The Knockturnal caught up with mogul Russell Simmons, activist Donté Clark, and director Jason Zeldes ahead of the June 28th premiere of their ground breaking film, “Romeo is Bleeding.”
In a much needed conversation, the group discussed every issue addressed in the film- from the current defunding of the arts program and self love, down to making sure your voice is heard and valued.
This film combines 15th century literature with issues affecting the black community today. Could you speak more to Shakespearean element of the film?
Donté: Pretty much just telling the story of what is going on in your own environment. I didn’t really study Shakespeare much but from what I have gathered he just touched on themes that affected that time period and that city by telling his tale of Romeo and Juliet and all of his other masterpieces that he wrote at that time. He spoke to those people using language that they can understand or not understand but forced them to understand and it’s like well that’s our culture period- with hip hop and anything else we do. We talk about what’s going on in our community using words and clothes and how we walk to explain where this comes from so that’s pretty much what we did.
Russell: Well for me, that story has been told so many times and it’s always the same. The human experience doesn’t change. You get new technology and new toys and all that but we’re still human beings. We still have this struggle and this effort to try and move towards a better happier place but we get lost. That’s the one thing about humans too we just make the same mistakes over and over again. But as individuals we have a chance to make something different. And I think through art, a lot of people get a chance to find themselves and their true selves which is much higher than what the collective is doing, they walk away from what everyone else is doing because they are artist and they look inside and found something greater and that’s the example for him. This story is kind of typical because we have struggle but it’s kind of atypical the way he got himself out of struggle. There are a lot of people who survive, there are a lot of people who survive, there are a lot of young people in the hood who don’t go to jail and die. Some of them don’t have a lot of resources or ways out and art has saved many of them. It’s a shame that the Trump administration and the previous administration actually allowed the dismantling of the art program on a national level. But Trump is now pulling more money which is insane because without poetry and things like that school collapse and our system falls apart. But this movie is a phenomenal experience because it touches you I don’t care where you’re from. And it’s his, you’ll see him transform and you’ll understand his transformation and he’s grown to an activist instead of a drug dealer, to a support system to his community instead of a detriment to his community, and he did that through his poetry.
The film highlights an element of intersectionality with the story of D’neise dealing with race and gender in one. Can you touch on the intersectional elements of the film?
Donté: The things that young men go through as far as how do we become men in this environment where you’re either prey or predator but not really talking about how the women are affected by that. Our mothers, the women we become partners with and produce these children, the sisters of these young men who are either in jail or shot- these young women are affected by what’s going on as well, if not beat down the most by the world and our community so just to have that piece of mind. You have me talking about what I’m going through, her talking about what she’s going through and it’s related because she’s from Central and I’m from north Richmond and that’s the Montague Capulet theme. And out love is poetry and just wanting to move our family forward by expressing ourselves, so that combined with environmental racism, there are a lot of different things that tie into it but it also brings us together.
On what they want viewers to take away from the film:
Donté: Think, speak and be loved and that’s the solution to all problems we have. Whether you’re in a position of power or you feel like you don’t have any power. When you think love and you speak from that perspective you’ll move in that direction. That will be the solution
Russell: It’s about you are not powerless you are powerful and you have to make that decision. It’s about what your thoughts are. You can go out and be a revolutionary and all of that but if your heart hasn’t transformed it’s a waste. You become the oppressor next, you become the same negative impact on community or on your family but if you personally change your life you can change the world.
Jason Zeldes, Director
What went into directing a film like this?
This is a really organic experience for me. Being my first time directing a film it stemmed out of an old relationship with my cousin, Molly, who is in the film. She moved to Richmond ten years ago and started teaching poetry and Donté was her first student and so I saw from ten years back from when he was first introduced the growth of this incredible artist. So Molly introduced me to Donté and we started talking and over the course of a couple years it was obvious we needed to collaborate on something. So it was an incredible opportunity to document one of my favorite artist on the beginning of this journey and I’m just really excited to see what the film can do for him and the community of Richmond.
On directing an ethnographic centered film:
I think that my experiences leading up to this kind of prepared me for navigating those waters. I’ve been working for years with Morgan Neville, a documentary filmmaker in Los Angeles, he taught me and so many other mentors taught me how to really do the job correctly. Donté’s story is a story I feel like I really needed to tell. There is no question if I was going to make this movie or not.You dig into the meaning of the poetry and it takes you into these big issues and my job as a filmmaker at this point is to really study and understand the issues he’s writing about so you can present a fare largely unbiased view so you get to see the poetry through his eyes. So that was the approach and hopefully it worked.
What viewers should take away:
For the youth who see the film or most excited for them to see the examples that Donté is setting forth and just to realize that everyone has a voice and you spend some time getting to know your voice and please share it because everyone has value in that way. And I’m just excited for everyone to see Donté becaus