since god loves me more than the rest of you, (s)he allowed me to be born in the great city of philadelphia.
amongst philly’s epicness since 1776 (all you cities are her sons!), we’ve had a few hiccups…the move bombing of 1985 being one of them. even though i was born a year later, as a philadelphian, this is something that is always in the back of your mind. i was teased in high school (by the black kids of all people. how rude!) for being afro-centric. they called me ‘ramona africa’, the only adult to survive the bombing and that was a century later in 2002! bringing up the move organization can make for a polarizing conversation that is just as fiery as a convo about them in the 70s/80s. the interest in the organization’s way of life and dealings with the city is still strong and the documentary “let the fire burn” will no doubt keep that spark.
for any non-philadelphians, the move organization was comprised by a group of young black people in the west philly area of the city. many of them were former black panthers, but they took it a liiiiitle bit further. besides being politically ‘radical’ (i hate that word), they all lived in one house without electricity, only ate raw foods (the original hippies/hipsters), did not believe in contraception, and all took the surname “africa”. they had a boatload of other beliefs called “the guidelines” written by their leader, john africa. there were major conflicts with the police during the era of mayor frank rizzo, aka the devil reincarnate that led to the death of a newborn, imprisonment of 9 move members (they are still unjustly incarcerated) and the bulldozing of their home in 1978. You can watch a video documenting the entire showdown here. it’s a must see for sure! after this incident, move became even more militant. they moved to another home, but the standoffs with the police continued. their new home was in the middle of a street full of rowhouses. their lifestyle wasn’t rubbing their new neighbors the right way leading too a lot of complaints to the city. everything came to a head when the city decided to evict move. assuming extreme force was the only way, the city (and its black mayor, wilson goode) dropped a bomb on their home that lead to a complete burnout of 61 homes in the neighborhood and the deaths of 11 move members including five children.
ok, so you’ve got the background, now let’s talk about “let the fire burn”. unlike most docs that show stock clips of incidents juxtaposed against interviews of the people involved in current times, this film is centered around the commission hearings held a year later pulling the story together with news footage from the day of the bombing. i’ve seen zillions of tv specials about the bombing and countless interviews from ramona africa, but this film really gutted me. to see how local government could sacrifice a neighborhood for the sake of making an example of a group of people was very disturbing. the film also did a great job highlighting the issues of race and class in philly which are something that the in a few areas in the city continue to be a struggle. what really gave the film two thumbs up for me was the inclusion of birdie africa’s deposition. birdie was present during the 1978 drams and was the sole child survivor of the bombing.
today (october 15th) is the last day for the film in nyc, so i should prob just shut up and let you guys check it out. “let the fire burn” is playing at film forum in the west village. for readers outside of nyc, check here for viewing dates around the country. do yourself a favor and see this film!
*editor’s note: unfortunately, birdie died a month or so ago while on a cruise with his family before the release of the film.