June 26, 2014
By Amen Oyiboke
LAWT Contributing Writer
Dreams Are Colder Than Death explores the concept of being Black through the perceptions of the African-American community.
Showcased at the LA Film Festival director Arthur Jafa created the documentary to open up discussion about the current state of mind in Black society. Throughout the documentary multiple people weighed in on black sensitivity and purpose. This subject alone is something that quite often circulates in my mind.
I’ve always wondered what the meaning of being African-American in a White ran society actually meant. At times, I would question myself, “What does it mean to be Black in America?”
Jafa attempts to answer questions like mine by using voices of professors Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Magic City exotic dancer Portia Jordan, poet Fred Moten and countless other intuitive people. The documentary evaluates the state of societal mindsets for African-Americans, especially during a time where we have a Black president and Black advancement in multiple areas; but we still see major racial disparities in wealth, mentalities and in the prison system greatly.
This film opens up the conversations that many people tend to shy away from because society believes we live in a post-racial time. In our society, the concept of blackness seems to be unacceptable. Acting “Black” or associating yourself with what people think Black culture is and suppose to be usually leaves outsiders judging the value of our race. The symbols and generalizations that come with being Black devalue, hinder, and criminalize the whole group. One of the strongest points stated in the film said, “We have to find the symbols that coincide with blackness and stop them.” Everyday African-American people mentally store and put to use these same symbols related to the persona of being black.
Throughout the film, the subjects of the documentary were never filmed in on-camera interviews. Jafa opted to an audio-image route that left an artistic frame for the entirety of the film. The documentary was a rolling display of b-roll footage capturing the everyday life and eye-opening pictures of culture and Black history.
Jafa did a great job with capturing in depth interviews and intense close-ups of deep contours of black skin, lips, eyes, and hair; but I still found myself in a puddle of confusion. The complexity of the film is not for the faint hearted. To truly process the depth of this film it must be watched more than once. The heavy use of symbols of the universe and how they coincide with black culture left me thinking about what those symbols actually meant.
After the screening, Jafa had a panel discussion about his views on “abnormativity” and how some African-American function under a “White-gaze.” “Black people function under a white gaze when it comes to survival modalities’. We have to recognize that we’re functioning under what we think is right for a white mentality and separate ourselves from the view and evaluate our own outlook.”