‘Buck and the Preacher’ (1971)

Rousseau’s dictum of “Men are born free and are chains everywhere.” fittingly describes the condition of what it means to be free from slavery after the Civil War. Even so, freedom was recalcitrant to belong to them, and the hardships that came with the price of liberty from the carnage of the war still beset the newly freed along the trail of exodus to the new promised land in the west as articulated in Sidney Poitier’s classic western film “Buck and the Preacher” (1971).

Buck (played by Sidney Poitier), a former Union sergeant turned scout, leads a wagon of freed blacks from Louisiana to the west, where they hope to start their new lives without a shadow of slavery. But alas, the shadow of slavery still haunts them. It is up for grabs in the form of renegade ex-soldiers, probably both of the Union and the Confederates, hired by the former enslavers to bring the migrants back to the chains of slavery. They attack the wagon, rape women, and kill the old and the young, constantly intimidating them to return to where they belong. But the pain of loss and death is even less painful than the thought of returning to the past, and the journey marches on. Buck protects the journey, and the self-proclaimed preacher conman artist (played by Harry Belafonte) a former slave, chimed in, despite his original ulterior motive of money-gaining. This unlikely dup proves to be something of Moses and Aaron, so to speak, in a way that they guide and protect the persecuted people from the sordid bondage to a new promised land even if it takes a nearly decimal lot.

Then there are Indians across the wilderness as gatekeepers to the land of freedom. They are no outsiders to the persecution with their land taken away and their very beings threatened to decimate. The Indians live by the toll fees migrants have to pay when crossing their territories, not the least due to the paucity of livelihood resulting from the government’s confiscation of the land. When Buck implores the tribal chief to help them against the white attackers because they are all brothers, the chief retorts him by saying, “But black people also fought against us with the whites.” The mistrust is natural, as is the confrontation of the two peoples whose rights are put to contests orchestrated by the forfeiter of the rights. The class consciousness between the Indians and the blacks needs a manifestation of shared injustice and empathy, which both of them attest to an objective reality where they prove to be on the same side.

This film is one of the great Sidney Poitier’s and finest as I have been watching as remembering this brilliant actor who has recently died. Always poised with a commending presence filled with natural confidence and will without being febrile and vociferous, Poitier exudes his irresistibly graceful charisma on screen in this memorable Western about blacks and Indians, who are often seen in the peripheral characters contributing to highlighting main white characters. But this is not a revisionist Western at all to polarize the thematic elements of the genre. Hardly so. Instead, “Buck and the Preacher” is an eye-opening Western film about the peoples who are likely to be cast as outsiders even if they also rightfully belong to, to quote Lincoln, “the family of freedom with a jewel of liberty” called Americans.

TikTok, the Orphaned Marmoset’s Story

TikTok rescued from a miserable life courtesy of BBC.

Whether it is my animal zodiac sign of Tiger that is believed to be highly incompatible with anyone with that of monkey, let me just clarify that monkeys are my least favorite animals. However, that doesn’t mean that I should not feel strongly about the article from a recent issue of BBC Wildlife about the U.K.’s primate trade accompanied by the title photo of the baby marmoset named TikTok. Call it milk of human kindness. I cannot just leave the pages closed and forget about it as a piece of memory. The images and words still haunt me, which prompts an enduring reckoning, resulting in writing this essay.

The primate trade in the U.K. and here in the States evokes the human history of slavery. Under slavery, human lives were counted as chattel, and the families were continuously disintegrated because of volatile trade-offs. On the same token, keeping primates as pets seems no less different from colonialists or slave owners whose eyes were set upon the exotic physical attributes of the people they subordinated.

The article has also taken me to my brief research into the U.S. primate trade with the following facts: in 2012, 19 states, including California, where I live, had outright bans on private monkey ownership. The primates are considered a threat to wildlife and public safety and health because their habitats and nature are not agreeable to our environment despite our conventional knowledge of primates as the closest to our species lost in the evolution tree. Come to think of it, the idea of “Planet of Apes” has a point in reversing the directions of gaze from humans to apes, and vice versa, showing us why the two species could not cohabitate by confining them in the opposite environments.

We should not think of animals as live toys or ornaments that will satisfy our whimsical, capricious tastes. From pets to wildlife, animals are not our property but companions. I know it for sure when I feel a little heart of my cat Toro sleeping at my feet.