Responses by Translation
Background: The purpose of this short film for audio electronics brand Beats by Dr. Dre was to bring to light the hypocrisy of loving and engaging with Black culture, while our society also devalues the lives of the Black community. We aimed to target both Americans who are guilty of upholding this hypocrisy and young Black people who see themselves onscreen and feel empowered to no longer need other people’s love to exist freely.
Reasoning: We wanted to be both beautiful in our visuals and prose while being as direct as possible, to make people look at themselves after watching the piece. We felt that building our work around the direct question: “You love Black culture, but do you love me?” allowed us to quickly delineate who we were talking to and where we were speaking from.
Challenges: There were obvious challenges around producing a project of this scale during the pandemic, but the greatest challenge was ensuring that we remained true to the concept of this piece every step of the way. That meant being very deliberate in who we worked with to create the piece, who we casted, who we enlisted behind the scenes and what words we used right down to the pronoun—every single choice we normally make in producing work needed to be highly scrutinized and respected. When dealing with a subject matter of this weight, we couldn’t take any seemingly small choice lightly.
Favorite details: Every scene packs immense power, layered meaning and attention to detail. That said, we’re incredibly proud of the scene featuring tennis player Naomi Osaka taking in an artwork by Ulrick Jean-Pierre depicting the Battle of Vertières in 1803, the decisive engagement between Haiti’s revolutionaries and Napoleon’s army during the Haitian Revolution and the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a state that was both free from slavery and ruled by non-Whites and former captives. In a sense, the scene on the canvas is sparking an internal, personal revolution inside Naomi. From her outfit being designed by Haitian-American designer Kerby Jean-Raymond to dressing the entire set with authentically Caribbean decor and casting extras from Haiti who spoke Creole, we wanted to ensure that viewers could see themselves in the work and re-contextualize who Naomi is in their eyes.
Visual influences: PRETTYBIRD director Melina Matsoukas has a point of view in her work that fueled this piece from start to finish. She came to us with a treatment that aimed to depict everyday Black life in a way that felt entirely familiar but also traditionally unseen onscreen, especially in branded content. Her visual world was all about seeing Black people as extremely diverse but all united by their ordinary existence. Her aesthetic gave the piece a sense of authenticity and craft that couldn’t have been achieved with any other director.
Anything new: In the process of making diverse, culturally impactful work, every day becomes a chance to learn something new. We had many discussions with every party involved in the project about their own personal Black experience and their heritage; we wanted to ensure as many stories and truths were spoken for throughout the two minutes onscreen. Obviously, we couldn’t depict the full diaspora of Blackness or unpack every layer of the culture, but in trying to do so, we learned countless things about what it means to be Black in this country and beyond.