A powerful video art installation that seeks to bust through stereotypes about black men in America opens Jan. 13 at the Brooklyn Museum.
“Question Bridge: Black Males,” a collection of documentary interview-style footage, probes subjects such as love, oppression and violence with an innovative twist: Interviewees get to answer — and ask — the questions.
“When you probe a culture with questions, you find truth,” said Chris Johnson, one of four creators, who said his experience growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant inspired the project.
Creators compiled 1,500 interviews from men all over the country, using this approach: A black man asks another black man, from whom he feels estranged, a question on video. A man representing that different mentality then records his answer.
The questions are thought-provoking (Why do you use the [N-word]?”); heartfelt (How can I live peacefully, when I’m surrounded by evil?”); and blunt (“Why are you afraid of being intelligent?”) — offering viewers a candid glimpse at a demographic that pop culture and media often fails to portray with nuance.
“Black men are still misunderstood and feared,” said another creator, Hank Willis Thomas. “This project allows them to define themselves in their own words.”
Thomas and his partners, including Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair, spent traveling from Oakland to New Orleans — with the help of some grant money from the Tribeca Film Institute — to interview subjects from a wide range of economic, geographical and educational backgrounds at schools, prisons and art houses.
To answer the question, “What’s so cool about selling crack?” they traveled to a jail. For an inquiry about the modern-day civil rights movement, they hit the streets.
The footage is edited into a piece that sounds like a free-flowing conversation — and has piqued the interest of the Sundance Film Festival, which will screen an extended version of the installation later this year.
During the filming, Thomas said he was surprised that people were willing to divulge such personal information, answer honestly, and talk about feelings.
“Some of the most compelling questions came from the people you’d least likely expect,” he said. “It’s fascinating.”
Question Bridge: Black Males at the Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 638-5000], Jan. 13 – June 3. $12 suggested donation. Museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. For info, visit www.brooklymuseum.org.
Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.