When you walk into “Baptized by Beefcake: The Golden Age of Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana,” an exhibition now at New York City’s Poster House, you are confronted by the stares of film heroes of the late Eighties and early Nineties—each with a distinctly Ghanaian rendering. For over a decade beginning in the 1980s, paintings like these—typically made using acrylic paints on recycled flour sacks—were an answer to the country’s lack of large-scale commercial color printing. Local interpretations of the original Hollywood VHS sleeves, or representations of scenes from the movies embedded with local symbolism, ushered in this genre of “Africanized” Hollywood aesthetics. Across a continent reeling from revolutions and counterrevolutions, characters like Rambo, Conan, and Commando particularly resonated with viewers inspired by their exaggerated strength and daring confrontation with the powers that be.
At this moment in the country’s history, an unusual alignment has taken shape—of investment in and activism around criminal justice reform; widespread recognition of the failure of systems currently in place; political will from all levels of government; and an abundance of successful programs for change backed by policy research. Yet the de Blasio administration is still hiding behind logistics and bureaucracy, repeating past mistakes and reluctant to do more to address its role in the perpetuation of an unjust system. The debates about the closure of Rikers have revealed how the city, circumscribed by what it feels it can get away with politically, is unwilling to look beyond what seems acceptable to what might be possible.