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By Autumn Brown, Senior Editor
Artistic expression has a moving capacity to evoke emotion. Black artistic expression can move the needle away from our oppressive existence into a knowing that is celebrated and revered. More importantly, though, Black creative expression can grapple with experiences and ways of life that are often unbeknownst to the dominant culture.
Based in Oklahoma City, Devoted Media Group (DMG) is a Black-owned film production company.
Their recent short film, “PTFO (Pissed The F**k Off),” encompasses loads of themes barreling through the Black community and our world.
I highlight this film because my best friend is an actress and producer in the movie, and I saw fit to uplift her work and the work of other Black creatives in Oklahoma City.
Second, however, is to showcase just how vital Black media and expression are when it comes to telling our truths. The creative expression created by us and for us is paramount. It provides the space to develop a way of knowing that outwardly claims and credits our Blackness, putting our experiences within the context and on display.
The film immediately opens up with a fed-up news reporter, LaWanda Crosby, sent to cover the protests sweeping the downtown area of Oklahoma City. She scoffs at the idea that she was “a better face,” as she questions why they couldn’t send “Kathy.” Yet her resentment fades as the countdown quiets at “2.” She proceeds to report the news objectively.
Amid Ms. Crosby voicing her transgressions, introduced are Brittany and Dominick as they are participating in the protests. Brittany is visibly furious, which we later learn is attributed to the death of her friend, Tom. A lack of agreement exists between Brittany and Dominick, as Dominick is against the looting and burning taking place during the night.
Introduced later in the short film is Tom, a well-known athlete with endorsements and businesses, in a troubled state due to his interaction with law enforcement. We learn that Tom was driving under the influence, 20mph over the speed limit. Though it was not his drunk driving that nearly ended his life, it was his encounter with police.
His contempt for cops becomes evident when Tu brings Lamont, a black police officer, to a friend gathering. Nevertheless, Lamont proceeds not only to hold Tom accountable for drunk driving, but he is the only one that points out that he might need some serious help.
The final scene shows Tom hanging himself, while Brittany and Dominick seemingly prepare to loot a black-owned business. The business owner, Nicole, pleads with the two to spare her business. But as the two continue to resist, Nicole storms off to call the police.
In seven short minutes of content, Devoted Media Group was able to capture the unspoken dynamics of our lived experiences, including code-switching, protesting, black police, and mental health.
Acknowledging the presence of code-switching is something only a member belonging to the black community could grasp. Code-switching is the changing of one’s demeanor in ways that optimize the comfort of white America in exchange for fair and equal treatment. In 2012, a clip of President Barack Obama went viral, showing a clear difference in how he greeted the white assistant coaches versus the way he greeted the Black NBA players. In this example, we see that he “switches” how he welcomes people based on if they are White or Black. Psychological traumas that hinder our personal and professional well-being accompany such changes in our being, Code-switching neutralizes our blackness, turning it into something shameful.
Such toxic experiences are why Black Americans in the workplace are actively putting our blackness on display. Whether through our hair or our Jordan’s, blacks are steadily beginning to rebuke the respectability politics created by and for the dominant culture. It is not our job to create an environment that is favorable for white America.
The current Black Lives Matter movement that is sweeping our globe has brought about differing outlooks on protests.
Jolted out of its pandemic stupor was America on May 25, 2020, when a video surfaced, showing the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. It still sends chills down my spine as I recall this grown man crying out for his mama. Worldwide his cry was heard, and protests soon began to break out, spreading like wildfire from the United States, to England, to New Zealand.
In some ways, this dramatic cycle of events is familiar. It echoes the reaction seen in Ferguson, in Dallas, in Louisville, and in every city bubbling with anger at police killings. Protesting has a long-standing history dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.
Only time will tell whether this wave of protest is genuinely different, or whether black Americans have merely thirsted for so long that we are drinking sand. But what we do know is that the blaze is intense. And with new, powerful forces at play in this current era (i.e., sophisticated surveillance, real-time communications, citizen journalism, and crowd fundraising), Americans are no longer willing to accept the failing efforts of our state and federal government in matters of racial inequality or the current global pandemic.
Additionally, we must also consider the current socio-political climate in our nation as we unpack the global protests taking root. The current inhabitant of the White House has dismissed, discredited, and disallowed the pain of isolation, death, sickness, fear, poverty, and anxiety.
For the first time in a long time, our polarized and plural populace experienced an extrajudicial murder collectively and almost in real-time. At the same time, we are all living through the same collective state failures around COVID-19. As a people, we were ready. We are frustrated and enraged, and understand that the line must be drawn by any means necessary.
In unpacking these forms of protest, we must reckon with law enforcement, and the fury their actions seem to evoke as we continue to watch the same story, with a different name on a different day.
In the short film, though, Devoted Media Group grapples with the subject of Black cops. Tu, Tom’s friend, brings his friend Lamont to a friend gathering. After learning that he is a police officer, Tu says, “he’s a good cop.” The phrase “good cop” is very telling, as is the need to disclose it immediately.
As Blacks, we know us. We get us. We are not scared of us because we do not see each other’s Black bodies as weapons. Our Black skin does not evoke fear. Though, for law enforcement, our blackness disproportionately warrants an excuse to “shoot to kill,” and it is due to this normality that the Black community collectively fears a blue uniform and gold badge.
But is it right to fear each other, color for color?
Built off of the weaponization of our skin is the system of law enforcement. Their mere presence in society capitalizes off of my skin seen as animal-like. Black lives were not created to criminalize “blue ones.” Black lives are not killing “blue lives” at alarming rates, and most definitely are not found not guilty with or without a tape showing our guilt. Black lives are surely not in existence to police and kill “those out of order.”
Lamont, the Black cop, says, “I’m not your enemy.” And while he’s right, on a personal level, he is wrong on a professional one. You are not our enemy, but your badge and uniform are, and therein lies the problem. How do we separate the symbol from the person? More importantly, how has this created system necessitated a need for Black Americans to distinguish the person from the badge?
Lastly, this short seven-minute film dares to tackle a topic that is just beginning to become less taboo in our culture: mental health. We learn at the close of the film that Tom has hanged himself. Tom’s untimely end in the short film is akin to Kalief Browder and the unfortunate circumstance surrounding his death.
Kalief Browder spent three years on New York’s Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime. Arrested and accused of stealing a backpack in the spring of 2010, sixteen-year-old Browder insisted he did not commit this crime. Over a thousand days went by without a trial, a clear violation of the speedy trial clause of the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution. Of his three years on Rikers Island, two of them were spent in solitary confinement–a breeding ground for psychological damage to speed up like splitting cells. Sadly, Browder was unable to outpace his long and dismaying experience with law enforcement and decided to take his own life. His mother found his dead body hanging in their backyard from a cord made from his bedsheets.
While White people see law enforcement as a force that will protect them, people of color, especially Black people, see a force that is more likely to do the opposite. And the long-term effects are traumatic and sometimes deadly.
Such negative displays of “living while Black” influence our psychological and emotional intelligence. We are regularly asked, as Blacks, to justify our presence in a White space, a process that is dehumanizing at its core. Such adverse consequences are why mental health should be fundamental in our community.
More striking is data representing that there were more suicides among black children ages 5 to 11 than among their white counterparts. Exposure to racial inequality is one of the risk factors for suicide. Saving our children means opening a safe space to begin the conversation surrounding mental health in black children and adults.
All in all, PTFO closely engages with a great deal of pressing themes throughout the Black community and our world. More importantly, Devoted Media Group and other Black creatives alike are taking a critical stance as it pertains to the telling of our stories. Though the Black experience is not a monolith, it merits careful handling from those within proximity of our insights at large. In telling a story, it is essential to ask who is doing the telling and for what? I firmly believe that in the telling of Black stories, we must turn to Black creatives with a burning passion to unpack our experiences from a firsthand point of view. Otherwise, such intricate and intimate details are left out and open for a skewed, oppressive, and criminal re-telling.