Gentrification is more than a buzz worthy topic happening in American cities, as well as internationally, it is a extremely serious economic upheaval affecting those living in what’s deemed historically economic depressed neighborhoods that have deliberately been denied resources of others, but steeped in intrinsic values that have been once again found appealing.
Here on Shadow and Act, we’ve covered various narrative and documentary films on gentrification, and this latest, named very on the ball, is “Gentrified” by director Jason Black, the popular “The Black Channel” UStream and YouTube broadcaster. I interviewed Black, who also directed the very successful 2014 documentary “7 A.M.” which explores “why it’s a lack of businesses, not jobs, that makes Black people the poorest people in America.” You can read our interview directly below, followed by the film’s first powerful trailer.
“Gentrified,” subtitled ‘Ethnic Cleansing: American Style,” has less than two weeks left into it’s IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign and is looking to ultimately raise $200,000 in order to purchase national advertising and promotion and for legal fees in conducting subpoena and information requests.
Please share with our readers the motivations behind starting your documentary “Gentrified.”
I made “Gentrified” because it’s become clear that racism and its concrete effects against Black people have intensified in the last decade. None of the white corporate media outlets or even the old Black media outlets was investigating this so I felt it fell to us to make the effort. “Gentrification” is a polite term for ethnic cleansing. It’s a way of bureaucratizing ethnic cleansing and making it into a paperwork process intended to seem natural and benign when in fact it’s artificial, controlled and orchestrated. But more than that, gentrification has a specific ethnic component targeting Black people. When people discuss gentrification, it’s almost always framed as a class issue that only indirectly effects Black people by accident, yet every study of gentrification shows Black people are almost always the first designated targets when developers and cities begin choosing areas to clear out or reshape. Since the Earth is the only place you can live, it’s a direct threat to your well being to be told you can no longer afford a place to live.
Your trailer takes an unapologetic view of the removal of Black people from neighborhoods that have been theirs for over 50 years, even generations –so basically, ethnic cleansing. Racism is a multi-layered beast, but is this more an economics issue than it is a race issue, as you highlighted about the plight of Black people in “7 A.M.” your first documentary?
Racism is an economic issue. Not a social issue. That is the crux of what “7 A.M.” focused on. Black people have been trying to solve this economic issue we call “racism” with social tools like integration, and our generation can now see clearly that has failed as evidenced by the wealth chasm between whites and Blacks that is now as wide as it’s ever been. People may hate you for being Black but they are able to victimize you because you’re poor. Integrating can’t make people be civil toward you, but having your own economy will prevent people who dislike you from being able to persecute you.
Asians have been immune from gentrification, even in places like the heart of the financial district in New York, because Asians own their economy. They have their own banks, real estate agents, attorneys and economic base right in their neighborhoods. So anyone wishing to gentrify them is going to slam into a wall because the Asian community has the ability to resist you – and as our film will point out Asians have gained so much capability that they are actually doing the gentrifying in several cities around America now and displacing whites on prime real estate. As Black people, these are powerful lessons we must learn or we will not survive the 21st century.
“Flag Wars” was the first documentary I saw, back in 2003, that focused on the modern impact of gentrification. Were there any other documentaries or films that inspired the filming of yours, or is it plainly the intense reality of what is happening to Black communities deemed as economically deprived?
There have been other movies made about gentrification to a certain extent but not in a holistic way. We will be examining not just the role of corporate developers but also of the government’s role, including how the police are used to militarily displace Black people at the behest of the rich and the government. I respect the work others have done before now. I liked Alexandra Pelosi’s short film “San Francisco 2.0” and others like it but they really overlook the root racial component of gentrification. They usually frame it as a class issue and lump whites and Blacks together as being equally affected and that’s simply not true. There are no rich Blacks or Black corporations displacing whites or anyone else. This is always ignored in the documentaries I’ve seen regarding gentrification.
Also, if a white person and a Black person are displaced by gentrification in the same city (say, San Francisco, for example) they will both be affected differently, even if they make the same income. We know that whites have more wealth than Blacks, so from the jump a displaced white person will have advantages to move on with their lives. The white person displaced in San Francisco will have an easier time getting money from family, friends or lending institutions with which to relocate. The Black person will not have these advantages. Most ominous of all is that when white people in San Francisco displace lower income white people, those lower income whites will turn and target Black enclaves (like Oakland) to go and displace the Black population just like upper income whites just did to them. You’ve never seen whites complain about displaced Blacks coming in droves to gentrify them.
Also, our film was done nationwide, from California to New York, so we give an in depth, comprehensive study that shows you the places and what’s happening to them. This isn’t our opinion or being anecdotal. We show you what people in their cities are seeing happen and the similarities between all these diverse places are frightening.
Your crowdfunding campaign is in it last weeks and doing quite well due to the newsworthy topic and your great fanbase. In your words, why should Shadow and Act readers support “Gentrified: the Documentary?”
Our crowdfunding has gone well. We’ve been able to consistently get double what other, more publicized people, like Issa Rae, were able to pull in. We think that’s pretty impressive considering we’re an independent, Black documentary getting much more support than most of the entertainment projects you’ll find. This shows people want more than to be entertained. They see their lives being impacted by money and power all around them but they can’t get any information from the traditional media outlets. They’re now showing their support to people who are doing that.
I’d hope people would be interested in our film because it’s well done, informative, meticulous and a lot of work was done make it worth people’s while. We aren’t just rehashing something people have seen before. We cover new ground from top to bottom in a blunt, engaging and hard hitting, unapologetic manner. We feel an obligation to fill in where the white corporate media and the absentee Black corporate media has failed or outright abandoned us. This is not a minor issue. This is about understanding that there really are people whose ideal goal is to see Black people removed from the American landscape. They have chosen the subtle and “humane” strategy of economic natural selection. They will simply say it’s the “free market at work”, but they will never call attention to what happened to all the Black people who used to live in the places they are displacing us from. They’ll just tell you, “Look at all the pretty new condos and skyscrapers.” Never mind the fact there isn’t a Black person anywhere around anymore.
What else about your doc would you like to share with our readers?
I’d like this project to be the beginning of a new Black media renaissance. One that doesn’t focus on gossip and celebrity. We need Black news outlets that focus on serious issues because we face serious problems. We don’t have a Black print media or TV media that does that anymore and we intend for this to be our initial effort to change the national conversation to show there are more pressing issues than who your favorite rapper is dating and that this can be conveyed in a professional, intelligent and engaging way.
Watch a trailer for “Gentrified” below:
In addition to writing about film, television, and media, Curtis Caesar John is a film exhibitor and advocate, born and raised in Brooklyn, NYC. Follow him on Twitter @MediaManCurt