Through the ‘Snake’s Skin’ comes a documentary

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A 27-year production culminates in San Antonio.

By Brandon Borrego

sac-ranger@alamo.edu 

Racism wasn’t the only thing that happened in the South in the 20th century. In the documentary “I Don’ Been Through the Snake’s Skin and Come Out Clean,” filmmaker Ada M. Babino demonstrates that.

An audience of about 75 people gathered Feb. 4 at Central Library to view Babino’s documentary.

This was an event for the library’s African-American Heritage Month.

Babino, who grew up in San Antonio, is an African-American producer, director, writer and founder of Jezebel Filmworks — a production service company that was the impetus for her “Middle Passage –N- Roots” documentary, which aired on Showtime.

Jezebel has supported other companies by providing work as an assistant director, producer/editor, scriptwriter, field producer, production manager and camera operator. Babino has also developed an internship program from her company that benefits local university students.

Dr. Laguana Gray, American studies coordinator at University of Texas at San Antonio, and D. L. Grant Jr., Carver Branch Library assistant manager and former student at this college, introduced the film and led a discussion afterward.

With technology becoming more central to society, Babino’s family-oriented documentary aims to bring the importance of history back into everyone’s conscious.

“Learn your history,” Babino said.

The documentary expresses the beauty and importance of knowing history. Babino’s grandmother, simply called Ma, reflects on her times as a young girl with the help of Pa, Babino’s grandfather.

They sit around the dinner table spinning tales ranging from slave stories to what the children of today should be learning.

At one point in the film, Ma looks to a young Babino and says, “Children should be told stories about rivers.”

Babino explained when children hear gossip, it confuses them.

Instead, children need to be filled with imagination and wonder to fuel them creatively for the future.

Babino said her grandmother, the central character of her documentary, helped her overcome adversity.

“She was present plenty of times. I have a lot of her in me because I always listened. She is part of who I am.”

Her grandmother was the daughter of a slave, and despite this, she saw herself as a decent member of society who lived a virtuous, or clean, life.

Grant and Gray can appreciate this because they know the film itself is a part of history.

Grant was with Babino when the film was first being shot 27 years ago.

“In 1987, I asked a camera person to sit down and talk with me,” Babino said. “The film just sat under my bed for years.”

With help from online resources such as Kickstarter, the film is now a complete work with footage spanning over three decades.

Kickstarter is a community of artists who petition for funds to develop their creative projects.

Grant said Babino was his elementary school friend and Sam Houston High School fellow alumni, saying that “she has been through the snake’s skin herself, and she has come out a beautiful person.”

Babino said “coming out of the snakeskin clean” means that you have lived a respectable life.

Grant had the same praise for his lifelong friend, Babino, who describes life as mucky and grimy as snakeskin but who at the end will not just come out clean but will be known for contributions to African-American culture.

Babino has screened her film in several festivals and it is now available on DVD through her website jezebelfilmworks.com.

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