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The Four Chambers of the Heart: Khalik Allah Discusses "Black Mother"

The New York-based street photographer and director talks about his second film, an impressionistic portrait of the island of Jamaica.
Daniel Kasman
Khalik Allah
The world premiere of the second feature by photographer and filmmaker Khalik Allah, Black Mother, was at the True/False Film Fest. True/False effectively made Allah’s name in the film world by selecting his extraordinary debut, Field Niggas (2015), the portrait documentary shot on a corner 125th Street in Harlem, from the artist’s YouTube and Vimeo pages and premiering it in Columbia, Missouri, after which it traveled the world to much acclaim. (Between the two features, Allah worked on Beyoncé’s powerful album-film, Lemonade.) The director's new triumph is not the secret discovery his debut was, but is no less powerful an experience. Another portrait film but of considerably expanded scope, Black Mother sees the New York-based director return to his mother’s home of Jamaica to make an impressionist combination of polyphonic character diary and concatenation of Jamaican identity as seen by a grandson of the island. As in his first film, Allah separates his images from his sounds, so that his portraits, which gravitate towards the downtrodden, the damaged, the veterans of life, and an effulgence of beautiful women, are seen out of sync with the soundtrack, which is predominantly interviews with and rhapsodies by the subjects we are watching. Allah’s talent for finding bodies and faces of profound soul and character has been easily transposed to Jamaica, and his photographic eye, using a hip combination of multiple shooting formats both celluloid and digital, is unfailing in its exaltation.
The story, such as it is, is divided into trimesters and structured around the birth of a child. In this way, Allah is able to quite loosely fly through a survey of a Jamaican character birthed from a complex combination of the texture of the streets, those who live hard or live fun on them, the hybrid importance of Christianity and Rastafarianism, slave history, black beauty, political protest, and the serene and healthful embrace of the island’s spiritual and sensual possibilities. Allah’s cinema is as exciting as ever: The sense of time in the picture is precisely in the now but also aged and ever-renewing. He seems to have picked up the gauntlet thrown by the contemporary cinema of Terrence Malick, which allows for a floating, ecstatic freedom of camera, of character, and of storytelling, and has re-invented it for the Vimeo era of gaspingly pretty, highly individualized art-filmmaking. One image, slow motion, of the director standing by a flowing river as he rewinds the film in his Bolex, the camera gliding towards these two flows, that of film and of water, epitomize the personal vision of this enthralling work.
I spoke with the director in New York upon the opening of his film in U.S. theatres.

NOTEBOOK: When was the first time you went back to Jamaica? 
KHALIK ALLAH: I’ve been going my whole life, since the age of three. My older brothers were going before that, when I wasn’t born yet. I’ve got two older brothers and two younger brothers, but when I was three, that was the first time, and after that it was every year. Usually I’d go with my family until around fourteen, when I started going by myself, just to take the winter off.
NOTEBOOK: Is it important for you to go back often?
ALLAH: Yeah, for sure. It was like going to spend time with my grandfather, mainly. And when I went and spent time with him, it wasn’t like I was swimming or I was partying… I never had those impressions of Jamaica—of, like, going to a club. It was more like I was sitting at his feet, and he was praying over me, giving me the wisdom and reading the Bible. As a kid I was like: what? what is all of this? I really didn’t like religion, or any of that.  
NOTEBOOK: At least from my impression of the film, and especially the audio you recorded, your grandfather had this demeanor where it doesn’t matter what he was saying—you listen anyway. He sounded very wise. 
ALLAH: Indeed. He was a deacon in the church right there in Cave Valley, and all my life… my earliest impressions of him were when we were coming to the U.S., he would stay in New York with us and assemble the family together for prayer. I would be like, “wow!” That’s deep, bringing everybody together and saying we would have prayer. I’d be in my grandmother’s room and yeah… those impressions—I would say nothing at that age, but I would just be soaking it all in.
NOTEBOOK: At what point were you starting to film moving images in Jamaica? Because some of the images in Black Mother aren’t fresh.
ALLAH: Yeah, some of them are old. 
NOTEBOOK: How old? 
ALLAH: Well, I was fourteen, and I’m thirty-three now. So around ‘99, 2000…
NOTEBOOK: You were shooting video at that point?
ALLAH: I was shooting with a Hi8 cassette tape camera. So it wasn’t the Super 8, but it was the Hi8 stuff. My first camera was a Canon ES90, and it took the cassette tapes that you’d plug into a VHS tape. Some of the footage in Black Mother is that stuff. There’s a shot in the film of my little brother on my grandmother’s lap, he’s telling her: “he wants you to say something.” That goes way back, that was with the old Hi8.
NOTEBOOK: Were you telling them “I’m making a movie,” or was it more like: cameras are cool, I’m filming with my family. 
ALLAH: “Cameras are cool, I’m filming with my family.” Even when you look at Black Mother, there’s that funeral sequence. That was shot in 2012, and that was long before filming was completed. I had no idea I would make Black Mother. I was just collecting footage.
NOTEBOOK: For yourself, personally? Or for something, you just didn’t know what? 
ALLAH: Maybe in my mind I was like, I’ll do something with this in the future. But it wasn’t clear that it would be a feature documentary or any of that. I’m always just… my relationship with my grandfather, especially as he was older, and as you mentioned, he was a man of wisdom—when he spoke, we’d listen—so when he was 96, in 2011, I knew that he would die soon. It was inevitable. So I spent two weeks with him interviewing him and calling him. He was blind and deaf at that point, so he wasn’t really cognizant I was doing that, so when the funeral happened it was just a continuation of that filming that I was doing. I made a short film called KHAMAICA [2014], which was just me having fun with some of the footage. And that was four months before I put Field Niggas online. And then I never thought I would re-visit that, really, but I had it so… that’s the thing: you shoot and you don’t always know. It’s like a seed, you’ve got this seed and it could turn into something.  
NOTEBOOK:  At what point did you realize this was a project you wanted to actively pursue, to go back to Jamaica and shoot for this film? 
ALLAH: What’s so interesting about that question is that I’m ignorant about so much in the film world, and I’m naive about certain things. I didn’t understand how festivals work, or any of that stuff… So when I made a film [Field Niggas], I put it on YouTube and shortly after that I went to Jamaica. This is January 2015. I went to Jamaica, just to go and start my next movie. I was like: I finished Field Niggas, that’s all online and already out there. And then when I came back from that trip, I had all of these emails: “Oh,  Field Niggas… we want to bring it here, we want to do this with it…”And I was like, Oh! Really? There’s a life for this. I could actually...” I had a full-time job, as a technician in TV broadcasting, and that was food, clothing, and shelter, paying for those things. But I didn’t think there’d be a way out of that job through the camera stuff, although maybe I was hoping, somehow, that it would happen. So I actually put Black Mother on pause. It didn’t have a title, then. I didn’t know it’d have a focus on women or trimesters or birth, or any of that kind of stuff. I was just starting off with my photographic sensibilities, capturing images. And then I had to put it on ice for about a year and a half while I toured [Field Niggas] and went to all these countries and all this stuff.
The blessing was, at the first film festival I ever went to in my life, True/False, I played Field Niggas there and there was a woman who came up to me, really quiet and soft-voiced. She gave me her card and said, “My name is Leah Giblin, I work with a company for Cinereach. When you get home, I live in New York too, we should meet up and talk about your next project.” And I’m like: “Yeah, alright, whatever” [laughs]. They ended being the number-one financial support funders for the film! And Leah was very clear in the beginning that nothing is guaranteed, “we just wanted to have a relationship with you.” In my mind I was like, well, that’s kind of open-ended. What does that entail? Just getting to know each other? But, we did that anyway, and we met up a couple of times, and she said, “what’s your idea again? What do you want to do?” I said, “My mom is from Jamaica, I want to go and document my maternal family.” And she said, “I like that.” They gave me an installment and from there I went and I was shooting. I got the TCS [Technological Cinevideo Services] camera from Rooftop Films, and stuff just started coming in. And I was like, damn, this is happening!
NOTEBOOK: That kind of support strikes me as amazing, because your film is very unusual in the American film culture—independent or otherwise, avant-garde, documentary, or however you want to categorize it. This kind of movie is really not what is being funded on any budgetary level, so for me to it’s remarkable to see an American company give someone like yourself with an idea like this, and a form like this, any kind of confidence. When I see this movie being supported I’m like, yes, there’s hope! 
ALLAH: That’s a real credit to Cinereach.
NOTEBOOK: After your first film you went back to Jamaica and you started shooting, but originally it was just going to be about your maternal family. When did it open up to be a bigger portrait of the island and its history? 
ALLAH: I was always seeing the difference between where my family is situated, in the interior. If you look at a map of Jamaica, and you put your finger to the dead center, that’s a place called St. Anne’s, and my grandfather’s house is right there. It’s really quiet and it’s not a rich area by any means, but it’s a middle-class area. But to get there, you have to go through so many hoods, and even as a child I would just be like, wow, there’s a big difference between being in this peaceful environment with all these fruit trees and coconut trees, and you had church music and everywhere is really calm, people don’t lock their doors, and compared to the city where my uncle lives, Montego Bay, where there’s a gate in front of the house, all of the windows have steel grills so nobody can break in, and everyone is suspicious. So when I began filming I struggled with my family, but I knew I wanted it to be more encompassing of the entire Jamaica rather than just my family. And I also didn’t want to create a biography of my grandfather or my mother, and when you watch the film you can tell the parts of my family that are included, or applicable to all families—more the universal aspects than, “Oh, William Case was born on this day, in this place…” I mean, the film was unconventional anyway, but it was a freestyle, so the idea came together slowly, it wasn’t like I knew it was going to become like it came. It was just like shooting, listening to the audio, looking at the video… 
NOTEBOOK: So it was an ongoing process: you’re shooting and you’re seeing what you have and then you’re pivoting from there and pushing in new directions?
ALLAH: Exactly. I do a lot of my directing in the editing room.
NOTEBOOK: During shooting, were you deliberating determining that you wanted to go to this town, or that neighborhood, or that corner, where you’d seen something of interest? Or were you roving?
ALLAH: It’s definitely roving and seeing what grabs me. I had the ability to do that thanks to Cinereach, I was able to rent a car and move around. There’s a woman who delivers a prayer at the end, that seven-minute prayer. We were driving around and I seen her dressed in white, head to toe. And I just said, “stop the car.” I didn’t even bring my camera, I just had my mic and I ran up on her, I was breathing hard and was like, “Oh, I’m making a film and I just want you to be a part of my film.” And she said, “calm down, calm down. Alright, walk with me. I recorded all of that. She prayed for me five minutes after I met her. So as far as it being freestyle, just roving around and meeting people… yeah, that was precisely how it happened. That was very much how this film came together… I kept telling myself: “I’m a medium. I’m a channel. Let this come through me.” I kept putting it out to the universe: “Yeah whatever you want me to do, let it come through me. Let me just be a vehicle for this.” And that attitude really made the film what it is, because that prayer—I couldn’t have planned that. I couldn’t have said, “Let’s meet up on this day, and time and…”
NOTEBOOK: I imagine there are specific things you wanted to include. Whether it’s kids or church-going ladies or prostitutes or old men or the disabled, at a certain point did you think: “I haven’t seen this yet. This film needs this. I’m going to go find this”? 
ALLAH: Yes. Part of the inspiration behind this film was that I’d never seen a film about Jamaica that wasn’t about reggae. Or, specifically, about Rastafarianism or Bob Marley or marijuana. Because those are the three major tropes of Jamaica. So yeah, I had a shot list… well, not a shot list necessarily, but a theme list. Where it was like, we’re going to focus on the food. But not jerk chicken, which everyone knows about. We’re going to focus on soursop and these different fruits. And I had these different themes and I said, “I want to ask everyone that I encounter about these six or seven different themes, and get their take on it.” Those themes ranged from raising children to their attitude about the church to some of the tropes, like marijuana, that’s in there, the Maroons, some of the Maroon history. What I ended up with is about ten different movies, and I said, “I don’t want ten different movies, I want to distill all of this into one piece.” So it became a collage. It became about a lot of things, but separating it into three trimesters helped me. I said, “okay, the first trimester, I want it more basic, and more establishing: establish the church and we talk about how it operates as a business, we talk about slavery, talk about colonialism. And then it’ll progressively get deeper and deeper and deeper.” I remember telling Leah as I was editing, Yeah, there’s going to be a point in the film where it takes a plunge.” And she didn’t like that word. She was like, “Plunge?” But I meant it as in a spiritual plunge. She probably thought I meant like… 
NOTEBOOK: Dark and depressing.
ALLAH: Yeah! But I meant inward, taking you inward. So the film is an introspective project. It’s like a meditation, it operates like something that you can watch a second time and get a lot from on the second viewing, and third viewing… 
NOTEBOOK: It’s interesting to hear you approached the subjects with multiple questions. You strike me as a very confident, outgoing, and friendly person, so I imagine you’re mostly walking up to these people and very directly saying: “Hey, I want to shoot you, to film you, to talk to you.” Is that pretty much how it goes? You see someone, or you hear about someone you want to meet, and you just approach and start doing your thing?
ALLAH: Yeah, for sure. It starts with my eye, as a photographer, because of course first we see a person, and you know, the people outside of my family are all ‘“strangers.” I don’t really believe in the idea of a stranger because… I look at it like I’m always meeting myself. I meet another person—that’s me. We’re all connected, through the mind. The mind is one. On the physical level bodies all seem separate, but somehow all beings are connected. So I start from that. And even though I start out with that positive attitude, people will always say “no” [laughs]. So we’ve got to just persevere and continue. That’s another thing, as far as asking to let this work go through me: those who said “no” weren’t supposed to be a part of it anyway. You know, I’ll tell a person, I’ll stress to them, and emphasize to them that their opinion is extremely important to me. Their attitude about this subject… I have this sense of desperation when I’m shooting and I think that translates over through my words and the way I’m looking at them. They’re like, “damn, this guy is dead serious, and he needs me to be…” And once I get that permission, then I kind of cool out. Then we begin talking, and one thing I learned is never to cut anybody off. Because sometimes they’ll be making a point, and I’ll be ready for my next question, but I’ve learned to just let the mic sit for five, ten seconds. They’ll come up with another point, and that point will be a point that I use. Shooting at night-time—there’s portions of this film on the street at night—often times I’d use my Bolex and it’s a shiny, antique-looking, rich-looking type of device. So, you know, it’s not like walking around here where everybody’s got a DSLR. You stand out. It makes you stand out. I mean, I’m Jamaican, but I’m half-Jamaican. I don’t necessarily look Jamaican. So, I almost look like an outsider but I have an internal understanding of the rhythm of the island.  
NOTEBOOK: The moment you start talking to them, do they think you’re one of them and with them in this project?
ALLAH: Yeah. When I’m talking—and I don’t speak patois, I speak like a New Yorker… I remember when I was like fifteen I’d go to Jamaica, I’d try to speak patois and they’d be like, “Yo, where are you from, England?” [Laughs.] So, from there I just stop trying to fake it. But I know the shorthand, and I can talk about this location and that location, and I can talk about the history, and yeah… people get it. After a while, after a few sentences, they’re like, “Oh, okay. You know.” A lot of the time, if people aren’t 100% real, they’ll want to hustle you. So, if they feel like they can hustle you, they’ll hustle you. But if they feel comfortable to open up, and give you some degree of wisdom, they’ll do that. It’s a place which has been colonized, and people are poor. Most people on the island are poor people, so I don’t blame them for trying to hustle me. But I stay sucker-free. You know what I mean? I made sure that I’m sucker-free. The thing is, a lot of documentary artists will say, “I don’t pay my subjects…” because once you pay them, it’s not real anymore, it’s not documentary. I don’t give a fuck about that. I’ll always hit my subjects off, but usually it’s after. It’s not like I’m paying you to say this or do this. I’ll get the interview and all that, and afterwards, even if they don’t think they’re getting something, I’ll just be like, “yo, here…” And it could be 10, 15 dollars or something—it’s never like hundreds of dollars.
NOTEBOOK: A gesture, almost? 
ALLAH: Yeah, it’s just a gesture. I do that because I understand that this person didn’t have to be a part of my film. They didn’t have to. 
NOTEBOOK: When you’re approaching these people for the film, are you mostly photographing them first and interviewing them second? Or the other way around? Or it varies?
ALLAH: Yeah, it varies. Sometimes I’ll start off with the microphone. In fact, in Black Mother’s case, there were people I didn’t even have video of that I recorded. I was getting frustrated while I was editing… in  Field Niggas, 90% of the time, you’re seeing what you’re hearing. In this case, it’s probably 50% of the time. I’m showing a lot of other stuff too, like a lot of visual elements, and a lot of nature…
NOTEBOOK: But there’s usually the subject we hear on the soundtrack in there in that montage? 
ALLAH: Right. That’s another thing, I tried to show that. I tried to keep it connected in that way. It didn’t necessarily have to be a face [that is shown] as much as Field Niggas… 
NOTEBOOK: But you really embraced this de-synchronization of sound and image. It was in the first film as well, making sure that we’re not seeing people on-camera saying what we hear them saying. What appeals to you about this technique?
ALLAH: I think it’s a device to point at the truth. Because in a picture you’re never telling the full truth anyway, because it’s just a sample of the truth… You take a picture, you put something inside of the frame, and there’s all this stuff outside of the frame that you couldn’t capture. So, in this way, you’re hearing something and you’re seeing something different, and it causes you to form your own associations. And in that, forming of your own associations, you can bring your own understanding and realize what that truth is for yourself in that moment. Instead of it being a talking head, look-into-the-camera, telling you, “This is Jamaica. This is it.”
There’s a scene early on where they’re discussing the churches, and there’s a Rastaman talking about how churches are big business. And what you’re seeing is two young women at the church, and you can tell that they’re happy there, and they belong there. That’s the perfect place for their station in life, right now it’s a good thing for them. There’s nothing wrong with them being in the church. But what you’re hearing is different. So, it’s a little like, what’s the truth here? I think that by disconnecting the audio and the video it allows the audience to participate with the film. That’s why. I want people to participate in my film, to find their own conception of the truth themselves, without me saying. Even with the title, Black Mother, it was never supposed to be a definitive statement on the Black woman or Black mother herself, that, This is her. That’s only it. This is the only truth.” It’s so much more complicated than what a film can depict. But with this type of film, I feel like it’s a better offering of the truth than, you know, a film that may try and tell you that this is the definitive thing.
NOTEBOOK: It keeps it open.
ALLAH: It keeps it open, yeah. 
NOTEBOOK: Which I can imagine is daunting. With this much footage, and this much non-narrative footage, that the options were crazy. And narrowing it down, even with the three-trimester structure, the options are endless. How do you approach so much footage, with so many formats, as well? You also create an incredible rhythm in addition to creating a meaning. Where do you start?
ALLAH: It really comes down to trust. All of my work is predicated on trust. I trust in my subjects that they’ll be honest. They trust in me that I’m going to do what I’m saying I’m going to do, that I’m actually making a film and I’m not doing something crazy. I’m trusting my camera and my equipment, because I’m shooting on film and it can be ruined by the time I go home—if it goes through the X-rays, or if humidity ruins it when sometimes I’m in Jamaica for a long time—and when I’m editing, I’m just trusting my feelings. Because this film came from the chest. It wasn’t a cerebral project. I didn’t have to overthink it, when I was editing, it wasn’t like, oh, intellectually what would make more sense? Although the intellect went into this, you know, there was brainpower of course, focused on making the film into what it is. But ultimately, it was feeling-based. You know, the film is three trimesters and a birth, and those, to me, are like four parts. So, that represents the four chambers of the heart, and this film is a heart film. That’s why when you leave, it’s something you feel. I wanted to make something that would resonate with people, so when I was editing, that’s what I was going for.
I dropped out of college after one semester. I hated school. I left back in the eighth grade. I kind of got into filmmaking as an outlet, something which was just interesting to me. I had a passion for cameras and I’m still amazed that you can take a picture, you can take something and now it’s there, on paper or on a book or something. So that is what impresses me about it. The thing is, that now you can inspire people to think, in a way. This film is dealing with God, and God is so unpopular. I didn’t want to come in the way how religion comes and say, “it’s this, it’s this,” and all the guilt that religion comes with. I just wanted to come with an offering, an invitation for people to go inward, regardless of whatever their conception of God is, to draw them closer to that. The other thing is family. Families are so strong, they were in the ‘70s and back in the day. So this film deals with two things which are increasingly unpopular, but in a way that invites people to look at these things in a fresh way. I thought it was radical to make a film about God. The only time we see God is in horror movies, and it’s in some freaky demonic nature. It’s not in a good light. 
NOTEBOOK: I was also thinking about this aspect of your film, and especially the last third of it, which is about returning to nature to the true Jamaican soul and true Jamaican spirit. In a way, it’s a conservative film about coming back to the roots of what makes a national identity. Yet it’s a film that, instead of doing this in a way that implies harm, discrimination, and exclusion, is about soulfulness and love. 
ALLAH: Yes. Definitely. When you go to Jamaica—and I’ve said this in some other interviews but I’ll say it again here because it applies—and they feed you, when you get a plate of food, it’s a lot of food on that plate. You’re free to eat as much or as little of it as you want, no one’s going to lose their handle if you don’t eat it all. I made the film in that way, that it was an offering, a meal. Where there’s going to be a lot of different stuff on this plate, and you don’t have to eat it all. With the spiritual stuff as well, I wanted to get to the core of it, because I look at the religions almost like the water companies. You’ve got Aquafina, Poland Spring, Dasani, Fiji, but they all contain the same thing. So if you can find a pure spring busting out of the ground in your backyard, just drink out of that. To me, that’s the pure spirit—that’s the pure spirituality. 
NOTEBOOK: There are two moments I want to talk about specifically that, as much as I love your film, I definitely had problems with. The first is the scene where on the soundtrack we hear a Jamaican criticize the influx of cheap food and stores run by Chinese on the island. Fine—that’s their impression, we’re hearing people critique the Chinese very generally. But I had hoped the images, which are of you going into a Chinese-owned store, would present a stronger juxtaposition with this attitude. I felt it starts as a juxtaposition, because you’re showing the shop owners very happy with you being there, they’re happy to be on camera, you see the store, it’s a nice store, the colors look great. It’s a strong image. But then eventually you linger on it—and maybe the lingering is key—and then they seem sort of unhappy. Then I feel the tone starts to set, and sense that maybe the camera’s perspective is one that’s sharing the perspective of the voices we hear. 
ALLAH: Well, that was risky. A few things about it: It’s similar to, in Field Niggas, how I use the police. The police wouldn’t give me their perspective, and it’s the same thing here. I never really had the green light from the Chinese folks. The shop-owners is who I focused on. Their critique wasn’t aimed at the shop-owners who were as poor as everybody else, but was more aimed at the Chinese who were taking over the hotel chains. But I filmed who was accessible to me to film. And what the man is talking about is about the food, and so it made sense to film them. What I was after—and the film is so open-ended that it can be taken several ways—I just wanted to show an attitude and a sentiment of many of the Jamaicans that we don’t hear about. I’ve got family members who feel that way. My uncle in Jamaica, every time I see him he’s like, “the Chinese, man, this is their country. Welcome to China.” 
I do wish that I could have had more [Chinese people in the film]; I edited that scene over and over. The first edit of that scene was them looking angry. The first edit was probably more of the second part of what you said, when they looked a little frustrated—because, you know, I went up into their shop, it’s their home. I didn’t go, “excuse me, sir, can I do this?” I was trying to do that, in the beginning, and they were running me out, calling security on me, going, “you buy or you leave, you buy or you leave.” After a while, I was like, “damn, I’m going to film this.”
Some of my people who I was showing the rough cut to they were like, "cut that from the film. This person, a programmer, she’s not going to watch a film for this festival." I decided to include it, because, you know, it’s a real issue. The Chinese, in a way, have recolonized Jamaica. The majority of Jamaicans are dark-skinned Black people who have never seen the power of their own country. Getting independence in the ‘60s, those people are still kind of at the bottom of the totem pole. There’s a class system in Jamaica. The majority of the Jamaicans are still at the bottom of it. But I didn’t want to come off as if I was racist by including that scene, because I don’t feel that I am. I feel like I’m all about seeing myself in everybody, and recognizing the unity of the human family. That’s something that I strive to practice. So, there’s a few quick things which I tried to do, and I only had so much footage—but right after that whole thing goes off, there’s a Chinese man who looks up and goes, “peace” [makes peace sign]. That was me reaching with all of the footage that I had, because I didn’t have much more. Remember, I was shooting and coming home, it wasn’t like when I was in Harlem I could go anytime. But I felt that, just throwing him up saying “peace,” it was also a way of going into the second trimester, because the “peace” is two [fingers]. But it was also like, “oh, we didn’t get to hear from him.” He seems at peace, he’s smiling, he’s on a good vibe in the shot. We only heard this [other] man [complaining]. So this has to do, again, with my conception of truth in separating audio and video, and allowing the audience to sit with it, and find their own feeling for it.
NOTEBOOK: Like your first film, you’re frequently filming people from the lower classes, people from the streets, which I think is powerful and rarely seen with such beauty and texture. Some of those people are sex workers, and in one particular scene, a man is relishing his slapping of a woman’s behind. What’s going on there, why is that scene in this movie? This struck me as the wrong side of your portraiture that’s otherwise filled with inquiry and love.
ALLAH: Part of the intent was to show how the Black woman has been downgraded. I’m showing how she’s been downgraded just as much as the earth has been downgraded through pollution. I’m showing the attitudes of some of the young dudes about women. But I’m also keeping it real for Jamaican standards. Because in Jamaica they’ll laugh at that scene. It’s just different. The morals and the codes and the ethics are different in, say, Europe and America, than in Jamaica. In America, a woman breastfeeding in public is almost taboo. In Jamaica, it’s nothing; it’s everywhere. So a scene like that is light—to them. But, with me, I am an American, I did choose to include the scene. It’s showing how complicated this issue is. These dudes, young men, a lot of them don’t have girlfriends, they pay for sex. It was one of those scenes which maybe if I thought about it more, maybe I would have cut it—who knows. Sometimes I’ll be watching the film now and I’ll be like, "oh shit. That shit is fucking raw." But when you think about Jamaica, man, you’re looking at a whole land that’s been colonized, and colonizing a place is like raping it. It’s been raped. And then you’re looking at a place that’s become a service economy, all the economics is based on tourism, so it has to sell itself out. The island has, in a sense, become a prostitute, you know what I mean? My inclusion of that was to show layers and metaphors for the whole country.

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