Filmmaker Mark Anthony Green Talks 'Fair Use Vol. 1' Project + Other Black Ass Things
The ways we archive blackness should be as dynamic, infinite and mutable as blackness itself. The way we preserve blackness should also be as dynamic, infinite and mutable as the domination that may seek to make blackness vanish.
In some of my most mundane hours of thinking about culture, I think about all that we don’t know. I think about how in genocides, the library and the museums are often the first things to be burned to the ground; there is evil in genocide, but there is a tortured cruelty that is unique when one lights a match to a library. This is not a mistake; once you erase the art and the wisdom of a people, you’ve erased a people successfully and entirely. You have a blank canvas, although bloody, to revise history and truth the way you most see fit. In these hours, I imagine they’d say, “That isn’t blackness. No, that’s a blank chalkboard for us to mark white discoveries, histories and ideas on.” Peep game.
At about 10 p.m. at night, there was a website link with no explanation dropped into the most sacred place on my phone which is my text message inbox. Usually, skeptical and curious, I clicked the link without asking for much explanation. It directed me to Mark Anthony Green’s website that held a video called “Fair Use Vol. 1”. I clicked the link. What I saw was a compilation of some of the most esoteric and viral moments in black culture, side by side, begging to be turned into a narrative, but forcing no conclusion onto you. It was a noir psychedelic, an ebony-drenched DMT trip; I arrived back from the trip more sound and curious in my blackness.
The creator of “Fair Use Vol. 1,” which has recently been featured in this year’s Art Basel, is 28 year-old Mark Anthony Green who is a writer for GQ Magazine and an artist that graduated from Morehouse. I got the chance to take a peek into his mind and ask him questions about his process, the importance of archiving black moments and the state of blackness today, you know, light work.
Okayplayer: “Fair Use Vol. 1” does a lot of things well, but one of the things it has done most well, to me, is show the diversity in blackness. What do you think is the function of displaying a diverse set of ways blackness can exist?
Mark Anthony Green: I don't think I really understood the depths of blackness's diversity until I went to Morehouse, which is kind of ironic, considering it's an all-black, all-male school where everyone is relatively the same age. But it was just as diverse as any college or university. I think it's important to celebrate blackness—all blackness. So, though it may seem like there's a universe between Juvenile's "Back That Ass Up"and Stokely Carmichael talking about white liberals, there really isn't. It's all black. And it's all important.
OKP: The reoccurring clip of James Brown’s interview was a continuous thread throughout the film. When asked the cause of "all of this trouble," he sings "living in America." I took this as a more global and political statement. I am curious, in your imagination, on a more personal and intimate level, what is troubling you?
MAG: Well, I'm not stoked about [Donald] Trump. And by not stoked I mean depressed, infuriated and terrified. So, I'd start there [laughs]. I don't know, man. I didn't really want to focus on the negative stuff. I started making this in April—it released in November. I wanted to make something that made people—all people, black, white, orange—proud. I'm so proud to be a black man, "Living in America," but it's tough sometimes. Folks like Bill O'Reilly don't make it easy. Nor do people like Clarence Thomas. So, it's complicated, but it's beautiful. And I really hope I did that—make something that highlights exactly how beautiful black America is.
OKP: The film reminded me of visual essays of the late '80s and early '90s by people like Essex Hemphill and Marlon Riggs. Who were your inspirations while putting together this project?
MAG: That's such a compliment. Honestly, I'm inspired by the people around me the most. My business partner, Warren; my girlfriend Sinead, the boys I coach in basketball; my mother who is tiny and militant and pretty awesome. When something bad happens, say the millionth police shooting this year, they're the first people I talk to. So when I make anything, it's them I'm thinking about.
OKP: I described the film as a black psychedelic pill, an ebony-version of a DMT trip. What was your hope for the film as you were creating it and what was your hope for the film as you saw it to completion?
MAG: I try not to put expectations on things as I make them. "Just focus on the work, Mark Anthony." Our Art Director at GQ, Fred Woodward, always says that. Just focus on the work. And I've gotten pretty good at that. Once I finished it, I think I just wanted it to make people happy for a moment. It's 30 minutes, which in the internet era is a long time. If you can feel good, feel motivated, feel proud, feel celebrated for 30 minutes, then I feel like I did something. But, to be honest, that's far less important to me than the project itself. The work comes first. Always.
OKP: Reviewing the film and going through so much content must have been exhausting and things must have been missing that you either forgot/didn’t think of until the project was done. Who is missing from the film that was unintentional? Any plans to remedy this with a part two?
MAG: Every clip and the clips around it are there to say something. It's like sequencing a song. Sure you could play other notes but to get that song, that message across, it needed to be specific. So, I wouldn't say it's missing anything. I guess it all depends on what you think the video is trying to accomplish. If you think it's a highlight reel of every dope black American than you're kind of missing the point. Also: a video with every dope black American would be at least 50 to 60 hours.
OKP: You added clips of Wanda Sykes grappling with being gay, as well as clips of RuPaul and James Baldwin. These are noted people that have lived in the intersection of queerness and blackness. Why did you so clearly add these black people when historically black queer people have been excluded from black narratives?
MAG: I think often times when we talk about blackness, we overlook and under celebrate the black gay experience. Maybe that's by choice—black America still grappling with its own bigotry. Maybe it's just coincidence. But I wanted to be deliberate about that. Some of our brightest voices were gay men and women. Take Baldwin for example. He was a gay, black, atheist living in the 40's and 50's. Can you think of anyone lonelier than that? You can't tell the black narrative without talking about the gay narrative. But then again, you can't tell any human narrative without talking about the gay narrative.
OKP: You put moments next to each other that some might deem academic and others too casual to take up the same space (ex. Juvenille and Ava). Why did you put these socially respectable and socially non-respectable moments in one film?
MAG: Two sides of the same super beautiful and super black coin, my man.
OKP: What is the importance of archiving black moments and work?
MAG: It's kind of like the Black History Month argument: Why do we need a Black History Month? I'd love for us to not need Black History Month. But until America rewrites every history book, we need Black History Month. For many complex reasons the black story is still untold—our history still divorced from American history. People like Ta-Nehisi Coates are doing their part. People like Dave Chappelle and Steve McQueen are doing their part. I just wanted to start to do mine.
OKP: “Fair Use Vol. 1” has us grapple with the black past and present. What do you envision for the black future?
MAG: Canadian migration! [Laughs] No I think black America will continue to surprise us. Frank Ocean surprised us with that incredible album. Solange surprised us. LeBron surprised. Barack and Michelle [Obama] amazed us. Van Jones inspired us. The list goes on [and] I think we'll continue to be great and beautiful.
Watch the "Fair Use Vol. 1" in full below and share your thoughts with us in the comments section.
Myles E. Johnson is an Atlanta, Georgia based storyteller. He is also the creator of the literary project, Dear Giovanni. You can follow him on Twitter @HausMuva.