Black is God: A Glowing Observation
A review of Ikechukwu Sharpe's short film featuring music by Fake Cousin
In Ikechukwu (Ike) Sharpe’s short film Black is God, we are thrown gently into the night. You hear the crickets outside against a black screen, leaving you picture-less for a few moments. Against the night sounds, you aren’t sure if you’re sitting on the back porch with the narrator looking for stars through the fog or if you’re both sharing a cigarette for a quick fix on a wasted summer evening, but either way, you’re on the porch with Sharpe and ready to listen.
Twelve seconds in, black and white footage pops up of our narrator, Sharpe, against the words “the real world.” What is the real world? He is hooded and as serious as stone. If you weren’t watching carefully enough to notice the occasional insect flying through the shot and his blinking eyes, you’d be tempted to knock-knock on the screen to make sure Sharpe’s still breathing over the heaviness of his own off screen narration. His words play like a commencement speech with a purpose – a philosophy. In the first four plus minutes that pull you into Black is God, Sharpe’s words can be considered as a prayer, musical poem, spoken word, or all of the above. Once in a while, you notice there is a hidden background behind Sharpe’s video portrait. It’s a disoriented view of a window with flashing lights, like lightning in a storm. This is his creative way of asking, "Are you paying attention? Are you still here?"
Sharpe touches on the oppression and injustice of people of color by molding his thoughts into verse. If you listen carefully, it almost sounds like he is drafting the words live, like you can hear a pencil scratching against the surface of his mental notepad. He blends dirty reality with the fantastical, “I imagine what it was like for the first black child to enter the gates of an amusement park.” And in these small moments where you hear a burst of hope and magic, you envision an amusement park’s neon lights fading bulb by bulb.
To complement some of his words, he samples echoes of slam poetry, rap, hip hop, and contemporary R&B that match his own narration verbatim. His poetics in these vital four or so introductory minutes blend the struggles and strengths of a black man, while being spoken in a tone that makes the viewer feel quietly responsible for the pain. Through Sharpe’s collaboration with artist Fake Cousin, the term “black” is reshaped. They transform it from a label/boundary/category into an infinite form of expression. It is beyond color.
The sound of crashing waves come in against the promising lyrics of Fake Cousin, “I don’t know what it is, we’re just fire.” Sharpe then transitions us deeper into a collage, blending fleeting moments on the street, at the beach, in front of art, and even through the glittery sweat of a woman’s cleavage. Sharpe faces the camera at individuals, almost like it’s tenderly stuck. This is his way of appreciating their black glow, mainly highlighting individuals during moments of production and curation. He succeeds in not over-modernizing his editing, adding playful graphics, overlapping, and duplication for emphasis, mostly to complement Fake Cousin’s profile, which you don’t mind looking at. He never tries too hard to make it look too pretty, but instead, you feel you might have been a plus one of Sharpe and Fake Cousin while on the road and on the run, whipping your iPhone out for that one memory you don’t want to miss on a sunny Southern California day.
As Sharpe takes you through a number of people, some alone and some in groups, you can’t help but be thrilled by the music. It is as if we are a part of the BTS of a shoot that Sharpe is directing and Fake Cousin is composing. With the two in collaboration, it feels like a documentary that resulted from a West Coast tour. You can’t decide which Fake Cousin banger you should rewind, play back, and put on repeat. And while you’re wondering which one to soak back up again, you’re also imagining which scene each beat will play in the soundtrack of your life. Will you bump “West 6th” while you drive your M3 which you can’t afford yet on the freeway? (I am still saving for mine, too). Will you be navigating a grimy warehouse while “Across the Tracks” follows your every move as your fashion sneakers stick to spilled liquor? Will you be walking with your crew in Downtown LA to the night-chasing sounds of “Blackprestosblackjunya” as if this world is at war and you are the only ones left? Maybe you won’t have to decide. Maybe the music will find you anyway, like the black glow.