Film

Video Essays That Address Race, Inequality, and the Movement for Black Lives

Curator Cydnii Wilde Harris highlights some of her favorite works in the Black Lives Matter Video Essay Playlist.

From “Get Out — A New Perspective in Horror” (screenshot by Hyperallergic)

I was putting the finishing touches on a video essay when I first heard the news about George Floyd. Titled “The Original Ending: The Last Acts of Black Horror Heroes,” it is a multi-screen composition that juxtaposes the original and alternative endings of Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) with the ending of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). Both films feature Black protagonists, but of the three endings, only one finds the hero evading capture or killing by the police.

My work often concerns itself with the depiction of marginalized communities in mass media, specifically Black and brown people. I’ve never been able to separate my work from my Blackness, but I’ve been incredibly fortunate in finding support from the wider discipline of film studies. When fellow film scholars Will DiGravio and Kevin B. Lee approached me to collaborate on assembling a collection of videographic work about the Black Lives Matter movement with an emphasis on minority creators, I felt that my field was responding to mass calls for justice in kind. We hope that the Black Lives Matter Video Essay Playlist will uplift the work of minority creators and their allies, serve as a resource for those eager to learn about the impact of the movement, and demonstrate that change is not only possible but inevitable.

In the time since we began aggregating the playlist, people have submitted video essays, videographic criticism, video art, journalistic pieces, YouTube videos, social media montages and memes, and so much more material about the BLM movement, the ongoing protests, and the institutions that led us to this current historic moment. Here are just a few that we find exemplary. We encourage everyone to engage not just with these essays, but also the rest of the database, and grasp the full diversity of talent investigating this topic.

Black Lives Matter.

Get Out — A New Perspective in Horror” by Lessons from the Screenplay

Michael Tucker launched Lessons from the Screenplay to “deepen [his] knowledge of screenwriting and share what [he] learned with other storytellers.” This video essay examines how Get Out utilizes a relatable premise — meeting your significant other’s parents — to reveal new means of creating tension, centering the protagonist’s distinct worldview as a Black man. Tucker compares it with other horror films that transcended the genre specifically through manipulating perspective in new ways, such as Halloween (1978), Scream (1996), Alien (1979), and The Blair Witch Project (1999).

The implications of racial identity affect not only the protagonist Chris’s motivations, but also how the audience experiences the mounting tension and eventual terror of the story. The video employs dialogue and directions from the script to illustrate how Jordan Peele centers Chris and his Blackness as a means of both humanizing the character and motivating his concerns. “A New Perspective in Horror” exemplifies how the video essay is uniquely suited to communicate complicated issues of race through filmic language.

“I Feel, Therefore I Can Be Free” by Nzingha Kendall

Nzingha Kendall is a postdoctoral fellow in American Studies at the University of Virginia whose work is largely concerned with depictions of women from the African diaspora. This piece, first published in 2017, seeks to “create a conversation between black diasporic, Caribbean feminists to understand the first feature film directed by an Afro-Cuban woman.” It combines poetry by Audre Lorde with images from Sara Gomez’s 1974 romantic drama De Cierta Manera (“One Way or Another”) within the framework of Sylvia Wynter’s deciphering practice.

While the work utilizes the academic process, Kendall encourages viewers to “‘feel their way’ through the video.” Lorde’s poetry anchors various scenes from the film, as Kendall explains how Gomez’s direction pulls focus from the male love interest, Mario, to the female lead, Yolanda. Kendall slows and replays specific moments of their relationship, exploring the intimacy that gradually develops between the couple. Lorde’s words and Gomez’s images describe the symbiotic relationship between the freedom to express emotion and the desire to feel seen. Kendall marries an academic structure to organic human emotion.

“WETLOOK” by Jazmin Jones

A self-described “visual storyteller and thot leader,” Jazmin Jones is one of the most impactful creators on this list. The Brooklyn-based artist utilizes multiple mediums to explore the experiences and representations of marginalized communities, often reflecting her own experience as a “Queer, Black femme.” “WETLOOK” is a compilation of internet videos that depict men and boys roughly attempting to throw women and girls into various bodies of water, mostly pools. Jones describes it as a “found footage horror film,” calling into question the integrity of the laughter heard throughout the various videos. In multiple videos, the woman is overpowered by a man or group of men as she thrashes in protest. Many times, their bodies, being carried or dragged by their hands and feet, are reminiscent of the images of protesters being violently carried away by police.

The shrieks of laughter are hardly distinguishable from cries of terror. This thread is made clear when the videos shift from depicting “mere” roughhousing to police officers assaulting Black girls and boys, also near pools. The piece ends with video of the “McKinney pool party” incident from 2015, which went viral after a police officer assaulted a 15-year-old Black girl. As he screams that she get “on her face,” he situates his entire grown body on her back, knee-first — an image reminiscent of the act that led to the death of George Floyd. “WETLOOK” forces the audience to confront the intersectional nature of rape culture, racism, and police brutality.

“Real Talk: Is BreadTube Discussing Race ‘Right’?” by Professor Flowers

Originally on YouTube to post her music, in 2019, Claire Borealis launched the channel Professor Flowers to “deconstruct issues such as politics, whiteness, and media.” She uses meme and cosplay humor to engage with topics such as cancel culture and how it relates to Joker. “Is BreadTube Discussing Race ‘Right’?” is most emblematic of her aims, exploring how videos by popular leftist YouTube creators (“BreadTube”) often lack depth on matters of race. Created with white audiences in mind, such work seeks to convince viewers that racism exists rather than explore the issue with nuance.

She shouts out Black leftist YouTubers who are too often excluded from conversations about BreadTube, and discusses how they create content for Black audiences with the presupposition that they already understand systemic racism. Claire also describes her own experiences trying to create content for white viewers most opposed to racial equity, and how she found the process both dehumanizing and ineffectual to her overall goal of changing hearts. Going forward, she’s instead advocated for racial equity in her own way, recently uploading a new “Real Talk” video.

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