On and offstage, performance artist Khalil Abdul Malik Raheem Munir grapples with the conflicting legacies—and names—he has inherited. Inspired by the birth of his son, he traces three generations of Black men in his family, and their striving for identity amid changes in their South Philadelphia neighborhood. We follow him on a story told through unconventional dance theatre, archival artifact, and verité scenes of life unfolding.

 

The canvas for this story is an African American community with a tradition of self-reliance and entrepreneurship dating back to the 1920s. It became an urban village of hardy Black migrants from the American South like Khalil’s grandparents. Yet by the early 1980s when he was born, the neighborhood’s social fabric and his family were unraveling. As a boy, Khalil watched the blocks surrounding 16th & Federal Streets be ripped apart by an onslaught of economic repression, gun violence and addiction.

 

Now Khalil’s newborn marks the fourth generation since the migration North. What legacy will I pass on to my son? Khalil seeks answers in the journeys of men in his family—from Jim Crow South to South Philly small business empire, incarceration to Islam, and streets to spotlight. We are privy to revealing moments between fathers and sons, and among Black men who became brothers on the rocky path to self-determination.

 

Development of WHAT’S IN A NAME? has been supported by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts well as public television’s ITVS. Producers Malkia K. Lydia and Khalil A. M. R. Munir are raising funds to complete production this year. Malkia is a Temple University film school alum who recently produced short documentaries for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture. The documentary is inspired by a solo play Khalil wrote and produced, combining tap percussion and monologue to convey a raw, yet inspirational series of vignettes from his complicated childhood.

 

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