TUESDAY, MAY 4 | AOKI | 7:00 PM | DWNTN
DATE: TUESDAY, MAY 4
TIME: 7:00 PM
(United States, 2009) Dir./Wtr.: Ben Wang, Mike Cheng
Video, 94 min., color, documentary
Richard Masato Aoki was a Japanese American. At three years old he was interned with his family at the Topaz War Relocation Center. He grew up in the mean streets of West Oakland, ran with a gang, served some time behind bars, joined the United States Army, and attended Merritt College. Richard Aoki was also a founding member of the Black Panther Party. Aoki passed away on March 15, 2009 leaving an exceptional legacy for individuals, present and future, dedicated to the pursuit of justice and equality. His commitment to give voice and empower people who have been oppressed and abused was a gift to the ‘60s revolutionaries as well as to generations of Asian Americans. Filmmakers Ben Wang and Mike Cheng were fortunate enough to follow Aoki in interviews and public appearances in the last five years of his life, leaving the filmmakers a treasure trove of insights and truisms from a man who was dubbed in the ‘50s ghetto he grew up in as “the baddest oriental to come out of West Oakland.”
Wang and Cheng allowed Aoki himself to narrate his life story. Luckily for them, Aoki was a gifted and dynamic speaker that could captivate a room of college students or a group of old friends at a Black Panther reunion. His retelling of the moment when Huey Newton asked him to be a part of their budding organization is one anecdote that never fails to bring cheer as well as inspire. Aoki, with a uniquely high voice himself, attempts to imitate Huey’s timbre: “The struggle for freedom, justice and equality transcends racial and ethnic barriers” proclaims Newton to his college friend Aoki. Aoki paints a vivid picture from his eventful youth as a street thug through his progression as a college radical when he would become close friends with Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.
The film also utilizes interviews of Black Panther dignitaries like Seale and Kathleen Cleaver, who asserts “(Aoki) was a fried of Huey Newton. There wasn’t an organization that he became a member of. It’s an organization that he helped get started.” There are also interviews with legendary Asian American human rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, whom, along with Bryant Fong of the Asian American Political Alliance, state that Aoki created the militant Asian American. AOKI is a fitting tribute and invaluable document of a man who was a true revolutionary and cherished leader. His influence on the continuing efforts to expose oppression and injustice to people of color will be forever felt.
— Joel Quizon