At this point, there has been (and will be) countless accounts of Baltimore's Uprising this past April which happened in response to the Baltimore City Police Department's alleged killing of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. In a great deal of national news coverage, rioters, protestors and even children were painted as savage and unruly while smaller outlets like VICE came to film how the music scene responded to the events. Back in May, we premiered Baltimore-based filmmaker Theo Anthony's "Peace In The Absence of War", a dialogue-free short film which surveyed across the city, zeroing in on the faces of police officers, National Guard members, media and others' expressions throughout various events during The Uprising. Still, there has yet to be an in-the-action account shared from the perspective of Baltimoreans. During the unrest, filmmaker Malaika Aminata felt compelled to organize an Artivism (art and activism) march to not only combat the injustices that citizens suffered long before Freddie Gray's death, but to use creative expression as a way to reel people in to these issues. While doing so, she filmed these artists interacting with the community and now has a documentary to share, titled "Not About A Riot."
The film is being previewed in Baltimore this Sunday at EMP Collective to raise funds for its production and distribution and to get an understanding of its creation and intentions, I had a quick conversation with Aminata.
You were actively organizing during The Uprising. Did you feel a responsibility to your community to do so?
Malaika Aminata: I think I felt a responsibility to myself formost. During that time, emotions were super intense and I knew I had to do something productive with the energy I was feeling just in order to function. At first I felt helpless and completely overwhelmed, but then I started to think about how I could contribute to being part of the solution. Thats when the idea to organize an "Artivism" ( art + activism) march came up. That's also the reason I decided to make sure I was capturing what was happening. I did it because others needed it, but it was just as much needed for me.
The usual idea of someone organizing during something like what happened in April is to protest against injustice and discrimination but what you were involved in seemed to be more about promoting art. Why?
It was still very much focused around injustice and discrimination as well as a bunch of other issues. Art was just the language being used. Why art? So people listen.
Would you consider the pushing of this film to be an act of protest within itself? Like, dispelling the notion that Baltimoreans were destructive and unruly during the unrest?
I don't think it necessarily dispels that notion, it's just does not focus on that aspect because in the grand scheme of things, that isn't the part that really matters. There are much more critical questions. What matters is why. If someone is destructive, why? If someone was looting, why? What are the conditions that causes this reaction in the first place, and how can we change those?
I was living in Bolton Hill at the time on a super ritzy street with a chain that blocks people off from entering and a gazebo nobody touched, but right across the street is public housing. People were definitely taking things but what I saw being taken were mostly everyday necessities: toilet paper, diapers, laundry detergent, etc. You don't take those things if you don't need them.
Through the process of making "Not About A Riot" what did you learn about yourself?
I learned I truly love the city of Baltimore and the people who make it beautiful. I learned to use sadness and frustration as a means to create on a grand scale. I learned to ask for help.
What did you see art and music do for the people of Baltimore during such a vulnerable time?
I saw art do what it always does: communicate messages to people who wouldn't normally listen. But, this time, the message was clear and very intentional. The city was on the same page, everyone was singing the same song. That doesn't always happen but when it does, the impact is undeniable.
Why is it important for people to see "Not About A Riot"?
For people who experienced it, I'm not sure it's as necessary to see it as it is a necessity to remember what happened during that time, to remember the power of unifying, to remember there's still work do. But, I guess the film makes you recall all those things. So in that case, it's very important for people to see "Not About A Riot". It's very important to see it over and over again. I also think it's important to tell the truth. And for people who weren't there to know some of it. I think the film helps with that.
"Not About A Riot" will be screening in Baltimore, this Sunday, at EMP Collective to help raise money for post-production and distribution. For more information on the event and how to help, visit the film's Indiegogo page.