The filmmaker says, “I hope the movie kind of opens up some perspective and there’s some sort of revelation that happens.”
(With just over 2,000 followers on Twitter) if I put out a tweet, nobody’s looking at it. But if I make a film, this is my tweet to the world and I could say something that might be able to build — Reinaldo Marcus Green, filmmaker
Among them, one can remain silent in the hopes the chaos of the world might self-correct in due time.
Or one can do something to spark change. Reinaldo Marcus Green, with his feature debut, Monsters and Men, in theatres now, chose the latter.
“It’s about people coming out and supporting and talking about it and then doing something, however small,” the writer-director said about his film. “And that was me making it, because (with just over 2,000 followers on Twitter) if I put out a tweet, nobody’s looking at it. But if I make a film, this is my tweet to the world and I could say something that might be able to build.”
Monsters and Men, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, is ripped
straight from recent headlines and the African American and Latino lived experience. (Green is half African American and half Puerto Rican.)
Told in a triptych structure, the picture follows three members of the Bed-Stuy community in the aftermath of the killing of an unarmed African-American man by police. Anthony Ramos is a young father who captures the death on his cellphone. John David Washington (Afro-AmericankKlansman) is an Afro-American police officer who must navigate precinct politics. And Kelvin Harrison Jr. is a high school athlete inspired to take a stand — or knee, as it were.
Becoming a filmmaker was never Green’s dream. Until, it was. While his brother Rashaad went to film school, he became an elementary school teacher in an affluent New Jersey district. He then transitioned to Wall Street just long enough to pay off student loans when the moviemaking bug bit. Reinaldo had been the lead in Rashaad’s first short film.
“Of course when you’re making shorts, you’ve got no money and you asked your family to come help,” Green said. “(Rashaad) put me in front of the camera as an actor. He came over to my apartment and was literally like, ‘Make love to your girlfriend.’ I was like, ‘This is really weird.’ … My brother doesn’t even tell me what it’s about . … He goes back to his house and then records a voiceover over this thing. He showed it in film school and people are like, ‘Oh, you should submit this (to film festivals).’ And his homework literally got into Sundance.”
As Rashaad made a name for himself, Green lived vicariously through him as his biggest cheerleader. But four years into Green’s Wall Street stint, he had a “mini crisis.”
“I was 28 and had paid off my $40,000 in student loans and was like, ‘What do I do now? I don’t know. Why am I here?’” he said.
He figured going back to school to get an advanced business degree made sense. After a Google search, he stumbled on a joint MBA-MFA programme at NYU, his brother’s alma mater. He read the description and found it to be the perfect combo for his business interests and budding creative energy. But the application was due that very day. Green pulled his brother out of the editing bay for the feature Gun Hill Road (which played Sundance in 2011) to share the news.
“I wanted to do this programme so I could basically produce,” Green said, “and my brother would write and direct.”
Rashaad texted the chair of the film department and got Green an extension on the application.
Green submitted his application within the following month. After a short period on the waitlist, he was accepted, but only into the film programme. And because the programme focused on writing and directing, he was required to create short films throughout. One of his first, Stone Cars, premiered at Cannes in 2014.
“It was like one of those things where it happened quickly … but I didn’t necessarily believe I was a director,” he said. “I had directed (the short), but I didn’t feel like I was a director. I felt like I was a producer directing.”
Though he went through another “identity crisis” as a result of that experience, in his third and final year, he decided to lean more heavily into writing and directing. He made three shorts that year. One of them, Stop, was about a young man who’s racially profiled and stopped by cops on the way home from baseball practice. It was born out of the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.
“That could have been me,” Green said. “I could’ve been walking home in my own neighbourhood and (encounter) some random dude who’s not in a uniform, and I’m defending myself and I end up gone. I remember feeling like that kid literally could have been me. I made the short out of that conversation.”
Stop premiered at Sundance in 2015. While there, Green got the inspiration for what would become Monsters and Men.
Staying with Green in his cottage for the Utah festival was a longtime friend who was by then a cop. The friend, who is white, had played an officer in the short film. After its premiere, conversation between the two turned to the death-by-chokehold of Eric Garner, who was killed in their home neighbourhood of Staten Island.
“And what starts as a regular conversation started becoming progressively heated,” Green said. “What I saw on the tape was a guy that should be alive. I’m not saying he wasn’t doing what they said he was doing. I just think he should be alive. Point blank period. And his perspective was that it was unfortunate, but (Garner) was resisting arrest.”
They went back and forth for some time, said Green, “and then he went off into a little bit of a tangent about everything that wasn’t on the tape.”
“It was everything about what it’s like being a police officer and how I don’t understand what he faces,” he said. “He broke down and started crying … . Somehow this conversation triggered something and he felt like I was pointing the finger at him.”
Green said he was “forever changed by that conversation.”
“It was a perspective that somehow you know but you don’t hear,” he said. “And I just heard it … . I also hadn’t seen it (on screen) and it was what I didn’t have in my short film.”
From that, the seeds for
Monsters and Men were planted, in a way that Green felt would do more than simply expand on what he had already covered in
Stop. And though it was Green’s first time writing and directing a feature-length project, his fresh perspective was a benefit in the filming process.
“Because of the enthusiasm of what comes with the first time, he wasn’t jaded,” Washington said. “He wasn’t cynical or an ‘angry
Afro-American artiste.’ The foundation of it was a pure one, and there’s nothing like your first time.”
Ramos agreed, noting Green’s collaborative approach to filmmaking.
“It takes a village to make something happen, to make anything and anything good,” said the She’s Gotta Have It star. “He just wants to win, and his way of winning — which I think is the way to win — is to know that the best idea in the room wins and that’s how we’re going to get the best product.”
Monsters and Men is the latest addition to the (unofficial) Black Lives Matter Cinematic Universe — filmic renderings of contemporary socio-political life inspired by and related to the rise and enduring legacy of the Black Lives Matter movement. It joins recent pictures such as Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman and Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s Blindspotting as well as the Oscar-winning Get Out as reflections on the Afro-American experience.
“I’m rooting for those folks, and those films need to be here,” Green said, “as they’re different ways to look at (the issue). But my hope is that Monsters and Men stands out and is not what one would expect.
“I hope it kind of opens up some perspective … and there’s some sort of revelation that happens that allows people to talk and engage with the subject matter in a way that they did not expect to do so when walking in the movie.” –
Monsters and Men joins recent pictures such as Spike Lee’s
and Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s Blindspotting
as well as the Oscar-winning
Get Out as reflections on the AfroAmerican experience
DEBUTANT: Reinaldo Marcus Green, maker of Monsters and Men.
REFLECTION: A scene from BlackkKlansman that is about social issues faced by Afro-Americans.