The beautifully close cropped faces staring into the camera for Common’s latest video for Black America Again dare the viewer to look each subject directly in the eye. Their gaze is strong, inquisitive and evocative; you quickly get the sense that their gaze is knowingly somehow directed at you, challenging you to see them as complex individuals with unique stories, lives and purpose, not as a monolith.
The long play video directed by Bradford Young, a frequent collaborator and cinematographer for Ava DuVernay, features a cinematic pastiche of vivid imagery that travels time and space yet firmly plants the viewer in present realities shaped by history.
A woman in flowing white lace slowly sings the spiritual “Lay Down Body” while looking at a memorial mural for Freddie Gray. She repeats the refrain “Lay Down a Little While…”as she walks through a Baltimore neighborhood greeting neighbors and keeping time with a tambourine. This prelude to a ring shout harkens back to a tradition of protest and healing that is firmly planted in the present with hints of cosmic connections to the future (the group sings a line from George Clinton’s “Star Child”during the ring shout).
“Brainwashed in the cycle of spin, we write our own story, Black America Again”
As Common waxes poetic on the systematic brutalities of mass incarceration, disparities in wealth and police brutality during an impassioned duet with a djembe drummer, we are again given brief glimpses into the future in the beautiful faces of children playing together with a teacher in a park and in the faces that fill the frame at the end of the video.
The 20 minute piece is an emotive, cinematic journey that manages to capture black lives in a lush simplicity that imparts genuine warmth. With this video, Common gives us a rich look into the past with a hopeful nod to the future. Healing is necessary and possible.
I needed to see this video today and the new album will be on repeat for several days.
Artistically, I geeked out when I realized the work of some of the visual artists associated with this video and the album have been featured right here on Culture Shock Art or in pieces written for others by yours truly. Love the creative synergies at work! ~ Colony
Ring Shout Leader: Rashida Bumbray
Album Cover Art: Lorna Simpson