The visceral and contemplative short film “How Do You Raise a Black Child?” is powerfully narrated and rich in both metaphoric and literal imagery. Based on the poem by Cortney Lamar Charleston, Seyi Peter-Thomas’ short film adaptation follows young Malik and his mother navigating life’s highs and lows while revealing the precarious balance black parents have to strike in order to raise their kids ‘right.’ Through these moments of both tranquility and unsolicited sobriety, the film explores the complexity of Malik’s experiences as a part of a larger conversation on race and community within today’s uneasy social and political climate.
Careful consideration and personal experience helped Seyi craft a powerful visual script from Lamar Charleston’s poem. “The central question that the poem asks is so resonant and important to me both as a black man and a parent of young kids,” he says. “Unfortunately, it’s a question that feels as urgent today as it did 60 years ago.”
With the popularity of social media and the recent resurgence of social activism through movements like Black Lives Matter, the ugly truths about police brutality and modern racial inequality are front and center throughout American media.
“How Do You Raise a Black Child?” alternatively and implicitly challenges audiences to ask “How do we save a black child? And what are the elements we must save them from?” Seyi says, “It’s a uniquely American conversation, and one we’re all having on some level right now.”
Seyi portrays the poem in a thoughtful, honest way as a message to compel change. “It felt very important not to be too literal or closed ended with my interpretation. A poem is a complete work in and of itself. So, why make a film of it unless you can find a way to bring a new level of meaning and ask new questions? Both the poem and the film are essentially a series of commonplace but ultimately false solutions to the problem. I tried to challenge myself to find images that added a layer of meaning and brought more ambiguity to the words. The point is to take away the right questions as opposed to the right answers.”
“How Do You Raise a Black Child?” was created for Motionpoems’ latest season of films, each based on poems by black American poets and presented in association with Cave Canem, a home for black poetry. Motionpoems is making a name for top-drawer experimental work using poems as scripts; new seasons debut annually at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.