Enquanto filmava a monumental minissérie The Underground Railroad, o diretor Barry Jenkins também começou a trabalhar em The Gaze, um filme não-narrativo que parece existir naqueles momentos dos filmes do diretor em que os personagens extrapolam suas próprias histórias e olham o próprio espectador nos olhos.
In my years of doing interviews and roundtables and Q&A’s for the various films we’ve made, there is one question that recurs. No matter the length of the piece or the tone of the room, eventually, inevitably, I am asked about the white gaze. It wasn’t until a very particular interview regards The Underground Railroad that the blindspot inherent in that questioning became clear to me: never, in all my years of working or questioning, had I been set upon about the Black gaze; or the gaze distilled.
I don’t remember when we began making the piece you see here. Which is not and should not be considered an episode of The Underground Railroad. It exists apart from that, outside it. Early in production, there was a moment where I looked across the set and what I saw settled me: our background actors, in working with folks like Ms. Wendy and Mr. and Mrs. King – styled and dressed and made up by Caroline, by Lawrence and Donnie – I looked across the set and realized I was looking at my ancestors, a group of people whose images have been largely lost to the historical record. Without thinking, we paused production on the The Underground Railroad and instead harnessed our tools to capture portraits of… them.
What flows here is non-narrative. There is no story told. Throughout production, we halted our filming many times for moments like these. Moments where… standing in the spaces our ancestors stood, we had the feeling of seeing them, truly seeing them and thus, we sought to capture and share that seeing with you. The artist Kerry James Marshall has a series of paintings of ancestors for whom there is no visual record but for whom he has supplied a visual representation of their person. For me, most inspirationally, “Scipio Moorehead, Portrait of Himself, 1776.”
This is an act of seeing. Of seeing them. And maybe, in a soft-headed way, of opening a portal where THEY may see US, the benefactors of their efforts, of the lives they LIVED.