One of the most beautiful voices ever raised in the struggle against injustice and inequality is getting a welcome showcase at the Parkway.
"Mama Africa" tells the story of singer and activist Miriam Makeba, a native of South Africa who was banned from her home for more than three decades, most likely for the "crime" of making a brief appearance is a film critical of apartheid. Although initially embraced in the United Sates, where her 1967 single, "Pata Pata," peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, she found herself ostracized after her 1968 marriage to civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael, a union that led to the cancellation of concerts and the termination of her recording contract.
Told through vintage film clips and more recent interviews with Makeba's two grandchildren, fellow musicians and political and cultural figures, "Mama Africa" paints a vivid picture of a beautiful soul forced to endure unending ugliness. Exiled from her home country on the flimsiest of excuses, Makeba became a proud and distinctive voice for the rights of her people; the film shows her twice addressing the United Nations, eloquently making the case that political pressure be brought to bear against the white South African leaders.
The Makeba of "Mama Africa" is never strident, but also never wavering. Asked by an interviewer to compare the overt racism of her native South Africa to her experience in America, she hesitantly explains that "South Africa admits they are what they are." Agree or not, it's easy to see the pain she feels in reaching such a conclusion, the embarrassment she feels in having to say it aloud.
Directed by Finnish filmmaker Mika Kaurismäki and released in 2011, "Mama Africa" scores points for portraying Makeba not as a victim, but as a soldier in a battle that needed fighting. She wore the uniform proudly.
"Mama Africa" opens today at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway, 5 W. North Ave. PRICE mdfilmfest.com
The end of the outdoors
Two of Baltimore's most welcome summer activities are drawing to a close over the next week, so get your blankets and lawn chairs ready. On Thursday, the American Visionary Art Museum's Flicks From the Hill series ends its 2017 season with Steven Spielberg's 1981 "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial," while next Friday, Little Italy's Cinema al Fresco season ends with the traditional showing of 1988's "Cinema Paradiso."
However, outdoor film lovers can take heart: All is not quite over. The Downtown Partnership's Pics in the Park series, showing films at Center Plaza, Charles and Fayette streets, has two films left on its schedule: "La La Land" (Aug. 26) and "Beetlejuice" (Sept. 30). And Columbia's Lakefront Film Series will continue showing films on the shores of Lake Kittamaqundi Fridays (and Saturdays, beginning Sept. 2) through Sept. 9.
Never get enough David Lynch?
For those still reveling in our good fortune at having David Lynch back in our home with Showtime's "Twin Peaks" revival, here's another shot of good luck: "Wild at Heart" is playing at the Charles next week.
Released four months after the 1990 premiere of the first “Twin Peaks,” “Wild at Heart” stars Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern as Sailor and Lula, young lovers on the run from all manner of forces looking to do them harm — mostly thanks to Lula’s mom (played by Dern’s real-life mother, Diane Ladd, an Oscar nominee for her performance), who’s put out a contract on Sailor.
The film, which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, features some of the cast from “Twin Peaks,” including Grace Zabriskie, Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee and the late Jack Nance. It also shares much of the TV series’ DNA, which means it is not a movie to be missed lightly.
"Wild at Heart" plays at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Monday and 9 p.m. Thursday at The Charles, 1711 N. Charles St. thecharles.com.