By M. Skye Holly
NEW YORK, NY- In 2008, Black Public Media launched “AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange.” The acclaimed documentary series is the only public television series “dedicated to presenting documentary films about the global Black experience.” Now in season 10, AfroPop X continues sharing relevant stories about people of African descent around the world.
On Friday, Feb. 9, Black Public Media celebrated the landmark anniversary with a special screening event. Filmmakers, actors, media professionals, neighborhood residents, and avid watchers of the series gathered at Harlem Stage Gatehouse for “Lifting the Veil on Disaster Relief: Fatal Assistance in Haiti, Puerto Rico and Beyond,” a special screening of award-winning director Raoul Peck’s documentary “Fatal Assistance,” followed by a discussion with Hébert Peck, the documentary’s producer, led by award-winning journalist and president of Futuro Media Group, Maria Hinojosa.
The evening was hosted by Nicholas L. Ashe, star of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) drama series “Queen Sugar.”
As AfroPop’s current season highlights documentaries on immigration, women’s rights, social justice, music, and the arts, it was relevant and necessary to feature a work exploring the behind-the-scenes of disaster relief. Leslie Fields-Cruz, the Executive Director of Black Public Media and AfroPop’s Executive Director, admitted that she was interested in bringing “Fatal Assistance,” Raoul Peck’s investigative documentary on the aftermath of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake and the failed efforts of global aid, to AfroPop back in 2014.However, for her, the timing wasn’t right.
Fields-Cruz expressed her appreciation for Peck, the Oscar-nominated director, for 2017’s “I Am Not Your Negro” for his generosity in assisting Black Public Media with obtaining the documentary for AfroPop X.
“We’re so glad Raoul worked with us to get it here. This film, at this point in time, it covers the same issues faced by so many nations when it comes to relief,” Fields-Cruz said.
Hébert Peck, producer of “Fatal Assistance,” narrates the film. He believes the film serves as a call for accountability in terms of global aid policy and climate change.
“Natural disasters haven’t stopped. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. To Raoul and I, this film, for us, is to show people what happens behind closed doors and how decisions are made,” Peck said.
Peck noted that when he hears discussions about disasters taking place around the world, a common response is ambivalence because those living outside of those nations feel that nothing ever changes. He feels as though this sort of response promotes neglect or dismisses the actual needs of any country that has faced natural disasters.
“Even with the president, with Trump, as he would say ‘these ___hole countries,’ but there are reasons for that. Sometimes the reasons for why a country has not progressed, those reasons are invisible. So we are here to ask questions. With billions of dollars directed to places like Haiti and only one percent passes through to Haiti? You must ask yourself: Where did the money go? Did the Haitians have any say in it?”
Peck pointed out that it is not just Haiti who has dealt with this injustice, what “Fatal Assistance” calls “the dictatorship of aid” and “humanitarian pornography.” He said people need to consider how people have been affected in Puerto Rico, and within the United States, post-Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. He said he knows many people still waiting on assistance with their homes after Hurricane Sandy.
“If that’s happening here, imagine what’s happening outside the U.S.,” he said.
“Fatal Assistance” is a journey that follows two years after the earthquake in 2010. It witnesses the foreign groups coming to Haiti and establishing countless numbers of NGOs. It watches them come and go with little, if any, change. Interviews are held with organizational leaders, contractors, and Haitian delegates and citizens who are fed empty promises. It covers the Haitian presidential election as well and reveals the special interests of corporations who land in Haiti and see it as “a blank slate” with which they can do whatever they please.
After the screening, Peck and Hinojosa discussed the making of the film.
“What is the message? What do we do now?” Hinojosa asked.
Peck said that while he did not have the answers, he hoped that people would become more aware so that they can start asking the right questions. He does not believe that all relief organizations are corrupt, but says that they all need to be looked at closely, and that it is important after a disaster to figure out how to get money to local communities directly instead of to an organization.
“The first responders are really the local folks. In Haiti, they were pulling rubble with their bare hands,” he said.
AfroPop X’s screening of “Fatal Assistance” struck a chord with the times and the mission of AfroPop.
“Blackness is not just one identity or one experience. It’s multilayered,” Fields-Cruz said.
Fatal Assistance premiered as part of AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange on Feb. 12 on WORLD Channel and can also be viewed online on all station-branded PBS platforms, including worldchannel.org, blackpublicmedia.org, PBS.org, and on PBS apps for iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast as part of season 10 of AfroPoP. AfroPoP was released to additional U.S. public television stations in February. The series is presented by Black Public Media and distributed by American Public Television with the generous support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts.