Does art have to say something?
That’s been the question floating around in mind for quite a while now. As a creative person (i.e. a person allergic to deadlines) I like to think that everything I do is unique and free of reason. We’re all mini geniuses, just itching to release ourselves upon the great wide world, right? But, what if we allowed ourselves as more than just …well, ourselves? Here’s what I mean: every step we take forward, or backward, can have a lasting effect on the world around us. Forget to turn on the coffee pot and your day is off, you forget an important task, and your team at work is held back. On the flip side, imagine if you hadn’t forgotten the coffee?
I think the same logic applies to art; what we do ripples out, whether we’re ready for it or not. Many times we (I) think of art as a means to an end. If I can get great at the thing, then the thing will bring me freedom, i.e. money, and I’ll never have to struggle again. But, again, what if we thought of our endeavors as a means to create more ripples? Sure, none of us live in a reality totally divested from capitalism. However, I do think it’s possible to create from a space removed from merely trying to become famous.
Whether we like it or not, the art we make does something to people. It inspires, it pushes the viewer to ask questions, it can make the recipient feel lighter or uncomfortable. So, if it’s going to say something, why not lean into it and work with a little intention?
I pose this question to hold up art in the medium of film that has done something – said something – to me. From the 100+ years of Black performers on screen, I have learned to be a little bolder in what I make. I have been moved to infuse a bit of myself into every project, so that when I’m gone there’s something left behind that mattered.
Without further ado – here are the performances by Black people who meant something to me. Enjoy!