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Hudson Valley Press – News for NY’s Hudson Valley

“What Black Men Think”

Kelly Y Alexander  – Freelance Writer

Discussions about stereotypes surrounding Black men are not new. But the refreshing approach intent on reversing these negative images that the new film “What Black Men Think” gives off is both new and newsworthy. It is the film’s stark intellectual quality, it’s brutal honesty and sharp commentary by some of America’s most brilliant minds and the impressive control the director has over it that create a most provocative and insightful documentary film worthy of notable mention. After viewing the movie, I was reminded of the famous quote, “just because the movie ends doesn’t mean the story does.”

“What Black Men Think” is a black diamond of a film, naturalistic and smartly done; an accomplished piece of first-time filmmaking that knows exactly what it wants to do and then goes out and does it. It is a beautifully calibrated model of political and social documentary filmmaking, made with deft and intelligence. The feelings it goes for are almost never the easy and obvious ones; it simply keeps pushing questions and myths forward putting Black men on display and daring you to be indifferent to it, and the levers it presses are all the more effective for that.

Janks Morton has shot a series of strong interviews with local residents of Washington, D.C. and with a number of highly respected Black professional and public figures who have been ringside to witness the creation and perpetual damage stereotypes have had on the image of Black men and how these stereotypes have seeped so deep into the public psyche. He craftily includes government reports from the Census Bureau and Justice Department to help uncover the stereotypes while cleverly connecting the fact that this misinformation has and is being perpetuated by the government, mainstream media and even Black political leaders.

Black American culture is a culture that greatly admires oratory, and this is what gives the film its poignancy; it’s interviews with a diverse group of intellectuals, journalists, doctors and politicians as well as with everyday people. The film’s message manages to not get lost in any one political or economic spectrum; the message of those interviewed was most often the same. Another effective element of the film is the director’s ability to not interfere, manipulate nor stage his subjects during the interviews. Instead, Mr. Morton poses questions like; Are there more Black men in college or jail? What is the leading cause of death within the Back community, and then allows his camera to unobtrusively observe and record the feedback. And though the answers that are uncovered in the film are arresting, it is in fact, a side light to why this film is so important. For what this film really focuses on are what Black people think about themselves and how one generation ago the Black community at large did not have the social and economic woes it faces today.

But potent as that is on that level, “What Black Men Think” is even more effective when the director personalizes the film’s message by asking the viewing audience “What will you do now that you have this information?” In other words, only Black America can stop the media from distorting their images, stop the government from pervasively echoing it and stop letting Black leadership exploit them. For at its heart this film is a story about a people caught between mendacity and disconnection. As told in this singular film, this story becomes not only Black America’s story, but in many ways America’s story of the past 400 years.

Interview with producer Janks Morton

The first time I met Janks Morton he wore a striking royal blue dress shirt, had impeccable manners and that bright-eyed energy of a first-time filmmaker eager to promote and build support for his film. Three months later I finally caught up with him again in hopes of getting an interview to find out how well the film was doing and how well the director was doing. I expected to see him in his trademark royal blue dress shirt but instead he arrived at the café wearing a white Fonzie T-shirt, jeans and 3 months of jet lag on his face. After a warm embrace and some flirtatious teasing we sat down together over bagels, cream of broccoli soup and a really big soda to discuss his film “What Black Men Think”.

How and why did you choose to profile the people featured in the film? How did you meet and develop a relationship with them, and gain access to them?

As you look throughout the history of Black people in America, we have always had complimentary voices with somewhat differing ideologies, but all with the goal of advancing our people. As you look at the state of Black America today, and those luminaries who would propose solutions for our empowerment, there is a significant number of “voices” I believe that have been omitted from discussion, all of whom whose ultimate goal is the advancement of our people.

I don’t know if I would call it a relationship, however I will say, because most of the gentlemen in the film are truly vested in the long term success of the community, once I explained to them the thesis of proposition advanced in the film, all of them said “I’m IN!” relatively quick. Most of these men are pretty accessible. It’s pretty simple to look up their credentials, find out which academic, or political institution they are associated with, and get access at least to their AA’s and most times them directly.

What impact do you hope this film will have?

It is my sincere hopes that this film will jump-start the conversations, which I believe are already happening, but kept quiet in the community. We have been so conditioned since the late 1960’s to focus on ourselves, and to stay out of other peoples business, that while we shake our heads in disappointment at some of the less desirable behaviors in the community ( i.e. pants hanging around your knee caps), if we look back just 40 years ago, the Black community had to have a dignity, respect and morality to condemn a system that has treated us immorally.

Most filmmakers work with material that has a personal connection for them. How personal was this film?

I’m a black man! (smile). My preface to the whole discussion throughout the film is that there is an undeclared civil war happening between black men and black women, and that while the myths, stereotypes and misperceptions we have of one another may fuel our division, the community really needs to understand that our division is a profitable industry for government, the media and some Black leadership.

What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?

Passion. You don’t sleep, you don’t eat, you forget birthdays and all kind of things when you are passionate and focused on your project. I think the hardest thing for me would have been to try and make a work of fiction. While story telling is necessary, the real expression of our people, unscripted, unrehearsed and freely assembled, has so much more passion and drama than some overly dramatized Hollywood script.

If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can make anything for $40 Million’ what film, if any, would you make?

Great question! I say constantly that this project isn’t really about me, and it really isn’t about the film. It’s about the reclamation of the Black community, the Black family and Black men from the distorted imagery, false information and misperceptions that contribute to the divisions among us. Another film, maybe, moreover something that further instills our heritage and our history so that we can continue to overcome….together.

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