Khalik Allah : Artist Talk and Screening
“Field Niggas flows as a dreamlike series of encounters…the Harlem subjects of the photographer and filmmaker Khalik Allah have a soulful glow even when their circumstances are dire.” – The New York Times
Khalik Allah’s hour-long documentary Field Niggas is a startling portrait of a Harlem street corner. Allah describes his intimate and singular vision as quite simply “taking the hood off of the hood and showing you the head.” The film’s title recalls Malcolm X’s Message to the Grassroots, in which he delineated his concept of two types of slaves.
Shot entirely at night on the corner of 125th and Lexington Avenue in Harlem, the film captures the mental, physical and spiritual struggles of the neighborhood’s most exhausted and oppressed inhabitants. Photographed by Allah himself in August of 2014, Field Niggas spotlights its subjects in stunningly composed, dignified portraits that are hypnotically woven with street images. The non-synch audio track consists of conversations with and among those faces: dreams, regrets, arguments, affection, observations, opinions. Shot in July of 2014, with the heinous death of Eric Garner by an NYPD officer occurring mid-production, Field Niggas is a breakthrough non-fiction film that serves as an ardent call to rise above social constructs.
With vast empathy, Khalik Allah paints an impressionistic portrait of the loiterers and denizens in and around 125th Street and Lexington Avenue in Field Niggas. Beneath the bright lights of a corner convenience store, Allah wields his crystalline gaze on a series of faces and personalities as they ruminate on race, societal inequalities, family, drugs, homelessness, romance, police brutality, and, ultimately, their histories, in a collective chorus. They are people we often try to avoid seeing – homeless, addicted – who we now hear in timeless tones and with flashes of great beauty, thanks to the director’s unexpected stylistic choices: asynchronous sound, elegant slow-motion shots and garishly saturated colors.
Though un-synced, the visuals and narration perfectly complement one another, forging a viewing experience that functions as a near interactive tapestry as the stories’ strands envelope your conscience. Animated street photography at its apotheosis, Field Niggas carries a heady, haunting undercurrent, with aesthetic panache to burn.