Shonda Buchanan, class of ’03 and ’97, is a featured Los Angeles community artist in The Music Center’s provocative “For the Love of L.A.” series. Her short-short film, “We Are All Angels,” recently premiered on The Music Center’s YouTube channel.
“For the Love of L.A.” showcases a diverse group of Angelenos who use their artistry to reflect on the current time. For Buchanan that means focusing on spiritual, mental, physical and psychological, and meta-narrative well-being.
Through her craft, Buchanan reflects on how we take care of ourselves and write our own authentic stories during a time of “unhealth”. She has been thinking and writing about education disparity impacting youth, particularly the impoverished. She’s also been thinking about ways to infuse Black literature into curriculum. “I believe in the power of language to transform and engage our sense of self and community…I’m using writing as a way to help deal with my own societal anxieties while helping my community do the same.”
In an effort to draw parallels between sound and space, Buchanan has coined what she calls song poems. “I want to establish sacred space [through song].” During a season of collective isolation, her film does just that for the people of Los Angeles, wrapping nostalgic imagery of the city in longing lyric.
The film opens on a hilltop where Buchanan stands amidst the cityscape.
If you knew my true name,
wouldn’t you want to take me there?
Adorned in a dancing shawl and a regalia that represents her Choctaw heritage, she taps hand drum sticks as she sings.
“I talk a lot about what it means to be mixed-blood for me,” Buchanan explains in an Instagram live video leading up to the premiere. An award-winning poet and author of five books including the memoir, Black Indian, she knew from a young age that she was a writer. Reflecting on her childhood in Kalamazoo, Michigan, she says she felt distinctively different from her big, boisterous family. “I’m not like these people that I love…I realized that language became my way of fighting, and writing became my weapon, my vocation.”
Buchanan says her role as an artist is to stand up against injustice. “As an artist right now, this is not the time to kind of slink away in our own quiet.” She’s inspired by writers like James Baldwin, Sonia Sanchez, Ishmael Reed, and Toni Morrison. “I wanted to make them proud.”
She’s definitely made her community proud. “We Are All Angels” is not just a love song for the streets of Los Angeles, it’s a humble vow of commitment to the people that call L.A. home.
If you set me free,
I will not run—
I will be here when you wake up.
Shonda Buchanan is a First Year Seminar writing instructor and Senior Lecturer of African American Studies at Loyola Marymount University. She is also a new Fellow of USC’s Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. Buchanan recently completed a book of poetry about Nina Simone that she is shopping to publishers. She is currently working on her second memoir about spirituality, womanhood and relationships, and she is beginning another book of poetry about Los Angeles and its founders, as well as the indigenous nations of California. You can learn more about her work on her website: www.shondabuchanan.com