In light of the violent events around the country this past week, we are revisiting interviews with prominent artists talking about the social relevance of their work -- and, more importantly, their responsibility as creators.
CLAUDIA RANKINE is a writer and poet. Her book of poetry, “Citizen: An American Lyric,” is a meditation on race and racism in the country. “Citizen” also was adapted into a play; it was produced last year at the Fountain Theater in Los Angeles. Rankine wrote the book around the time that Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. The cover of her book of poetry is the image of a single dark green hoodie against a white background. The artwork is called “In The Hood,” by the artist David Hammons. It is currently part of an exhibit at The Underground Museum in Los Angeles.
On the image of the hoodie:
I love the fact that it is something, it is a garment that we all own. We all have it. And it only becomes the thing when it is projected on. That it's a thing to be feared whether it's the executioner or the supposed criminal, only in those moments that you bring to it. The rest of the time it's what you wear to Starbucks.
On “Citizen: An American Lyric":
I think the book is about intimacy and it's about the kind of intimacy that shuts down because of the unsaid. And often people, when they approach these racist moments, they don't know what the next thing to say is, or one can't engage it because it feels like it will be too big, it will be too volatile, it will be a place where you can't come back from. I'm hoping that the book and the play allows people to recognize these moments as moments that we all own. That they're not moments of private shame, they're moments of an American history. We can enter them, discuss them and move forward. As long as we keep acting like they're not happening, they'll keep happening.
NATE PARKER is an actor and filmmaker whose first narrative feature as a director is called “The Birth of a Nation.” It is very much intended to be a response to the 1915 racist DW Griffith film with the same name. Parker’s movie is about Nat Turner who was a slave, a preacher and, in a way, one of the nation’s very first African American civil rights activists. Turner led a violent slave revolt that preceded the Civil War. “The Birth of a Nation,” is scheduled for an October 7th release. The Frame spoke with him at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year where it premiered.
Parker identifies himself as an activist first and a filmmaker second. He told The Frame, "Nat Turner used an axe. My axe is a camera, and sound equipment, and an incredible crew."
On what he hopes "The Birth of a Nation" can do as a piece of political speech:
I think this film can promote and facilitate healing in a country that has wounds that were afflicted during the legacy of slavery and that still affect us today.
I think this film is an opportunity for us to look at this dark past, see not only the implications of the time, but the themes and parallels of where we are right now...So my hope is that this film creates change agents, that people will see it and — if they are moved — that they will know and be encouraged to step into that place of responsibility. That it will create activists of everyone. Because the reality is, there's racial tension that's affecting us all. And there's no one that will deny that. Which means that we all want to heal, that we all want to confront this issue, collectively.
I didn't make this film for black people to only stand up and say, I have something to do, and I have a responsibility. I want all people to say that. I want people to say, What happened during this time was not only wrong. But it created systems that affect us today. And I have a responsibility to deal with those systems when they exist in my environment.
On what modern movie goers can learn from Nat Turner's story:
If someone's watching this film, I would hope and challenge them to ask themselves: In 2016, are there things happening that I know for a fact are wrong, that go against the ideology that I support as a patriot of this country? Whether it be the prison industrial complex that holds people in captivity, that has great injustices that are happening against people. Or whether it be racial inequality, or gender ID inequality, sexual inequality. Where are those injustices and iniquities that raise their head and how can I be effective in stomping those things out?
JERROD CARMICHAEL is the co-creator and star of the NBC comedy “The Carmichael Show.” The program has taken on race and police brutality, among other topics. In one of the first episodes of the series, which debuted last year, Carmichael and his TV-family discussed the importance of protesting after an unarmed black man was shot by the police.
The Frame spoke with Jerrod Carmichael earlier this year on the set of his series.
On the value of challenging others and of being challenged:
Everything good in my life has come from me questioning everything, challenging everything, from me feeling challenged. Everything, everything. The television shows I watched challenged me. The music I listen to, it gives me something to figure out, even if it's a jazz instrumental, the trombone needs to be doing something that I can't just immediately understand. It gives me something to search for, a reason to use my brain. So challenges within the writers' room, the show, with the content is the most important thing that we could possibly do.
On crossing the comedy line when addressing serious issues:
I'm always running from comedy. How is that for a comedian? A comedian who ain't got no jokes! I'm running towards truth and I'm running towards -- in the show -- I'm running towards intention and the clash. Comedy is the escape from it, but only after you get yourself into a little trouble.
On his origin as an artivist:
I think, part of my education in becoming an artivist was my engagement in hip-hop music. There used to be a phrase — people would say that hip hop is the CNN of the streets. So reporting on what's happening in neighborhoods that are underreported on in the news media. I used that method, that style of hip-hop, as my way of speaking truth to power or engaging topics about social ills and political misconduct. I think that education, that practice, I brought that into my life as a vocalist and as a singer.