Spark­ing change

The film­maker says, “I hope the movie kind of opens up some per­spec­tive and there’s some sort of rev­e­la­tion that hap­pens.”

Gulf Times Community - - FRONT PAGE - By Tre’vell An­der­son

(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

BlackkKlans­man

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.

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