Zeinabu irene Davis returns to Ohio to show "A Powerful Thang"
This weekend, filmmaker Zeinabu irene Davis returns to Ohio for the first time in 20 years. Her 1991 film "A Powerful Thang" is a portrait of Black love in southwest Ohio. The former Antioch College professor will speak at two screenings of the film at the Little Art Theater in Yellow Springs and at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus Saturday. And fun fact, back in the 90s, Davis hosted the WYSO show Women in Music. WYSO's Chris Welter spoke with her.
Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):
Chris Welter (CW): To start, professor Davis, why did you make "A Powerful Thang"? What inspired you to do it?
Zeinabu irene Davis (ZiD): One of my best friends wrote a journal entry about her experience with a potential boyfriend that she had and how he was the person in the relationship who wanted to delay being intimate too fast, and so this seemed like it was an interesting story that we hadn't seen before, because usually in mainstream films, the couple falls in love in two minutes and then next thing you know, they're having relations with each other. But this film was a chance to actually explore what it would be like if the man decided that he wanted to wait to move the relationship to the next level.
CW: I couldn't help but notice that the work of Dayton native Paul Laurence Dunbar was featured prominently in the film. Were you familiar with him before you came to Yellow Springs to teach? And how does his work influence "A Powerful Thang"?
ZiD: It was instilled in me pretty early that I would read poetry. I always loved poetry, so I would read Paul Lawrence Dunbar as a kid, and I loved the dialect that he wrote in. So, yeah, when I got to Yellow Springs and it's so close to Dayton, I did visit his home and I've always been a history buff, so I was really enamored at seeing that plaque that's outside of his home, which is the poem "Compensation." That's the poem that he wrote before he passed away from tuberculosis at age 34 in 1905.
One of the things that I did while I was making "A Powerful Thang" was I used people who are not professional actors. They're called social actors. They're people who basically are playing themselves in real life, and Yasmeen Allen, the main female character in the film, was played by one of my best friends, Asma FeyiJinmi. Asma FeyiJinmi was a single mom and that the little boy who's in "A Powerful Thang" is her son. I asked her to write in a journal as her character and I gave her the poem "Compensation," and when she wrote a response to "Compensation," she connected HIV-AIDS, the pandemic of her time in the early 90s with what was happening with Paul Laurence Dunbar back in 1905, and that actually became the basis of my first feature film "Compensation," which I would shoot a few years after completing "A Powerful Thang." So there was this connection that I've always had with people and poets from Ohio.
CW: Lastly, what do you want people to take out of this film?
ZiD: Well, I think the biggest thing that you can take away from the film is to appreciate the small things, appreciate the flowers and the corn that grows in southwest Ohio by the side of the road and enjoy each other. I mean, it's a very special place. It doesn't move as fast as life in big cities like Los Angeles or New York, and that's something to not necessarily take for granted.
Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.