‘IMPACT-Dick Gregory’ Glorifies The Activist’s Persiflage

‘IMPACT-Dick Gregory’ Glorifies The Activist’s Persiflage

The comedian’s analytical wit gets sealed on reel, through a perspicacious documentary directed by Jordan Stone. IMPACT-Dick Gregory  shares with the world the acute mind of a man who began as an entertainer and, through his words, managed to analyse society in a humorous and discerning manner. He was a human and modern Pasquino — the Hellenistic statue used by Romans to anonymously attach criticisms and political expressions, following the tradition of talking statues. Dick Gregory used his lampoon craft to mock society, and Jordan Stone’s motion picture captures this efficaciously, through a stupendous conversation between the titular character and the prestigious interviewees such as Jane Fonda, Ernest Dickerson and Clarke Peters.

Dick Gregory was freewheeling in his persiflage, expressing how “America is the most sexist and racist country,” and went on dissecting the insanity of how the migrants that compose the nation have always been marginalised in ethnic neighbourhoods. His humour was audacious and to listen to the pearls of satire contained in his publication From The Back Of The Bus is entertaining and eye-opening. The reasoning behind the title of his autobiography says it all. He chose to name it Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory so that whenever his mother heard the N-word she would associate it to people advertising his book. Amongst his admirers there is also Former President Barack Obama.

In IMPACT-Dick Gregory  we witness how the social commentator played a crucial role in the American Civil Rights Movement. His life intertwined with that of Hugh Hefner, who became a supporter of the black community and gave Gregory his big comedic break, by asking him to perform at the Playboy Club in the Sixties. It was the first time a black comedian performed to a white audience. The satirical agitator further made history when he told Jack Parr he would not attend The Tonight Show, since black people were not allowed to join the host on the couch after their performance. As a result of his observation, he was invited to join Paar on the couch. The documentary shows how Dick Gregory did not vilify white people, on the contrary he sung the praises of a forgotten historical figure: John Brown, a prominent leader in the American abolitionist movement in the decades preceding the Civil War.

The comments of the guest speakers in IMPACT-Dick Gregory  convey a sense of nostalgia for the activist’s clear-sighted pasquinade. One of the interviewees wonders how the satirical commentator would have described the Qanon phenomenon. Whilst another recalls how he showed that all lives matter, by “re-writing American History from the fable to the truth.

The film had its Italian premiere at an iconic movie theatre, that has independent distribution ingrained in its identity: Cinema Mexico, owned by Antonio Sancassani, who has dedicated his life to cinema and is also known in Las Vegas for The Rocky Horror Picture Show which ran for forty years. This place holds a special place in Jordan Stone’s heart, because in 1998 he programmed films in their original language, inviting directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci with his Last Tango in Paris and Perry Henzell with his The Harder They Come. For over 50 years Cinema Mexico has fought the established system programming independent films. This is something that Jordan Stone strongly relates to, since his parents established the prestigious London art house cinema chain, The Gate Cinemas and Cinegate Distribution where they premiered films by Fassbinder, Rosi, Bertolucci, Wenders, Oshima, Szabo, Mizoguchi, Scorsese and Woody Allen, to name a few. It doesn’t surprise that a 6 year old Jordan Stone learnt how to operate the family’s 8mm projector and his passion for this medium expanded to 16mm, 35mm and ultimately video. He then paved his cinematic path from the age of 12, working and attending some of the most groundbreaking film festivals and moving his first steps on sets, working on feature films, commercials and music videos. Jordan Stone eventually settled in Italy, where he lives with his children and wife, Fashion Revolution Ambassador Marina Spadafora. With his spouse, Stone has been busy producing and directing films for the Fashion with a Mission project all over the World.

The films made by Jordan Stone’s production company, CinemaStone, have always been thought-provoking chronicles of inspirational lives, such as Irwin & Fran, about comedian Irwin Corey and his wife. It is thanks to the friendship established with the protagonist of this film that Stone serendipitously met Dick Gregory at the Friars Club in New York City in 2011. The filmmaker was introduced to the political satirist by his booking agent, Irvin Arthur, who also represented Professor Corey. Making a film on the stand-up comedian came organically.

The screening of IMPACT-Dick Gregory at Cinema Mexico was attended by Rosario Dawson, who served as Executive Producer of the film, Giampiero Judica and the conversation that followed was moderated by one of Italy’s most sharp-witted thespians: Lella Costa. The actress animated the Q&A with hilarity and wisdom and, in line with the Dick Gregory’s philosophy, she expressed how she abides by Romain Gary’s idea that “Humour is an affirmation of dignity.” Indeed, this thought encapsulated Dick Gregory’s persona. He was a freethinker, a humanist, who opposed racism, sexism, and discrimination of all kinds, by using his jocular words to reaffirm a universal ethical code.

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