Kerby Jean-Raymond has more to say.
The Pyer Moss designer made his directorial debut today with a new video for Wale. In the video for the music artist’s song “Sue Me,” (featuring Kelly Price), the 2019 FNAA Person of the Year shows just exactly what things would look like if the racial power dynamic was flipped.
It’s a pivot from his usual platform, but the video’s message carries on the designer’s overarching thread of black empowerment that can be seen throughout his work, from his groundbreaking spring ’20 runway show at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn for New York Fashion Week to the meaning of the layers on his bestselling Reebok by Pyer Moss Experiment 4 Fury Trail sneaker.
The film begins with a mother waking up her two sons as she leaves for work. The family is white. The teenage son (played by Oscar-nominated actor Lucas Hedges) helps his young brother get ready for school while surrounded by emblems that show an inversion of power, from a can of oats to a framed print of a black Jesus on the wall. As they leave their apartment, it becomes apparent that they live in a project in New York.
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The video continues to show how the young man’s day progresses. There are behaviors that hint at racial stereotypes, and moments of inequalities (like being elbowed by a group of African-American men in business suits as he walks up the subway). These seemingly slight idiosyncrasies are meant to be amplified by the fact that this is a white man experiencing moments that are not usually the experience of a white man.
There is also a scene in which the man walks into a coffee shop (the sign says “Morebucks Coffee”). After being ignored by a barista, the young white man watches as two police officers come into the shop to arrest two other white men. The scene alludes to an April 2018 incident in which two African-American men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia after a manager called the police on them. The event resulted in racial bias training for the entire company.
Wale appears in the video as a bystander, who captures the scene on his phone.
“What if you could walk through a day in the life of an average African American young man? What would you see? What would you hear? What would you face?” says Wale in a commentary of the film. “We wanted to redefine the whole narrative and allow everybody to step into these shoes. I’ve never been more proud of a video than what we did here. Kerby really brought this vision to life, and Reebok helped make it a reality. I hope it makes you think a little.”
After a scene in which the Hedges’ character visits his father in prison (“There’s no hope for people who look like us,” says the father), the film ends with real-life video footage of Aaron DeShawn Campbell, an African-American inmate who is being held in solitary confinement at Elkton prison in Lisbon, Ohio, where at least six inmates have died from COVID-19. In the video, which Jean-Raymond acquired with the permission of his family, Campbell addresses his fears that he will die in prison from the coronavirus outbreak as others around him get sick. He is currently still being held in the prison.
Since the coronavirus outbreak began in New York City, Jean-Raymond has been using his Pyer Moss office as a donation center for medical supplies. He has also set up a $100,000 fund to help minority-and women-owned small businesses affected by the pandemic.