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Question Bridge At UMass Amherst

Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair, Question Bridge: Black Males, 2008-2011, video installation.

Black Males Get The Conversation Going

by John P. Stapleton

Over the past few years, there has been an ongoing conversation about race in the United States. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is rallying against the shooting deaths of black Americans by police officers and is constantly met with controversy from those who don’t find the problem to be about race. Despite where one stands on the issue, a lot of the backlash against the aforementioned movement touts negative stereotypes about black men in America, but also ignores the realities that marginalize them.

The travelling video exhibit, “Question Bridge: Black Males,” explores this and simply examines what it’s like growing up as a black man in America. Directed by Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith, Kamal Sinclair and Chris Johnson, the video was released in 2012 after piecing together testimonies from over 150 men in the years between 2008 and 2011. It is described as a documentary, but the five channel video installation is much more than that.

Each channels plays its own part of the video as various men appear and give answers to the topics of black male life in America. The men are from all different backgrounds and ages, but are able to express the similarities of how the public perception of their manhood has affected them. The topics range from the socio-economic factors that black communities find themselves in to the internal struggle with sexual orientation that gay men face.

Each man is recorded with a close-up as he talks about his personal experience and ideas of why these struggles exist and what they do to black men. Often, only one screen will be active, giving the man his own monologue, but then the next speaker will appear, bringing life to the conversation as he extends upon the previous account. The filmmakers were aiming to use video as the most frank way to get the conversation going and to get all of the raw thoughts into the discourse.

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