Revenge, Redemption, and Refuge

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Lunch is served at the biannual LongHouse Landscape Luncheon lecture on black women ornamental horticulturists where Abra Lee made their history come alive.

They say September is the best month in the Hamptons. I vote for July. Still, in August, it’s a comforting thought. October has a few good boating days. Just when it seemed safe to go in the water — literally — Hamptons invites floated in.

Avery McCann, Kara Ross, and Louie (Kara’s grand dog).

First, was Kara Ross’ dinner party for Another Body, and producer Elizabeth Woodward, director Reuben Hamlyn, and co-producer Avery McCann, Kara’s daughter.

Ross is a gracious hostess. She sets a casual, comfortable vibe in her sprawling Watermill home, surrounded by water, its clean lines filled with modern art. Drinks are served in an entry courtyard open to one water view; canapés, in the house; sit down dinner in the back, facing even larger water.

The larger issue in Another Body is a new type of sexual assault: online Deep Fake porn. They put your face on “Another Body.” This is a real life horror /detective story, a 20-something phenomenon, documented by 30-somethings. Two college girls discover their likenesses had been grafted onto online pornography, with their names and contact information.

It’s a new variation of Revenge Porn. Although almost impossible to trace, somehow these women figured out the culprit. Confronted by the police, he didn’t deny it. Since, there are no laws against this, nor actual proof, he was free to attack other women online. And he did.

Film still from Another Body.

“This technology just emerged a couple of years ago,” McCann told me. “It’s pretty simple to use. All you need are a few images. Instructions are posted online. It’s growing and evolving so rapidly, it’s frightening.”

“The younger generation is posting their entire life on platforms like Tik Tok,” McCann continued. “While I would never want to discourage anyone from sharing things about themselves online, it is important to know there is a potential for this type of digital violence.”

L. to r.: Debbie Bancroft and Another Body Director Reuben Hamlyn; Another Body Producer Elizabeth Woodward and Co-producer Avery McCann.

“It’s similar to physical violence and sexual assault, in that it targets mostly women and is often perpetrated by someone they know,” Producer Elizabeth Woodward said. It’s also rarely reported. There are only a handful of documented cases, and yet, in this small group of Kara’s friends, two had been Deep Faked online.

“It scares me,” Woodward continued, “but it gives me a lot of hope that young people who see this film have become activists for legislative and educational solutions. We’re doing a very powerful screening tour in college campuses with student ambassadors who have taken on the cause. And it’s very exciting.”

The film is coming out at IFC Center in New York City and select theaters across the country, as well as on Apple and Amazon, October 20 and at the Laemmle Royal October 27.

Women were also the topic at another outdoor lunch — at the biannual LongHouse Landscape Luncheon lecture on Black women ornamental horticulturists. Abra Lee, a dynamic modern day example, made their history come alive to Hamptons garden club ladies and LongHouse luminaries.

Dianne Benson, Louis Bradbury, Sherri Donghia, Anne and Nick Erni, Nina Gillman, Elizabeth Lear, Deborah Nevins, Geoffrey Nimmer, Peter Olsen, Tony Piazza, Gael Towey, Linda Willett, and Jim Zajac were on hand. And Director Carrie Rebora Barratt, who had reached out to Lee and invited New York Botanical Garden’s Richard Smith, a horticulturist Carrie had worked with during her stint as Director of NYBG.

Carrie Rebora Barratt and Abra Lee in front of Buckminster Fuller’s Fly Eye Dome.

“Abra’s research, documenting the invisible women of color who conquered the soil, breaks new ground in garden history,” Carrie told the gathering. “Her poignant stories, personal narrative, and deep expertise, bring honor to LongHouse.”

“A beautiful thing about Black garden history is that it can’t be separated from Black history, and it can’t be separated from American history,” said Abra.

What brought Abra to tell their stories? Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, with a degree in Ornamental Horticulture from Alabama’s Auburn University, Lee’s career took off faster than her psyche could keep up. As she lept from Landscape Manager for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to horticulturalist at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, she told me, “I was young and there was some imposter syndrome. But my mama, who was an educator, told me, ‘You gotta know where you come from.’ As a little black girl from the South, I had a great legacy. ‘You don’t have to worry about failing,’ Mama said. ‘You come from a rich lineage of people that did this type of work.’

New York Botanical Garden’s Richard Smith and Abra Lee.

“That gave me the confidence I needed. Fast forward a few years, I was fortunate to be awarded a fellowship at a one of the great gardens of the world, Longwood in Kennett Square, PA. That changed my life. And lead to a leadership position as a municipal arborist at the City of Atlanta Department of Parks.”

Bella Garten is the “Gardener,” a super eco-terrorist (created by comic book artist Jorge Jimenez). A nod to super-horticulturalist Abra Lee, perhaps?!

“Black people were enslaved and brought here because of their agricultural gifts,” Lee told me. “When the Civil War was over, it was the formerly enslaved people who went back to these plantations and collected the cuttings and seeds from these heirloom ornamental plants that were brought over from Europe. They knew where to find them. And it gave them independence, as floral vendors and nursery owners.”

There is also a history of style, color and beauty. “Some of their earliest memories are of the beautiful floral hats Black women wore to our church, down in the dirt road country. Billie Holliday copied what she saw on the streets of Harlem and put a fresh gardenia in her hair, setting off a national trend.”

Today, through her lectures, the social media platform Conquer the Soil, and a soon to be published book, Black America and the Untold Stories of Our Country’s Gardeners, Farmers, and Growers, Abra Lee keeps their history alive. “I hope to be a vessel for their rich range of contributions, not just as their story teller,” she says, “but as someone who has been in this career for 23 years and shared a lived experience.”

Mariah Whitmore and Dianne Benson.
Art Thompson, Ernie Carvallo, and Carrie Rebora Barratt.
L. to r.: Malachy Mitchnick and Jessenia Duque; Julian Kohl and Mariah Whitmore.
Curtis DeForest, Myers Bartlett, Jai Solomon, and Tasha Spruill.
Effie Kilmer and Cate Halsey.
L. to r.: Anne Erni and Cindy Farkas; Emma Clurman and Cathleen McGuinan.
Amy Freyre.
Laurie Lambrecht and Deborah Nevins.
Linda Willett and Anne Erni.
Louis Bradbury and Kevin Williams.
Mike Swerdlow, Dianne Benson, and Brian Craig.
Nina Gillman and Alice Hope.
L. to r.: Jim Zajac and Elizabeth Dow; Anne and Nick Erni.
Sherri Donghia.
Suzanne Herz and Linda Willett.
Jade and Lucy Ullmann.
Tom Volk and Enrico Del Favero.

Photographs by Richard Lewin.

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