalez performs a piece about handling African-American’s hai, emphasizing attempts to suppress kinky curls in favor of straight hair or braids. The performance not only becomes a look at black hair, but also at what African-American women do in order to feel beautiful, no matter how damaging the process.

Each artist uses her work to explore the African diaspora on a global level. African-American women’s experiences are connected to men’s, but the distinctions are often not tackled. These four women are striving to tell the narrative surrounding African-American women by reclaiming their history and the stories of their families. They are keeping African-American history and traditions alive, while modernizing them to inform the current generation. Conjure Women is a beautiful documentary exploring the experience of not just African-American women, but all women. Unfortunately, the documentary hasn’t received the attention it deserves, but each artist featured is well established and easy to explore individually.


Between Women: Trauma, Witnessing, and the Legacy of Interracial Rape in Robbie McCauley’s Sally’s Rape

Cassandra Wilson on NPR

Anita Gonzalez’s Website

Carrie Mae Weems’ Photography Website

Sa-I-Gu (Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, 1993)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 36 min

Format: Color, DVD (NTSC)

Distributor: Center for Asian American Media

Sa-I-Gu, literally translated in Korean as April 29 is the day of the 1992 Los Angeles riot following the trial of Rodney King. Three months after Sa-I-Gu, the documentary explores the experience of the Korean American women who was “caught” in the LA crisis. The documentary tells the story of the mother of Edward Jae Song Lee, the only Korean who died during the riot, along with interviews of Korean American women. These accounts portray the financial, psychological, and personal losses of the community, and their American dreams turned upside down.

Women express their mistrust, frustration, confusion, and disappointment towards African-Americans and the U.S. government in the aftermath of Sa-I-Gu. The documentary attend to what Korean women interpret as the cause of Sa-I-Gu: the media’s biased focus on Black and Korean conflict, gap between the rich and the poor, and the failure of the LA police and the government to react. The documentary also portrays how these women are coping with the lingering battle against the government for compensation, providing a ground for a reexamination of the real content of the American dream.

The documentary fills in a void in the media coverage that neglected to present an accurate representation of the experience of the Korean community. Dai Sil Kim-Gibson says that they produced the documentary “to give voice to the voiceless victims i.e. Korean American shopkeepers and shop owners who lost everything during the Los Angeles upheaval.” By portraying their experience in human terms with great honesty, the documentary provides a more complete picture of the LA crisis.

The documentary was showcased as P.O.V series on National PBS Broadcast at the time of its release. It received the Bronze Plaque Award at the Columbus International Film and Video Festival as well as the Bronze Award at the Houston International Film Festival and the Rosebud Award from Washington, DC.

Descriptors: Korean American, race relations, Los Angeles Riot, Immigration

For further information:

On the Film:

On the L.A. Riot and its impact on Korean American:

  • Abelmann, Nancy. Lie, John. Blue Dreams: Korean Americans and the Los Angeles Riots. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1997

On the Director: