American revolutionaries among Grizzlies

An important documentary, a challenging discussion and endless revolutionary thoughts were brought to the surface at the 31st Annual Women and Gender Studies Film Festival this past Saturday.

The festival has screened films such as “Bully” and “Orgasm, Inc.” in the past, and this year they showed the documentary “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.”

The film focuses on 99-year-old social activist Grace Lee Boggs who has been involved with almost every major social movement for the past eight decades. The film was directed by American director and producer also named Grace Lee.

The film chronicles how active Boggs was in the Black Power, feminism and Asian American justice movements. There are many scenes where she challenges people, even actor Danny Glover, to think about change and what needs to be done in order to live in a better America.

After the film, the WGS held a panel discussion featuring three distinguished Detroit area social activists and the director Lee herself. 

The panel talked about the projects they are currently working on, along with the influence Grace Lee Boggs has had on them over the years. The panel then began a discussion with the audience about the challenges that are facing America today.

One of the first questions Lee was asked was how she was able to put this film together with so many different voices and topics.

“I think making a film about somebody like Grace Lee Boggs really pushes you to push your own boundaries about what you think you’re doing. As a filmmaker, I really had to push myself, and it was an incredibly difficult film to make on many different levels,” Lee said. “For me, it was a chance to push myself as filmmaker, along with thinking about the things that we discussed in the film.”

One of the panelists, Julia Putnam, is the co-founder and principal of the James and Grace Lee Boggs School in Detroit. She spoke on how Boggs influenced her and the philosophies the school is based on.

“I realized that my whole life, all that was asked of me was to get good grades and be obedient. Her influence was to rethink what school could be and to actually create a model that told kids that you don’t have to leave this place to be successful, you’re learning and energy from that learning could make it better,” Putnam said. “We are very excited to see what Detroit is going to look like when you have had a group of children know they can make a difference from the time they are five years old.”

Toward the end of the discussion, the panel was asked what their definition of revolution was. Shea Howell, a communication and journalism professor at Oakland, said that it is always evolving and people need to make connections to build a stronger fight.

“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about revolution and a lot of it thinking that it was going to happen really quickly,” Howell said. “I have come to understand that is not the case, but I have come to believe that heart connections are the most important things we have to have to make a better future.”

She went on to explain how heart connections are not easy to make with other people since they leave us vulnerable, but that it is vital to our future.

Other topics that were discussed include the issues of confidence in society, the role gender plays and even the recent Detroit water problems.

As professor Howell pointed out, Boggs would have been proud to witness the discussion since the audience and panel were challenging each other instead of just asking questions.

“The whole point of the film is that we need to engage in conversation with each other,” Howell said.

For more information on the film, you can visit The film is available on video-on-demand through different platforms including iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Instant Video.