“Practice without thought is blind; thought without practice is empty.”
Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister and president of post-colonial Ghana, once said these words regarding the achievement of equality and justice through planning and consistent action. In “The Inheritance,” shown at this year’s Ann Arbor Film Festival, these words are written in chalk inside of a collective household in Philadelphia. The members work toward achieving the type of natural living once practiced by some of their African ancestors, and these words serve as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for racial equality.
Ephraim Asili’s “The Inheritance” weaves documentary-style footage of the Black separatist group MOVE and the Black Arts Movement with a scripted storyline of a West Philadelphia collective. The collective learns from MOVE members Debbie Africa, Mike Africa Sr. and Mike Africa Jr., as well as poets Sonia Sanchez and Ursula Rucker; these leaders all make appearances throughout the film to educate the collective, as well as us the viewers. Integrating these important figures into the film’s storyline creates meaning in a rather straightforward plot regarding the lives of those in the collective.
“The Inheritance” combines fact with fiction to create a unique plot-based documentary format that works well for the dual purpose of informing while also entertaining. The dramatized reenactment of the collective’s struggles educates viewers on how the household functions while also simultaneously captivating them with conflict and humor. However, the main bulk of the story is told through historical footage of MOVE that cuts in and out of the plotline.
The film goes into depth explaining MOVE’s beliefs, as well as the details of the horrific bombing of the organization’s house in Philadelphia. But before diving deeper into MOVE, the film provides a breakdown of African socialism. The members of the West Philadelphia collective go into detail about the purpose of the ideology: building an extended family of community members and sharing economic resources. This information is necessary in guiding viewers on their journey toward understanding the teachings of John Africa, MOVE’s founder and leader.
“The Inheritance” offers us a history lesson taught directly by members of MOVE while provoking individual thought and reflection on today’s society. Members are encouraged to worry about only themselves, which seems contradictory when considering greater social problems like environmental justice and industrialization, which require a group effort to change. However, in the minds of MOVE members, thinking about only yourself equates to much more than selfish desires. If you care deeply about yourself, and you need food and water to survive, then you won’t allow these resources to become polluted. That’s the MOVE mindset. And it’s definitely refreshing in a capitalist society where money-making and land ownership reign superior.
However, what makes this film significant is its portrayal of a history that often goes untaught. The ideology MOVE promotes is definitely not mainstream, making it less likely to be discussed in schools. The organization is known for its anti-technology and pro-animal rights beliefs in a society that thrives off of technological innovation and taking advantage of animals for the benefit of humans. So when the MOVE house was bombed in 1985, politicians didn’t think twice about leaving that history behind, partly due to the fact that not many people connected with their beliefs in the first place. This mindset was and is unacceptable, and “The Inheritance” reminds us that there is so much ugly history and tragedy that goes unacknowledged in both political and educational spaces.
“The Inheritance” isn’t for moviegoers who are looking for entertainment without education. The film is bursting at the seams with lessons that should’ve been discussed long ago, and that’s what makes it a worthwhile watch. But that’s not to say that the film isn’t entertaining. The scripted storyline with guest appearances balances out past footage of history, making for a pretty even spread of drama and fact that’ll keep you watching until the end. “The Inheritance” proves that the telling of history through art can be a powerful method of education.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at email@example.com.