In her words, Sonia Sanchez writes beacause “I want to have razor blades between my teeth.” Her words are dangerous, cutting and beautiful. Her existence is a fierce political art form.
In the biographical documentary BaddDDD, directors Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater paint Sonia Sanchez as a revolutionary poet, woman, professor, activist and mother.
The documentary follows a roughly chronological timeline and highlights salient moments in Sanchez’s life, including those in her early years from her time spent in Birmingham, Ala. with her grandma, to her experiencing work dis-crimination at her first job and her discovery of black literature and poetry upon shedding tears while reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. It also follows her career, including her work as an activist and teacher at San Francisco State College during the black studies movement, her work in the black arts movement following Malcolm X’s death, her going from professorship to professorship unable to get tenure because she was too “political” and her writing love poems using a strong female voice. It also included more personal elements, such as her involvement in the Nation of Islam, testifying in the highly profiled Mumia Abu-Jamal case as a character witness, taking care of her brother suffering from AIDS, getting arrested with the Granny Peace Brigade in Philadel-phia, regrets about not giving her children a stable home due to her activist in-volvements, father’s discontentment with her zealous political efforts as a teacher, inspiring the new age of spoken word poetry and dedication to world peace and children’s education as Philadelphia’s poet laureate.
The film focuses on facts and history with a personal twist, inspiring viewers to fall in love with both the brilliant humanity and the work of Sonia Sanchez. At every turning point in Sanchez’s life, the documentary features another poet or scholar reading one of her poems and intersperses it with Sanchez’s own reading. So not only is this documentary an accurate and detailed portrayal of Sanchez’s biography, but it’s also a masterfully rendered poetic collection. Viewers are able to get glimpses into Sanchez’s poetic mind, with captivating lines from poems like “Good Morning Sex,” “For Unborn Malcolm’s,” “Dear Momma,” “Does Your House Have Lions” and “To Anita” resonating through our heads. Viewers are also taken on a journey of the history behind black studies as an academic department in American colleges and universities and what is was like for a woman to be in-volved in the Black Arts Movement. The film treats Sanchez’s political and artistic movements with the reverence they deserve, offering an untainted and honest description as most of the commentary comes from Sanchez herself. At times funny, the film brought laughter amongst the college’s students when it featured Sanchez’s time teaching at Amherst, where she only stayed a year. Another memorable moment in the film is when Sanchez and the Granny Peace Brigades brought an apple pie to the Philadelphia police station to protest the war draft. As they would not leave, they had to be arrested; the policewoman who came out to arrest Sanchez exclaimed, “Professor Sanchez!” As Sanchez puts it, after all these years of teaching, “your students are everywhere.”
Before watching this documentary, I knew very little of this important female figure in shaping the scope of U.S. college studies, spoken word poetry scene and American poetry as a whole. Now, Sonia Sanchez is definitely one of the most admired poets in my reading repertoire. She is inspirational as a female figure, telling women to “always walk beautifully,” but one of the most poignant parts of the film is how she empathizes with the struggles of young women and mothers who cannot afford to raise their children. Maya Angelou said that, “Sonia Sanchez is a lion in the forest. When she spoke she roars. And when she sleeps, other creatures walk gingerly.”