Robert Philipson

Robert Philipson

Mission Statement

Shoga Films creates and disseminates multimedia works on race and sexuality that raise awareness and foster critical discussion.

Shoga Films is a 501(3)(c) non-profit that is comprised of the production company, Shoga Films, and educational outreach initiatives.

 

CEO Statement

"What's a nice Jewish boy like you doing in a place like this?"

When I screened my well-received documentary short, “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness: Queer Blues Divas of the 1920s,” at the Image/Nation, the bilingual LGBT film festival of Montreal, I vividly remember a Black lesbian saying in some wonderment, “I don’t know why YOU made this film, but I’m glad you made it.” This is a response I have run into frequently, ever since I began teaching Black and African literature in university settings in the 90s. Identity politics aside, people are curious as to why somebody who presents as a white male would choose to hoe this particular row.

Although I am perceived as a white male, I am, in fact, a Jewish queer, which puts me in an interesting position vis-à-vis identity politics. Until recently, white identity was the default given in America. All other identities were defined as “minority” and thus were contrasted to the white norm. African American culture is one of our most constructed identities, cobbled together as it had to be out of centuries of slavery, continued political and economic oppression, sustained opposition, remarkable creativity, and a tight group identity.

Because assimilated American Jews had virtually become white in the Boomer generation, my Jewishness offered only a pale glimpse, on a personal level, of a constructed, oppositional identity. Nonetheless, baby boomer Jews could reference the Holocaust, the catastrophe of one mere generation before, as a touchstone of identity and proof, if needed, that Jews were never out of danger in the West.

Furthermore, being queer was most definitely a constructed identity, one that had to be learned (as Blacks have to learn theirs) through training, mentorship, cultural example, and negotiating stereotypes.  I came late to queer identity. By the time I began publicly identifying as gay, I was already in a graduate program in Comparative Literature specializing in Black and African literature. Although my output since that time has been varied, a coherent vision informs it.  For Shoga Films, there flows from this three lines of inquiry:

1.      The interrelationships between Blackness, gender, and sexuality. If African American identity must be learned and constructed, how much more complex that becomes when LGBT issues get thrown in the mix. (“T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness;” “The Lives of LaMott Atkins;” “Mood Lavender.”)

2.      The juxtaposition of Black and Jewish identity. What do the parallels, differences, and interrelationships say about American culture and minority status? (Body and Soul; The Identity Question: Blacks and Jews in Europe and America).

3.      Cultural production as markers of identity and arenas of resistance. I focus on music because I love music. (“Ma Rainey’s Lesbian Licks;” "I Dreamed Last Night I Was Far From Harm;" "Congo Cabaret;" "Coon Song--The Craze That Brought Black to Broadway”)