♪♪ ♪♪ -Breathe.
[ Gasps ] [ Sirens wail in distance, horns honk ] [ Helicopter blades whirring ] [ Grunts ] [ Jars rattling ] [ Door bangs ] [ Man shouts in distance ] ♪♪ Oh, God.
♪♪ [ Electricity crackles ] [ Switch clicks, playback stops ] -Wait.
Say that again.
Say it again.
-"She screams her sister's name -- -Sandy.
You took out the one step where she lays her head against the door.
-I think so.
-Look, this is -- this is -- this is what happens, right?
She... All right.
She's on the floor.
-She walks back down a hallway.
She's a little cautious 'cause she's starting to feel like something's wrong.
Sandy hasn't answered her.
She's in this dark space.
-See, that -- that's not -- So, yeah, that's not what you wrote, though.
And -- And I think, like, it's a short scene, and so you want to dramatize it and decide what's important.
But I think what's interesting about this piece, though, is it's about -- it's not about the painting and it is about the painting.
You know, I got family members that haven't been to one of my exhibitions?
-I mean, painting and film are just different.
-Yeah, no, I agree.
An overturned fridge.
Nobody says "condiment," man.
Unless you're talking about the condiment drawer, and that's some straight black... [ Both laugh ] We got to work on it a little bit more, but it's good.
[ Cellphone rings ] -Yeah, yeah.
Um, look, I wanted -- I wanted to just j-- I just want to jump in.
Just so we're on the same page.
-[ Sighs ] ♪♪ That's a call with a actual art gallerist.
Welcome to the art world.
A call familiar, repulsive.
The shrill sound of misunderstanding again.
The false dichotomy between content and form.
The distance between maker and market.
A painter and a poet sanctified by a process and a journey through messages and ideas intended to trouble.
♪♪ I taught myself how to paint by going to museums and looking at images like this.
[ Crowd gasps ] [ Applause ] What is the impact of these kinds of sculptures at museums?
What is the impact of these kinds of paintings on some of our most vulnerable in society?
-Do you worry that visible moves like these might provoke those who complain that so-called woke culture has gone too far, those who say that political correctness shouldn't be dictating what we see and what we consume?
-[ Scoffs ] -You just got a MacArthur Genius grant, and also a lot of collectors want to own your work.
You almost seem disappointed by all of this.
♪♪ -This I can see over there.
Painting, rest, painting, rest.
And then this wall is just, like, this, like, overload of intensity.
[ Camera shutters clicking ] [ Car horns honking ] ♪♪ -We'll be right back in a couple minutes.
-That sold and that sold and that sold.
-It's all gone, dude.
[ Sighs ] You know, with all of the... that's going on in the world right now, the conversation that black artists have been having is, like, these things that we make exist in white spaces, in white people's houses, and they become separate from us and disconnected from us in a way that just feels not just.
But 90% of what I sell doesn't go into you know, black or brown homes.
And that's just, like, true.
[ Sighs ] [ Bell tolls in distance ] [ Door closes ] -I'm just preparing this, uh -- this course on mass incarceration in the United States and the Soviet Union.
-So, what -- what -- what body of my work are you guys gonna use?
-We're thinking of -- I mean, your work, you are explicitly theorizing mass incarceration.
-When I started this, I wasn't making and I've never been making work for anybody outside of people who have experienced that suffering.
And so, like, I always -- in the studio, I'm always imagining the people who've experienced the kinds of things that I've experienced interacting with the thing, right?
And I was naive enough in the beginning of my career to believe that that is where this stuff would reside.
-You really thought that?
[ Both laugh ] -I did!
Because there was no audience.
Nobody gave a... about what I did.
The only people who cared about what I did were people who had those experiences.
-I mean, you told me, "I went into this wanting to communicate with people who went through similar experiences as me."
And some of that is happening, but to a very large degree, it's almost...funny because your art is -- is nonfungible tokens for billionaires.
So if that's really why you started doing it in the first place, then you are at a crisis, and you need to rethink.
♪♪ ♪♪ -Titus Kaphar, lot 404.
At $200,000, $220,000 $250,000 with me.
Would you like $280,000?
New online bidder in California at $260,000.
Back with you online against both of you.
$320,000, $360,000, $400,000, $450,000.
At $460,000 max.
-If I'm buying Titus Kaphar, it's because I love the painting rather than the message.
[ Gavel bangs ] -Sold.
♪♪ [ Sighs ] -Let me -- Let me repeat this back to you to make sure I understand what you're saying.
-You feel that some curators are distracted or even disturbed by the conversation around the content of the work, and therefore they're unable to see the form in the work?
♪♪ ♪♪ -You got to remember, America's story is to behold a message.
To avoid being like those who will want to steamroll the message.
Learn process in museums where only the gods look like my kin, already knowing the market will want to control the message.
Materials taught in regret, where others will forget it, knife against canvas, ready to charcoal the message.
♪♪ ♪♪ And there's something super dignified about, uh... about -- about just the etching, period.
And even about, like -- even about how it looks now... -Mm-hmm.
I don't want to overwipe this.
You know, this makes me just think of -- 'Cause it's a male and female, makes me think of, like, the mothers of... -Yeah.
-...of these men or the sisters.
-Oh, we should definitely do that, though.
-But it's like, you do this work, and it's about -- you know, it's about justice and who has a buy in this... man?
-Yeah, but, you know, you could give it away.
[ Chuckles ] -Yes.
And how can you put money in the hands of people who ain't got it?
Like, when I be writing stuff for the Times... -Mm-hmm.
-...I'ma get paid good money for telling that story.
So it's like, "What obligation do I have to them?"
Like, I feel this burden, man.
I feel like...
I feel -- I feel it, and I fight it because I -- because -- because, ultimately, what I realized is, when I work from that sense of obligation, my...sucks.
But I think the burden that you actually carry is more complicated than the burden that people might impose on you.
Hell yeah, absolutely.
Because I still go back home, and I still go through the same neighborhood, and my family still is there.
And, like, when I show up, it's like, "Damn, like, ...still is...up here."
So I feel that obligation.
And I think that that -- I mean, for me, that -- that is just so all-consuming.
-But I-I don't think that I could produce art that is for the cause, except to the sense that, like, I'm working to create dignity-affirming, complicated portrayals of the world in which I recognize.
♪♪ ♪♪ -Breathe.
[ Gasps ] [ Breathes deeply ] -Who is that?
-She's this actress, Tameka.
I gave her the description.
Like, this is just her -- her first try.
-This actually works well.
♪♪ -The main character that drives this story, she is a mother.
I'm always thinking about what it was for my own mother to have to do what she did when she was 15 years old.
You know, raise a -- raise a kid when you're a kid.
I can already find myself or my experiences in the narrative just as a mom now, just the anxieties of just losing children.
♪♪ -Okay, remember, this is a set.
-[ Laughs ] Good?
-Let's walk it.
-Why is my heart racing?
So then she walks down this way.
And then she comes to this door here.
-You're an artist.
Why are you making films?
So, the more successful I've become, the less access my folks have to my work.
-But as a film... -It can go wherever.
♪♪ ♪♪ [ Lock clicks ] [ Birds cawing ] ♪♪ -Jesus.
That's not right.
-I think it's right, man.
That's secondary market.
When they resell that, I don't get a cut.
-That's all a profit for them.
-Here's to success, man.
-[ Sighs ] Success.
-It just lets you know just how weird the world is, man.
It's like, people work their whole lives and don't make that money, man.
My mother hasn't seen a million dollars in her whole life.
Her entire -- How much money she's made her whole life, she's never -- she's never come close to that.
The folks we grew up, they don't make that.
Is what I do worth that?
-Maybe it's all a dilemma.
That tension between the world and me, that struggle to show them my soul, the process.
You painted Shaheed's portrait then dipped it in black tar.
I like that.
-A poet and a painter who refuse to let them black hole the process.
What you're trying to explain to me is I'm making paintings about white supremacy, and that institutions that facilitate white supremacy are saying, "If you just didn't talk so loud about that and not say the things that it's actually about, not say the things that actually motivate you to make what you make, then, like, you know, we would accept what you do."
And so I'm like, "Why the...would I do that?"
[ Brushes clatter ] At the end of the day, at least I can say, like, I held my principles, and they decided, based on who I am, not who I pretended to be, that they weren't interested.
I'm okay with that.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Action.
-[ Gasps ] [ Sirens wail in distance ] Sandy.
♪♪ [ Door creaks ] ♪♪ S-Sandy.
Oh, my God.
♪♪ [ Heart beating ] [ Baby cooing ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Cut.
Thank you, everybody.
We're gonna do it -- We're gonna do it again.
♪♪ -And I'm really, really curious, Titus, for you, what it was like for you to be in front of the camera and then also the director, right?
Then to also be in the edit room editing yourself.
And then I'm gonna ask Alex the inverse of that.
-All depiction is fiction.
It's only a question of degree.
And so I have no need or desire or illusions about hiding my perspective or my point of view.
And that is going to impact the way this thing is gonna look in the end fundamentally.
-So what was it like for you, Alex?
-I think it was equal parts challenging and liberating at the same time because in so much documentary history, and including the documentaries that I've worked on, the subject and the director are two different people with two different roles and two different degrees of agency and power as it relates to what is being represented.
Now, when the subject that you are pointing the camera at is also the director, it completely changes the dynamic.
It allowed us to really have a different type of relationship and a different type of communication that made for certainly a more honest portrayal of what was happening.
-So much of filmmaking, by nature, is the act of truncating, taking a two-hour scene and distilling it down to its two-minute essence.
-And the choices that you make during that distillation are large and can alter the meaning of a period of time in different directions.
And in this case, Titus was there, and in that way, we were able to invert a lot of those traditional approaches, both in terms of subject and director and also in terms of the racial dynamics that we're talking about, and this was a way to invert that in a way that was productive.
-The film was really born during the summer of 2020, right?
And that's when we got together and had our first brainstorm.
It was during the George Floyd uprising.
People were really looking around and being like, "Oh, we need Black voices.
We need Black representation."
-When you all look at the film, what work do you think it's doing?
-I am cautious about this moment because, as with art, things swing on a pendulum, and you're in and then you're out.
And so I'm trying really not to let this moment dictate the art that I make.
I'm trying to capitalize on this moment in the ways that feel like they're in line with what I'm already doing and what I'm already -- what I'm already about.
And so that is a -- That is something that, as a maker, I have to wrestle with.
I really have to keep it out of my head while I'm making the thing.
Otherwise, it can destroy the entire process.
This is part of the reason why this new practice of making films is something that I'm so excited about.
I'll never stop making paintings.
It's just not gonna happen.
It's who I am.
I'm a painter.
And even when I make films, I make films as a painter.
But at the end of the day, I'm excited to explore this new medium and see what other conversations I can have as a result, what other people can be included in those conversations as a result of the medium and its ability to be distributed out in the world.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪