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Will Power talked with Christine Turner about his life and work
Q: Coming of age in San Francisco during the 1970s, you've described "the movement" as the religion you grew up with. Back then, what did it mean to be a true believer?
A: (Laughs) Well it depends on whether you ask my parents' generation or my generation. With my parents' generation I think a true believer would be someone who is totally committed and dedicated to - you know in this case - the struggle for liberation. You know that's how they would phrase it. And that would mean giving 150 percent to the movement. That would mean your life would be revolving around that. Around rallies, around demonstrations, around organizing groups and committees. Just anything like that. I think that's what it would mean to them. Like total dedication of time, energy, and talent to progressing humanity forward. Whether that be African Americans or the Women's Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, or you know just a variety of movements that were really popular at that time.
Now for me as we got older what that meant was continuing to try make things better and progress, but also a balance where it's okay to sit down and watch some television or take some time off. Like my mother talks about for her generation it was all about the movement. So you might have sex and then after you have sex you talk about the movement. (Laughs) Everything was about the movement. But I think my generation, what it means for us is still being dedicated to try to push things forward in a positive way, but balancing your life so that your not talking about the so-called movement 24-7.
Q: Your 90's rap group, Midnight Voices, certainly touched on many of the social and political issues facing young black people at the time. What kind of potential do you see hip hop as having?
A: Well right now one of the things I'm real excited about is hip hop on a global level. 15-20 years ago, a lot of countries were first starting to get exposed to hip hop, and it was more of an imitation thing. You would listen to some rapper in Brooklyn trying to sound like he was from Brooklyn even though he was from Argentina. Recently what's been happening is a lot of artists and just young people through out the world are starting to make their own authentic kind of hip hop with their own style, their own fashion trends, their own vision and speech. But hip hop has a great potential to really unite people in ways that other kinds of genres didn't. You know jazz was big in Europe and they like rock and roll in different places, but there's hip hop movements in West Africa, South Africa, Asia. See now that's the opportunity, but whether it happens that way or not, I don't know, but that's the opportunity, that's the potential - using that tool as education, but also using that tool to bring people together.
Q: Alain Locke and WEB DuBois famously debated the role of art as propaganda - or the use of art to uplift or improve the social conditions of African Americans. Where do you fall in the debate?
A: My thing is that, I think it's a personal choice, the choice of an artist, how he or she wants to express themselves. I do feel like in some ways every statement is a social statement. Even if your art or your poetry is primarily concerned with, "Let's party and get drunk," - that's still some sort of social statement. That's still like some kind of statement on society and some sort of statement on how to behave socially. For me I have a view of the world or certain things that I want to express or explore or challenge or critique or explain and I try to put that forward. Other artists have their own thing. I try not to make it like a judgment thing. I used to be more into that when I was younger, like, "artists they need to be like this." But I think it depends on the people, you know, the artists themselves, and also on what you're supporting.
Q: So do you see your own work as wavering between the two, or has your work always been tied to some sort of message?
A: I wouldn't say it's just a message like a straight kind of didactic message like the sixties. I think, when you say "message" you think it's like, "Up with hope down with dope." I don't think it's like that. I think its more like exploring the complexities of human beings. So I think that's kind of what I'm really interested in, and making things not so good and bad, or things good versus evil, white man black man, you know, the oppressed and oppressor. I think it's more complex than that. And in our own families we probably have all that, we probably have people who are oppressed and people who are doing the oppressing, and people trying to end drugs and using drugs, its more complex I think. I'm interested in trying to find that.
Q: Your play, THE SEVEN, is an adaptation of the 3,000 year-old Greek tragedy SEVEN AGAINST THEBES. What attracted you to the original play? What moved you?
A: I think there are a lot of things but the main thing is, the idea of choice. Like do we have a choice in our destiny or are we predestined, is it out of our control. That question is a question people have been asking themselves throughout time. And I think we're still asking ourselves, and I think that play asks that question.
Q: You've said that "every generation wrestles with what will they take from their fathers and mothers and what will they try to leave behind." What do you hope to leave behind?
A: The main thing that I'm thinking about now is the idea of love, and really kind of going towards love instead of going towards fear. And even in my own life, I don't always do it, but sometimes I try to ask, "Am I making a decision out of fear or am I making it out of love?" I'm trying to use my words in the theater and in the stories to - whether it s a tragedy or uplifting piece at the end - move towards love and away from fear. That's the main thing, you know and enjoy our lives. What's the point of having a million dollars if you're not happy?