DAIS x Great Big Story X MAI

"Am I a Man", a short film

By Sol Guy

I believe that our hearts have become atrophied and our emotions numbed to the most pressing social issues of our time. Thus, we’ve become incapable of reacting and have begun to feel helpless.  When in fact, we all possess the ability to make radical change in the world.  I believe that the first kernel of change is conversation. Conversations becomes action and action changes the story. The question becomes how do we activate these conversations?  At DAIS we make art.

When I read Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy,I was blown away. Then I had privilege to see him speak. This man is a master orator, able to awaken minds through his words, work and wisdom. The people I admire most are those who commit themselves to be in service to others.  When I encounter these extraordinary people, I feel that it’s my duty to find a way to amplify their work so others can be as inspired as I’ve been.

Last year the crew at DAIS had the privilege of producing Color of Reality that featured the movement of Lil Buck and Jon Boogz, the artwork of Alexa Meade and music of Wondagurl.  The combination of creative disciplines allowed people to view a social issue from a new perspective. MAI – Movement Art Is was born, the piece went viral and we immediately started thinking about how we could speak to other social issues within this format.  Prisons were an obvious start and the words of Bryan Stevenson started to ring out in my head. 

1 in 3 black men in the United states will be in the prison system in their lifetime.  

The USA is the only country in the world that sentences a 13-year-old to life in prison without parole.  

How can this be possible we asked ourselves and so the creative process began. Jon Boogz, Lil Buck, Rafe Scobe-Thal and I began to write. We started to craft the story and dial in a concept that would work.  Then we asked Great Big Story if they would co-produce to ensure we reached as many eyes, ears and hearts as possible.

To create, you must collaborate, and to that point I’ve found that when you create meaningful narratives the best artists in the world will show up and contribute in ways that the existing structure and commerce driven model doesn’t usually allow. Why exactly? Well that’s a story for another day….

Next came the music - Coup Coo Nation started it all in DAIS’ Alchemy studios. From there they passed the ball to King Mez who alley ooped to Francis Got Heat for a 360 onehanded drum filled dunk.  Then we laid Bryan’s famous Ted Talk into the track and started to chop and mix with young artist, David Ariza on the boards.  As we got closer to shooting the idea, we reached out to the incomparable, Hank Willis Thomas whose art speaks directly to the issue.  Again, he was down to help. It wasn’t until after the shoot and had the first cut, that we realized we needed to speak to Bryan Stevenson in person. So, we sat down for an interview. And here we are today.

I share this process as a reminder to the nature of collaboration and to emphasize that we must find new ways to talk about the most pressing issues of our time.  Our medium is art; everyone has a medium - What’s yours? 

Finally, when asked how he manages to continue his work each and every day (when he literally spends most of his time in jails with the forgotten of society) Bryan Stevenson said there are four steps we can all take to change the world.

  • Get Closer to the issue -   This means get off your phone and out in the world with real people
  • Change the narrative – Find alternate ways to approach the issue – This is where the creative mind wins
  • Remain hopeful – One of the hardest things to do but absolutely necessary
  • Get uncomfortable.  – Get out of the familiar as discomfort is essential to real and lasting change. 
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