As an artist, I arrived at a point where I wanted to investigate the traumatisms of my past. In Summer 2012, like most millennials, I took my frustrations to social media posting to Facebook a series of thoughts in the form of questions regarding black males. What do black men run from? and What are black men afraid of? were included in the inquires written in my status. I expected encouraging words but, in contrast, the responses were negative and fueled by stereotypes — mostly from black men and women.
This revealed a story of the lack of compassion geared toward the emotional well-being of black men. I asked myself, Where does it come from? Why do people believe black males are unable to love or possess the ability to fear?
There began the foundation to explore what black men think of themselves. In late 2013, my endeavors rewarded me an artist residency at Bunker Projects in Pittsburgh, which was supported by a grant from The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program — a partnership of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. I spent the next year creating a body of work that interrogated black masculinity and its rigid terms.
At last, emerging from inspiration that came two years prior over the discouraging Facebook conversation, was ‘#Blackmendream.’
‘#Blackmendream’ is a 45-minute experimental documentary that creates a virtual “safe space” through hashtagging, enabling black males to pull apart emotional restrictions often denied through crossroads of race and gender.
The film, shot in black and white, features nine males from diverse backgrounds with their backs turned away from the camera. They openly discuss the obstacles they have faced as young black men, such as depression, parental neglect, and racial discrimination. Likened to a Freudian therapy session, I ask questions such as, “When did you become a black man?”, and “How were you raised to deal with your emotions?” giving the viewer a rare glimpse into the emotional lives of black men, a subject that I realized is taboo in many black communities.
With the film, I set out to create an interactive and collaborative experience where the individual black male voice has a platform and can be expressed without criticism. Through the film’s call to action, posts across social media are taking the shape of literary and visual forms of expression on matters relevant to race, identity, and psychological well-being. Communicating through the hashtag, black males from all walks of life are telling their stories and asserting their humanity.
‘#Blackmendream’ comes at a critical period in American history where there is social unrest surrounding black lives. This is a film I made to empower myself and other black males, to dismantle the barriers of emotionality instilled in us, while challenging the world to become open-minded enough to listen to what we have to say.
The full 45-minute film can be viewed at www.blackmendream.com.