In 2012 I was living in Long Beach, California and spending an awful lot of time helping create events at the Art Exchange Art Gallery. One Sunday I was hosting a screening of the film Ruth Ellis at 100 when I met filmmaker Jennifer Abod and her partner Angela Bowen. We talked a little about Ruth Ellis, how I learned about her in community at the Black Lesbians United Retreat. As a matter of fact, most of my education on amazing black queer women started at the BLU retreat. Being me, I thought I knew everything there was to know about black queer feminists. After listening to just a portion of Angela’s story it became clear that I was wrong. It became obvious that Jennifer made The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen for young people just like me.
As Angela’s partner of 36 years, Jennifer felt she needed to tell Angela’s story as much for herself as anyone else. She admits that by the time they got together Angela had lived a full amazing life. “I wanted to get to know who she was before we met and to know who she really was I needed to know her life as well. She knew pieces of her partner’s story but when Angela agreed to actually do the film Jennifer knew it was an opportunity to learn even more about this amazing woman that she loved.
The story of Angela Bowen is truly a dynamic one. She was born in 1936 in Boston to a father who had recently fled the Jim Crow South and a mother who migrated from St Croix. Her father died when she as 2 and her mother worked as a housekeeper to keep the family out of public housing. Angela became a gifted student who excelled at ballet. In 1981 she went off on her own to pursue a full-time dance career but she inadvertently started her career in social justice work as well. It became clear that while she loved dance, her passion was in community. She went on the found a school the Bowen Peters School of Dance with her then husband Ken Peters. The school was deeply invested in building community. She was integral in instituting Black History and Culture programs in Boston Public Schools and Teacher Training programs throughout the state. She received numerous awards as a trailblazing educator. And in the 80’s she left it all to join the feminist movement.
There are so many reasons why Angela’s story is one that needs to be told. “This film is set in a period in time that captured the spirit of black feminism. In a time when Audre Lorde was still alive and change was possible if we could build it far and wide.” Audre is certainly a prominent figure in Angela’s career transition to black feminist scholar and activist. The difference between you and me is that after reading Audre’s amazing writing, Angela found herself in community working side by side with Audre in the movement. Throughout the film you see the many links between these two women. Angela actually wrote the first scholarly dissertation of Audre’s work. Her dissertation is included the upcoming coming book by Audre’s partner which coincidentally has its book launch the same day as the premier of Passionate Pursuits. Just another way these exceptional women will forever be linked in history.
Jennifer also talked how her personal relationship with Angela made the film a necessity but also a challenge. One of the biggest challenges was inserting herself into the film and therefore the narrative of Angela’s life. Eventually she saw that there was no way she couldn’t appear. Especially considering a major component is telling Angela’s story for her. “It took me a long time to be in the film,” she said. “Her husband could tell the first part of her story and I was there to tell the second.”
One of the final personal barriers for her was being a white woman telling her black partners story. She recognized the privilege that she held in life as a white woman but that didn’t mean that she completely understood race, privilege and how they worked together. She realized it was important not to only recognize privilege but to determine what she was going to do with it.
The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen derives its name from the passion with which Angela Bowen has worked in the black feminist community for decades. It comes for her mission who believed in her community and took it everywhere that she stood. She was a woman who, as Jennifer put it, “Took no bullshit and gave unconditional love.” I believe that the films name can also be attributed to the passion and persistence of her loving partner in getting this film made. I did this interview over the phone and I could feel the admiration that Jennifer has for Angela not just a partner but as a member of the community that she has served. I remember very well when we first met in 2012 and she talked about why the film was important to her and that she was looking for funding for the film. She informed me that since our first meeting the original editor was killed in a drunk driving accident as well. But she has always persistent in telling this story. “Angela intersects so many identities.” She said. “She could be anyone.”
I asked Jennifer what’s next for the film after this Long Beach premier. While the goal is to get the film seen everywhere, there is also another goal that is a bit personal to myself. She said that “I’ve done what I can do. I did everything I could to pull the story together and send it out to the world.” We know that getting the stories of our black queer elders is certainly a struggle. The same way that I didn’t know about Audre Lorde or Ruth Ellis prior to visiting BLU; there are many young black queer women who are looking for opportunities to learn more about our elders and historical figures. Mainstream media and histories are not going to carry our stories and legacies so it’s up to the members of our community to grab every opportunity we have to learn about these courageous women and say their names loudly so people will know our history.
About the future of the film? Jennifer simply summed it up, “It’s a love story to future activists. It’s up to the community to pick it up and run with it.”
I think that’s what I will do. I will run with it a little while.
The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen will premier Thursday, February 18th at 7:30pm at the ART Theatre, 2025 E. 4th St. Long Beach, Ca. Purchase advance tickets here http://passionatepursuits.brownpapertickets.com/