Socialist Worker

Seberg misses a wider radical picture

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2688

Anthony Mackie as Hakim Jamal (left) Kristen Stewart as Jean Seberg (right)

Anthony Mackie as Hakim Jamal (left) Kristen Stewart as Jean Seberg (right)

As a bloody battle between Black Power and the US state raged in the late sixties, the movement enlisted some unlikely allies—celebrity actors and sections of the Hollywood elite.

Among Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Leonard Bernstein was Jean Seberg, a 30-year old star of French New Wave cinema who hailed from small town Iowa.

Seberg was determined to use her fame and her new found wealth to aid those fighting the system. In the early 1960s she financially supported moderate anti-racist groups such as the NAACP, but later backed radicals, including the Black Panther Party.

The assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton
The assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton
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New film Seberg concentrates on her political and romantic relationship with Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), a black nationalist leader in the “US” organisation. The FBI set out to destroy them both.

The FBI’s cointelpro operation was designed to gain private information about activists, then plant fake news about them to discredit them in the wider movement. They wanted radicals to see each other as competitors and enemies.

Kristen Stewart captures well the way the FBI’s psychological war destroyed Seberg’s mental health, ultimately causing her a miscarriage—and a number of suicide attempts.

The film is well made, designed and shot. But it misses crucial context that would have made it much stronger.

Sure, the FBI lied about Seberg and bugged her apartments. But what they did to Black Power activists themselves makes this look like schoolyard stuff.

Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were shot in their beds by Chicago Police—aided by the FBI—in 1969 as part of a series of assassinations. Scores of followers were fitted up on serious charges and sent to jail, where some remain today. Others were forced into exile abroad.

By the early 1970s the movement lay in tatters.

Benedict Andrews, combined with Stewart’s strong performance, should have given us a radical classic. Instead sixties radicalism is reduced to one person’s tragedy.

Homeland Under my Nails

Mohammad Omar Khalil, a painter, master printmaker and mentor, practicing since the 1960s, is one of the most significant artists of his generation from Sudan and the Arab world.

The exhibition opens with a series of self-portraits, a practice that Khalil, now 83, has long experimented with.

Sudan continues to be a focus for the Khalil.

His work is significant to the Arab modernist movement and to the history of International Modernism.

He was never an artist isolated in exile nor has he ever forgotten his identity or motherland, saying “My homeland exists in my nails, it expresses itself whenever I create an artwork.”

Mohammad Omar Khalil - Selected prints (1964-present) The Mosaic Rooms, Cromwell Road, London SW5 0SW. Until 24 April 2020

Naum Gabo

This is the first extensive presentation of Naum Gabo’s sculptures, paintings, drawings and architectural designs to be held in Britain for over 30 years.

The exhibition marks the centenary of the Realistic Manifesto 1920.

It was a set of pioneering artistic principles launched in Moscow by Gabo and his brother Antoine Pevsner.

The statement declared that authentically modern art should engage with and reflect the modern age.

At Tate St Ives, Porthmeor Beach, TR26 1TG. Tickets from £9.40

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