Laughing on the Other Side of the Mountain: A Love Letter to My Friend Toni Cade Bambara – The Feminist Wire

Laughing on the Other Side of the Mountain: A Love Letter to My Friend Toni Cade Bambara

By Ayoka Chenzira

 Toni, stop talkin! I’m laughing too hard. I’m gonna pee on myself.

Am I lyin or what?

No you ain’t lyin, but seriously I can’t breathe. Don’t say another word until I get some air.

Well go on and pee. Ain’t nobody here but the animals who live here, you, me, the mountains, the sky and this road that we have to go back down on to listen to folks tell us what we already know.

How far have we walked?

Don’t matter. They’re not given out no money to us to make the films that we wanna make—that we wanna see—that the world should see. They don’t know about, don’t care about and can’t understand our circles and metaphors, how we weave, blend duck and dodge. How we are a “we” people, not an “I” people. Why repetition is important to us. It ain’t cause we slow. It’s because that’s the way it is. It’s us and it’s classical.

You turn your large seemingly all-knowing eyes to the sky then shout,

A classical people demand a classical art!

You were sharing your feeling through the words of Lorraine Hansberry.

Turning back to me you say,

Where are we anyway? Don’t matter. It’s Hollyweird all over again.

Toni Cade Bambara courtesy: Andrea Benton Rushing

Toni Cade Bambara
courtesy: Andrea Benton Rushing

We were walking up a mountain in Provo, Utah during a break from the conference that gathered together fabulous Black women writers and filmmakers. We were more excited to see each other than to hear what was being said to us by industry leaders whose real job was to be polite but tell us why our stories weren’t relevant—how they didn’t fit nicely into boxes like a three-act structure and a single protagonist with a problem. And why is it that “the community” has to be in your films?

Because we are a “we” people, not an “I” people.

We were all tired of hearing the same-ole-same-ole so you and I went for a long walk up the mountain.

You say,

To be trapped in other people’s fictions puts us under arrest. What you are doing matters. Remember that.

We hook arms and sing, “’Keep on Pushin’.”

I remember these words of yours as well—We can be concerned with something larger than ourselves. We CAN rise above our training. We can think better than we’ve been taught. And we can transform a society.

I’m still pushin’, Toni. I love you and I miss you still.

Photograph Credit: TT Coles

Photograph Credit: TT Coles

Ayoka Chenzira is a filmmaker, interactive digital media artist and educator. She is a member of the faculty at Spelman College, where she is the founding director of the Digital Moving Image Salon located in the Women’s Research Resource Center and the Division Chair for Arts & Humanities. Her new interactive scifi fantasy film that she created with her daughter HaJ will be released online November 10, 2014. You can sign up to view the project at Read more about Ayoka on her website