Friday, March 12, 1982
By JAN DOUGALL
Jacob Holdt, a Dane, did not avert his eyes. When he came to America in 1971, he stayed and shared in the lives of America's underprivileged. He spent five years hitchhiking around the country, and experienced every stratum of American life, particularly that of poor Southern blacks.
He dined off the silver-laden tables of the Rockefellers in West Virginia and socialized with Ted Kennedy, picked cotton for $4 a day and shared meals of cornbread and beans with poor black sharecroppers, attended a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan complete with a cross-burning, and smuggled guns at the second battle of Wounded Knee with bullets whistling over his head. He even spent time with junkies in the "shooting galleries" of Harlem.
At the end of his five-year journey, 12 of the people he met had been
murdered, Holdt became so fed up with the violence in America that he went
home to Denmark.
The presentation, as well as the book became an immediate success and has been shown to packed houses in 13 countries.
Holdt and the 11 others he works with have said they did not want to profit from other people's poverty, so they set up the Foundation For Humanitarian Aid to Africa, which diverts profits from the book and film towards the construction of schools and hospitals in Africa. When the show starts to make money here in the United States, the profits will be used to aid poor black Americans.
After five years in Europe, Jacob Holdt has brought American Pictures to this country. As a foreigner, Holdt was accepted by a wide variety of people, who had no prejudice against Danes. His accessibility, combined with the unique perspective of someone from a racially and economically homogeneous country, gives Holdt a new outlook on American racism and its effect on our society.
Throughout the presentation, various statistics were offered: there have been 10,000 recorded lynchings of blacks in American history; the present jobless rate for blacks is around 25 percent; one-third of all black mothers are single; the infant mortality rate for blacks is eight times higher than that for whites; one-quarter of American fruit is picked by children under 16 years of age; 600 black babies die each year of rat bites combined with malnutrition.
These conditions are brought to a personal level by Jacob Holdt's poignant slides, combined with taped conversations, narration and occasional accompaniment of jazz poetry, reggae and soul. One of the purposes of American Pictures is to demand a reassessment of our social and economic system.
Jacob Holdt points out that there are still "master-slave relationships" existing today. One example recorded on film was an accident at a saw-mill in the South where there are few unions and medical benefits are rare. Though a man lost three fingers, he was told to be back at work in two days or he would lose his job. In this way, Holdt explains, the punching of the time clock was replaced by the cracking of the whip.
American Pictures plays on Friday, March 12, at Laney College's Forum at 6 p.m. It also plays on Saturday, March 13 in 155 Dwinelle Hall at 1 p.m. On the 16th it will be shown at the San Francisco Art Institute at 800 Chestnut St. at 6 p.m.