Like so many people, Jazeel Gayle was galvanised into action upon witnessing the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. After exhausting his resources for donation, the Los Angeles based filmmaker set about making a film to further help the cause at hand.
In response to the false premise that the Black Lives Matter movement is somehow un-American, Jazeel used "the unimpeachable words" of Dr Martin Luther King to drive his point home. The end result is a powerful piece of filmmaking that's unmistakably American and manages to be celebratory of that fact while rightly highlighting some of the country's imperfections.
But that's not where this neat piece of activism stops. Jazeel was concerned about the lack of PR of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the disparate messaging that can so easily travel on social media. So the goal for this film is to be a tool for people to use to promote whatever cause they think can make lasting change. The video is designed so people can put their own call to action card at the end.
LBB's Addison Capper chatted with Jazeel to find out more.
LBB> What was the starting point for this project? When and why were you compelled to make this film?
Jazeel> Seeing the murder of George Floyd rocked me to the core. Like millions of Americans it galvanised me into action. After I exhausted my donating resource I still felt I could do more. So I put my greatest skill to the task. My creative ability. I called on my amazing friends and collaborators: Juliet Park, Heather Lynn Aquino, Renzo Reyes, Mike Humphrey and James Ramirez. And we got to work. They too were sick to their stomachs that a man can be murdered in broad daylight, on video, and his killers would be protected from prosecution because of a badge.
LBB> What aims did you go into the project with?
Jazeel> I want to fight this false narrative that has infiltrated this dialogue about police brutality. Black Lives Matter and the fight against police brutality is NOT un-American. Fighting for freedom and justice is at the heart of this republic. And I'm sick and tired of people telling us that we're anti-America. So to drive that point home I used the unimpeachable words of Dr. Martin Luther King. He says it so clearly. We are all owed justice and freedom. And we all have the right to demand it.
LBB> What were your main inspirations with regards to the feel and the aesthetics of the film?
Jazeel> The type and art direction was a play off old bank notes. Using MLK's words in this style of old official bank documents helped reinforce the idea that this promise of freedom was created by the framers of the Constitution. The black and white helped strip some of the nuance out of the visual on purpose. Treating humans fairly and kindly isn't a nuanced issue. It is black and white.
LBB> Tell me about the footage in the film of the mountains and the flag, where does that come from?
Jazeel> YouTube! We're obviously limited right now on how much we can film. I wanted something that has a generic Americana feel while also feeling very American. The flag, the mountains and the sunset really made for a beautiful and a neutral aesthetic. The footage was free. Shout out to Jason Sherman for allowing people to use his beautiful footage.
LBB> The various fonts are a pivotal part of the film - what is the inspiration behind using each of them?
Jazeel> The brilliant Juliet Park can answer that!:
Font choices were based on the want to call back to and connect today to the time when our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
-Dr. King speaks of the Bank of Justice and how it must not be bankrupt which inspired us to reference the look and feel of old bank notes and land deeds.
-Within the designs, the tendency was to utilise scale and the more ornate fonts to bring more attention and hierarchy to certain words and give them a greater presence.
-In various moments, script fonts were used to give the feel of the promise in this note happening along with sealing the deal of the promissory note.
-The same script font was used for secondary textural copy in various moments to pay respect to names and dates that are important to this process of all men being given the true promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
LBB> You've designed the film so people can put their own call to action card at the end - can you tell me a bit more about that and why you wanted to open it up?
Jazeel> There's a saturation right now on social media of causes and initiatives being pushed. I get it. There's no central voice here. We don't have MLK to lead us. A lot of what I'm seeing is disparate in its messaging. Words matter! So I wanted to help. I wanted to make a 'template' to house all these calls to actions. The thing this movement is seriously lacking is PR. 'Defund the Police' is a great example of a PR misstep. That slogan repels so many people. So this was my small way of helping unify the PR of the BLM movement.
LBB> How do you see the power of filmmaking when it comes to tackling social issues?
Jazeel> Filmmaking is the only artform that contains all artforms. That's its power. It can communicate to people on every level possible. Filmmaking also allows the message to be divorced from the messenger. Does it matter that I'm a black gay immigrant that made this flim? The message is clear regardless. Now, being a black gay immigrant animated me to actually make this film. But people's prejudices' are disarmed because they aren't inferring to ME all their biases. They are seeing the work and its message, that's it.
LBB> What were the trickiest components with this production and how did you overcome them?
Jazeel> Time and distance. Everyone who worked on this did it during their free time. The talented animators and designers worked late into the night to get this done. We communicated and shared files via Slack and Google Drive. And yeah, it was messy at times. But we got it done.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Jazeel> I hope I get more opportunities like this. So many production companies have a roster of exclusively straight white men. Listen, straight white men make some great work. But we have a moral obligation to diversify our talent pool. I know that if I would stop making gay or black-themed work I would finally get representation. If I focused only on 'mainstream' stories I would finally get opportunities. But I refuse to do that. This is me. And believe it or not people want to hear from voices like mine.