Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
June 29, 2015

Amazing Grace: Key Scenes From Obama to Newsome, ACA to Pride

Bree Ava DuVernay

Excuse me if, in my recollection of last week, everything is starting to run together.

Interns Running Deliver News Gay Marriage Legalization

Did those interns bolt from the Supreme Court after the health care decision? or after the gay marriage decision? Or, like town criers, were they just going around the whole time? (You saw our post on the Marcus Yam gay marriage selfie, right?)

Black lives matter pride

With the funerals and the dignity emanating from Charleston in the aftermath of the racist church massacre in Charleston, by the weekend, it was like “ACA Meets Pride Meets Black Lives Matter,” the latter two mashing in this OpusChicago photo from yesterday’s Pride Parade there.

And what of Obama’s week, already in ascendence by that definitive ACA-, and then the definitive and historic Supreme Court Gay Marriage decision? We all know the President rang it out with a stunning sermon in Charleston, but if you remember, it started out with the media largely condemning the President for the use of the N-word in a podcast with comedian Marc Maron.

And how prescient were these early thoughts from Politico columnist, Jack Shafer, a week ago Tuesday, noting that Obama does nothing if not choose his words carefully, and also pointing out that repeated interviews on the subject of race had just not gotten through.

If lame-duck Obama intends more on the race subject in the coming weeks—and having brought the topic up, why wouldn’t he?—you could call his podcast a soft launch. He didn’t belabor the point as much as introduce it, ringing the bell with the N-word to call the nation to attention.

Obama radio interview 1

…I loved this photo, by the way, of Obama in Maron’s garage. In response to Shafer: no, it wouldn’t take weeks for Obama to punctuate the race topic. And how fitting the President would humbly seed this week from what looked like the confines of your kid brother’s bedroom.

Obama Pinckney Amazing Grace 2

But then came Friday and the sermon for the slain Reverend Pinckney. In the face of the latest blow, this massacre taking a string of high profile murders of black men to an entirely new level of pathos — this inconceivable act having the jarring cultural effect, also, of crystallizing that gun control was officially off the table — Obama poignantly recombined the extraordinary violence and searing accumulation of hatred, into a catalyst for what? For grace. For resolve. For informed compassion.

If you watched the astonishing sermon, using diction and cadence to weaving white with black, yes, it was stirring. But when Obama completely obliterates his Spock-self by breaking into that song — especially if you’ve watched it multiple times as so many have — you can only glow as he sends waves of electricity through the church hierarchy, the Pinckey family and the congregation that so enveloped him in that arena.

Obama Grace gaze 1

The exclamation point for me, by the way, was the pastor in the back row left who, wearing sunglasses for a good stretch of the speech, demonstrates (along with the other pastor, back right) the perfect synthesis of shock and admiration as (formerly “no drama) Obama broke into the hymn.

Obama Grace gaze 2

Obama Grace gaze 3

And if all that happening in one week wasn’t enough to spiritually digest, it’s as if all that dignity, and, yes, steely grace, became laser focused the next morning in one quiet act of civil disobedience. Blowing up social media yet again, we saw a citizen, named Bree Newsome, scaling that notorious flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol and removing its Confederate flag in what we can only hope was an act of foreshadowing.

Bree screen shot

Now, at the beginning of this new week, I can tell I was gripped by an emotional fever by Saturday because, seeing that screenshot of Bree in silhouette at the top of the flagpole, all I could think of was Neil Armstrong’s “one small step,” even if the act of pride in this case was one of addition by subtraction. The further eloquence of the act, however, was captured in the more detailed photographs of a man named Adam Anderson on his Instagram, and published at Fusion.

All I really saw and heard when I studied these photos…

Bree Newsome equipment

…in delineating her equipment and her helmet, this photo emphasizing no simple snatch-and-grab by dark of night, but an act of deliberation, of care and of safety, in broad daylight, in authority’s presence …

Bree Newsome assistant

… in Bree’s submissive and almost biblical pose, and in her assistant, James Tyson, wearing the caution vest and the hardhat, as if a visual analogy to the Southern white working class …

Bree Newsome removed

…and even here, in the paradox of the black officer, yes, “doing the man’s work,” and leading Bree down …

all I could hear and see was: Amazing Grace.

(photo 1: Ava DuVernay/@AVAETC – Twitter caption: Yes. I hope I get the call to direct the motion picture about a black superhero I admire. Her name is @BreeNewsome. photo 2: Alex Wong/Getty Images. photo 3: Gerald Farinas via OpusChicago photo 4: Marc Maron photo 5: David Goldman/AP. photo/screenshot 6, 7 & 8: FoxNews video photo 9: The New York Daily News via Getty Images. photos 10, 11 & 12: Adam Anderson/Instagram via Fusion.)

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