nobody movie_In Look At Me: XXXTentacion, director Sabaah Folayan reveals a divisive legacy

THE FADER: During the Austin Q&A, one of the first things you said when you were brought in to talk about possibly taking the helm of the film was you almost tried to digest the interview. They had quite a lot of reservations about the film and somehow tried to sideline the project because it seemed complicated. What made you push the film away? Why did you feel uncomfortable?

Sabaah Folayan: Well, because the film was made by people who loved it, and there’s a built-in bias. I wouldn’t do it if the expectation was that I shared that bias. The only way I could do it would be if I was able to be totally open and totally honest. When you watch a documentary about a public figure being sanctioned by their estate or camp, the more difficult aspects are often glossed over. And that, in my opinion, would have been a waste of my personal talents, expertise and reputation.

When did you start believing that you could work in such a structure?

I was greeted with enthusiasm when I spoke of being an activist, when I spoke of being a feminist, when I spoke of believing in survivors. I don’t think survivors have any incentive to fabricate these allegations in most cases, and they agreed. And that suggested to me that these were people intelligent at gaining the public’s trust. And they also struck me as people who were sensitive and genuinely cared about what I saw as Jahseh’s core purpose, which is to reach out and touch people on an emotional level and kind of transformation and kind of change in terms of the path to create that mental health, isolation, depression and suicidal thoughts often do not receive the support or treatment they need.

Was that your impression of Jahseh before you got involved in the project?

It was my impression of him, just through loose understanding and sharing on the internet and understanding of the type of milieu. And he’s older than his generation but still kind of understands this evolution of this pain that’s come through music and that’s come into hip-hop. When we see rock and punk and hip-hop mingling in these younger people, you see this thread of genuine pain about the state of the world. Kurt Cobain was one of Jahseh’s favorite influences. And I think in a similar way, this was an artist who seemed to transmute that sense of torture that I think we just don’t pay attention to. So I had this feeling of him, kind of connotative, and then when I started researching it, I really understood how deeply he connected to these ideas.

Cobain is often portrayed as a victim of his own success in an industry gone mad, but that’s not the case with artists like Jahseh. Why do you think this is?

I think the mainstream media is a bit slow to catch up with the complexities and nuances that exist in the Black experience. I think they see an apparition, they see tattoos and they see blackness and they pile up a whole bunch of assumptions and give themselves permission not to dig any deeper.

How were your first conversations with Jahseh’s family? Was it very early in the process that you spoke to Jahseh’s mother?

After the interview with The FADER, Cleo was next. She really was the decision maker in terms of who would be hired to direct. Something told me, just be level with this person and be here first and foremost as a person. So that’s what I did. And I said, “I’m here because my instinct told me to come here and this is something I have to do.” And it was. I felt this really strong gut feeling that this was something I was particularly well positioned to do. From there it opened up into a really, really long conversation. And at that time her grief was so, so raw.

That was a crucial component of this filmmaking and this storytelling. I was wondering if I could use the documentary process to facilitate a kind of catharsis or reconciliation with the narrative of a person’s life that I hope will leave the participants in a slightly better place than I found them? I think that’s the potential of storytelling. I think that’s the potential of interviewing, and that’s how it’s used in other settings as well.

You shared your past experiences, your interest in mental health and how fundamental it is to your process and perspective. First off, how did you find that reflected in conversations with both Cleo and the rest of Jahseh’s family? Were there differences in the way you thought about mental health?

Mental health is everywhere. Even if you don’t specifically talk about it, talk about it. It’s a question of our consciousness and who we are and why we do the things we do. So it wasn’t an explicit thing. There weren’t many moments when we analyzed concepts surrounding mental health. Rather, it was about creating the comfort level to make painful and difficult moments transparent, creating the comfort level for people to grieve during the interviews with me. [For] For a lot of people, it was the first time they’d talked about these things on camera. So there was a raw processing. And I was thankful that I had the preparation to hold that kind of interpersonally. Perhaps a therapist or other professional would have been better qualified, but I was glad I had some of that experience and training. But I think it’s one of those things that was just in the air. And I knew from the start that I wanted this film to speak primarily to a 15-year-old boy. So there wasn’t really much room for some sort of high-level analysis. It had to be embedded in the facts and the emotional twists of the story.

Was the 15-year-old on your mind from the start?

Absolutely. I know how it feels to have nowhere to get your needs met mentally and emotionally because you’re torn between… you’re supposed to be a kid and there’s all this authority, but you have these feelings, these thoughts, these insights , and these experiences, and that’s not really confirmed anywhere. I’ve always seen and felt that need and so it was really exciting because the thing is, the kids are actually listening here and I can meet them where they are and have the conversation with them.

The film doesn’t insist on globalizing every idea, but there are obviously parts of this story that relate to the outside world, to culture more broadly. What are those things that you think are reflected in the story of X that are happening elsewhere – things that maybe aren’t being handled properly?

One of them is housing insecurity. The poverty and isolation faced by many people puts a young woman like Geneva in a situation where she must choose between safety and shelter. Another is the criminal justice system and the way it is used just like a hammer against all kinds of tools, all kinds of problems that really deserve all kinds of solutions. We only have this one shredder. I think those two things are big factors that families across the country are facing and dealing with. Parents who have children who go through these experiences and don’t have the tools they need just end up in the criminal justice system, and that’s pretty unfair. Not only that, but what predicament does that put us in as a country over time if we are unable to meet the needs of the population for various types of social services?

It’s tempting to think that X’s story was a perfect storm of all these troubles, but maybe the problem is that his story is more common than people think?

I think that’s it. I think X was explosive in every way. He was enlarged, his energy was huge. Its power was magnetic. He was able to talk to 10,000 people at once this way, which was just so apt and correct. But I think if you just turn down the energy levels, you have a really, really common history. And that’s why he connected with so many people, because it’s the story of so many people.

How has the response been so far? Was it as you expected?

It was way, way better than I could have expected. I have to be honest, I was scared. I was shocked. I did this project as an act of believing in certain principles, certain guiding principles for the storytelling process. And there was no guarantee that people would actually be able to interpret the intentions I entered. Would they just be too frustrated with the idea of ​​commemorating someone who did something this violent? And so I’m really encouraged so far – critics, fans, men, women domestic abuse survivors, people struggling with mental illness all seem to have found a connection so far to find a place in this film. And that was absolutely my greatest hope and goal and intention. It was about trying to look at this from the perspective of a whole, to try to create a tool and a space where we could meet and have a constructive dialogue.

I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that when acts of violence are committed, we should respond as a community. And I think that’s where #MeToo and the abandonment culture comes in, that’s the intention behind it. I don’t think I’ll be hired for this job unless there’s this cultural pressure. I felt like I could help by continuing the conversation. What happens after this moment of reaction? Where are we going and how are we developing together? And how do we do anything other than polarize ourselves further and further apart?

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