London eyes “I am Sojourner Truth”

The knowing. A couple of months ago, when presented with a choice of tote bag, I was instantly drawn to the one portraying a Royal Guard, so sure I felt of going to Britain this year.  Sure enough, parading through London’s tube lines, greens and round-abouts with my writer’s caddy, taking in London’s autumn freshness, must have been the work of royal angels.

The culprit. It was none other than Sojourner Truth herself who must surely regret having turned down an invitation from her Majesty Queen Victoria in 1867, and has found a way to ‘visit with those folks’ through the screenplay of her life.  On October 22 and 23 of 2016, Sojourner’s second amanuensis, me, Angela Terga, submitted “I am Sojourner Truth” to scrutiny by testing the screenplay’s soundness against the analytical eloquence of Linda Aronson’s non-linear STORY TELLING delivered to a group of peer dreamers at London’s Ealing Studios, Ealing Green, London w5 5EP.  

The Right Workshop: First, I must say Linda was a wide-eyed, clarity driven sort of screenplay wizard who dissects and dismembers movies and scripts in order to reveal the curve and arch of non linear structures. I must confess that when The 21st Century Screenwriter Workshop came to my attention, the first thing I thought of was “that’s me.”  Time jumps, multiple protagonists, flashbacks, parallel stories and fragmented narratives are the trademark of 21st century writers who dare bend  scripts spines into pretzels. This vanguard workshop attended by like-minded risk takers, created by acclaimed scriptwriter and presenter, Linda Aronson, proves so.

Did I say clarity-driven? Linda showed us the way in which several super successful movie plots twist and turn departing from the most trodden road. Starting out, each script was planned and executed with a clear view of how the parts all fit together and are taken apart. The who is who and where we are, the what are we here to accomplish, and the why of a story at any given beat throughout the arch seen through Linda’s bright blue eyes, delivered us from sin. You see, even fragmented narratives have a uniform arch and three act structure.  And just because a story is told in non sequential chronos, it doesn’t mean you can’t see it from beginning to end. Some middles are compressed and that gives story a quicker pace.

My work now consists on reflecting and devouring more of the movies and shows she pulled apart under a new critical light with her voice behind every beat of the way inciting my taste buds and improving the digestive process. Movies and shows like Babel, The Queen, Finding Nemo, The Lemon Tree, Pulp Fiction, The Insider, Guarding Tess, Memento, The Butterfly Effect, Philomena,City of Hope, The Shine, Amores Perros, Chicken Run, True Detectives, Daybreak, The Usual suspects, Nashville, Pumpkin Honey Bunny, Citizen Kane and others that will surface in the mix are examples of the twisted way story tellers can use to engage and sustain an audience’s lust.

Sojourner’s Heroic Journeys.  The nonlinearity of the joint copyrighted script I wrote, with the vision and monitoring of Sojourner’s young producer, Lateef Calloway, springs from logical engagement. We open at midpoint somewhat closer to the end than to the beginning. There is a disturbance followed by the second turning point: the publishing of the Life of a Northern Slave, by Sojourner Truth which sets her off on her third journey.  But before the story line moves on, we learn more about how this incredibly gifted soul got her start in life as a Northern slave, and we begin the narrative from cradle to the second turning point where the movie starts, through flashback.  Now that we have cried and laughed and sang and danced and seen the Light during Sojourner’s youth, we cheer her on her way during the 2nd and 3rd acts compressed as one where Sojourner courageously confronts the rebellious spirit of those doomed by slavery and the greed and power of those clinging to their lies. It’s not by force and guns that hearts can be won over, she knows, but through logical reasoning, wit, compassion and the hope of God. That is her cry out of Peace, alarmed by Douglas’ (Frederick Douglas) call to blood at Fanneuil Hall where we begin her saga. “Why does it have to come to blood? How could more death and destruction be avoided?” Sojourner knew the truth and that’s why she incessantly gave talks, sang, witted and paraded up and down the Northern States from East to West, winning folks over to the cause of Freedom, Equality and Peace.

But in both, the oppressed and the oppressor, insurrection was boiling over with violence (Nat Turner, 1831; John Brown, 1859; David Ruggles, 1838). Sojourner’s call for love and compassion, a true saint, is met with incarcerations, protests, and riots. Unable to stop the landslide, she joins the Union guards and leads the first Black regiments to the inevitable with her hymn, “The Valiant Soldiers,” of her own creation.  Although born free, even her firstborn grandchild, named James after Sojourner’s father, loses his life in a southern swamp fighting for his enslaved brothers and sisters who were received with open arms as freedmen by Sojourner in DC, under the auspices of the Lincoln administration. 

The Third Act. The flames of the climbing action continue throughout the Third Act and with Sojourner’s readiness to Reconstruct America by her vision of Equality. But only indifference and cold shoulders are offered by DC politics.  Determined to change history, after many more sojourns through the norther states from east to west, this time with a petition to Congress in hand, Sojourner returns to her home in Battle Creek where she buries her second grandchild and beloved companion.  Abandoned by her abolitionist friends who retired after the 13th Amendment; torn by the Women’s Rights Association’s rift by the passing of the Black Man’s vote denying women the same right, Sojourner will join forces with the newly created Equal Rights Association. Facing foreclosure on her home in Battle Creek,  and eventual indigence, she reaches out to the world and finds renewed strength to publish a new edition of her book with the help of friends. And, to her surprise, from across the ocean,  people from all over Great Britain, send her English roses with an invitation to visit the Queen and flood her out into commission again. Sojourner’s visit to Kansas to help with the Exodusters, and the time she went to the polls to vote in 1876 were her last feats, but she continued to give auditions once a week up until the last day. Sojourner’s call to action could not, can not be silenced. “Instigate, instigate,” she pokes a finger at us and never drifts away, she goes “home like a shooting star.” 

London is not just a city, it is the world. Those two intense days of listening and following Mrs. Linda Aronson’s critical reasoning, coupled with London’s ambiance at Ealing Green, the Grove restaurants and cafés, The King’s Arms Pub, Abbey’s Lodge, and Harry+Hooly’s cafe, were revitalizing and renewed my writing spirit.  

So much diversity in the hustle and bustle of the day, shoulder to shoulder, men and women of all races and nationalities are present in body and spirit. Sojourner was helped to carry  luggage up and down stairs twice. Several people took time to give Sojourner detailed directions, and one young lady even walked her to her destination. Delicious and succulent organic dishes were prepared right in front of her eyes and she was greeted by affable and attentive patrons world-wide. 

We know the spirit of the world is Sojourner Truth, I am Sojourner Truth, you are too, we listen deeply to each other when we meet.

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