Tuesday, August 19, 2008

anatomy of a scenario

on location at club kalua

it wasn't what i thought it would be.

i expected something bigger, grander. a bit of flash, at least. what i saw was a sliver of a building next to an auto body shop -- weirdly appropriate, somehow -- that squatted on a narrow street near a four way intersection that demanded the cars stop several feet away from the red light so they could make turns without hitting each other. the LIRR was right there, hanging above us in this stealthy ominous way, racing by every so often, its parking lots sprawling across the street from the action, this infamous gentleman's club, and all of us.

the sean bell film project

all of us was ed durante our somewhat fearless leader, tanya the ever-present script lady and james at the camera and at the ready, with a host of black actors that have worked with ed before, for the most part. all of us were dressed in black, as per ed's request. all of us were a little freaked out.

the sean bell film project

all of this was for the sean bell film project, organized by ed. this was some fast and furious-ness at work here, creatively. all the directors were given the same rules: one day shoot, two charaters speaking, no more than 3 minutes long, delivered in 7 days, all of them done by early september.

the sean bell film project

for ed's piece, all of us had to learn a monologue from hamlet. this would have been a cakewalk for me under ordinary circumstances, especially since i took a shakespeare workshop earlier this summer with jeff at dog run rep. and what with all the work they had to do, one would think that the least i could do was learn my lines. but once i was actually in front of the camera, all i could think about was these three brothers in their car getting shot at 50 times by cops that never identified themselves. my anger had long since dissipated. i was swimming in iambic pentameter, drowning in so much feeling, choking back something that felt way more like empathy than anything else. shockingly, ed didn't yell at me. to tell you the truth, i think i kind of wanted him to. anything to shake my lines loose.

and oh, what a beautiful day it was. there was something ironic and depressing and black-hearted and foul about all that sunshine and the picture-perfect blue sky wonderment that framed it so incessantly. yeah, the sun wasn't helping me, either.

it got even worse when we began to talk amongst ourselves and share our feelings about what happened. it got grim when we put ourselves in sean's place. it was james (the actor) who really brought me down when he talked about his bachelor party and dissected how it could have happened to him or any of his fraternity brothers. it was strange, all of us wallowing in our makeshift grief on the sidewalk as the bright sunshine made everything gleam like something out of a disney movie. somewhere in there, i walked to the bodega on the corner and got a piece of fruit and some tea and someone told a funny story and everything got a little giddy, because every thing was so sunny and so dark and so abysmally strange.

when it was all over and we were finally left with the unspoken question -- where did they shoot him down, anyway? -- we collectively walked around the corner to find our answer.

detail from sean bell's memorial wall

i tried to leave the sunshine there but it followed me all the way back to a gentrified west harlem, chok full of way too many hipster white people and the overbearing police presence that they brought with them. and so did this weird, weird grief that sits on my chest like a playful 2 year old and leaves me feeling like i swallowed a cinderblock.

i don't know what to do about a police force that won't collectively think before it shoots, especially when their guns are aimed at black men, or a local/state/federal government that won't prosecute the police officers in question when they kill innocent black folk and call it a "horrible senseless tradegy" or "a terrible accident" or "a case of bad timing" or a "misunderstanding" and all of the other phrases they use to justify themselves. i don't know how to battle any of that.

i am beginning to think that art can affect change. i'm beginning to want to make art that changes things. being a part of that process in someone else's project/vision is an important step to make towards creating something powerful that's mine.

this is how it begins -- someone or something inspires me and i get ideas...

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