Documentary Review: Remembering The Last Poets, Black writers not “Scared of Revolution”

 

 

“Scared of Revolution” takes us back to the pre-history of hip-hop, to The Last Poets, young African American slam poets (before that was a thing) who got up on stage, accompanied by a conga player or an ensemble, and spoke their truth.

It’s a profile of Umar Bin Hassan, Akron native, Baltimorean now — who came to fame alongside Abiodun Oyewole, Sulaiman El-Hadi and others in the New York of the late ’60s and early ’70s.They released a seminal, self-titled LP — just poets in performance with a drummer — that became a hit and influenced Gil-Scott Heron (“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”) and the rap and hip hop that were born at the end of the ’70s, having their works sampled on the records of Biggie Smalls and others.lastThe film takes its title from the most famous poem by Hassan (born Jerome Huling in 1948), a biting and hilarious piece titled “N—–s are Scared of Revolution.”“N—–s are scared of revolution
But n—–s shouldn’t be scared of revolution
Because revolution is nothing but change
And all n—–s do is change”
Daniel Krikke’s intimate portrait captures Hassan on stage, follows him around Baltimore and takes a ride with him west to Akron, Ohio, where he has family but where little remains of the “Little Harlem” where he learned to rhyme as a shoeshine in the 1950s.Fellow Last Poets, musical Bill Laswell, Hassan’s mother, sister, daughters and grandchildren make appearances and make the case for his place as a grandfather of hip hop, his “astonishing and enduring influence.”The arc of the group’s fame is discussed, how their motives were “to be the purest (idealized) revolutionary poets,” and how “their politics became show business.”The pitfalls of celebrity present themselves — a crack addiction that made him a lousy father to the children he had with different women. He was the son of a violent drunk of a father, but he says he performs to this day “to keep my father’s presence alive.”And if you’re looking for that redemptive story arc that the best stories about addiction lean on, we see the doting grandfather this absentee father turned into.What the film lacks is actual faces and voices from hip hop testifying to his influence, snippets of the songs that sampled his poetry.But Krikke isn’t stingy about Hassan’s poetry, giving the poet plenty of time to perform his work (he’s seen writing new pieces as well).It’s a warm portrait, warts and all, if not as critical and definitive as one might like.3stars2 MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity

Cast: Umar Bin Hassan, Bill Laswell, Aziza Hassan, Bobby Jean Culler, Abiodun Oyewole, Bill Adler

Credits: Written and directed by Daniel Krikke. A Film Movent release.

Running time: 1:17

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