Photo by Yinka Paris
BLACK AS U R is a feature-length docu-film that explores the intersectional lives of black queer youth fighting for equality within their community. The film is directed by Micheal Rice and is his second documentary following his critically acclaimed debut, parTy boi: black diamonds in ice castles. It was honored at Frameline46 with the “Out in the Silence” award spotlighting the film for its “brave acts of visibility.”
BLACK AS U R screens on Saturday, September 10 at 1:00 pm in Chicago at the Reva and David Logan Center. Micheal Rice will be on hand for a community discussion following the film. Here’s what Rice shared with us about his filmmaking journey, the importance of bringing nonfictional stories to life, and his suggestions to President Biden.
PrideIndex (PI): We’re here today to chat with filmmaker Michael Rice. Let’s get started by having you tell us about yourself and your journey thus far as a filmmaker.
Micheal Rice (MR): I was born in Kansas but raised in Tulsa. I went to a historically black college/university, Prairie View A&M, in Houston. While in college, I decided to major in the theater because I see myself as creative. I like to tell stories, act, dance, and do choreography. And so, after graduation, I decided to move to New York City.
Around 2011 and 2012, I decided to shift into film. I thought capturing my imagination, creativity, and choreography through aspects of the film would be wonderful. So, at that time, I wanted to use my skill set as an artist, creator, and new filmmaker, to tell stories about what was happening in my community. In 2011, I created a web series called Bricks, about these 11 gay guys moving to New York City, building their careers, brick by brick. It was a fun experience. I was among the first people to have that trend of web series on YouTube. I remember a group called AConnection that started a group of web serials. I felt like I was part of that group.
Somewhere around 2013 or 2014, I started noticing a shift in our community, where we would hear these terms like P and P, Crystal ice, and Tina. I saw people I knew in Brooklyn were ravaged by Crystal meth addiction. It was happening so fast. It was like a whirlwind. I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to about it. A lot of health care providers didn’t really understand what was happening. It was kind of like destruction happening amongst black queer people. I wanted to do something about it. So, I used my skill set as a director and storyteller. I saw a quote by Nina Simone that read, “It’s an artist’s duty to speak of the time.” I thought to myself, well, this is my time. And I’m going to speak about what was happening in my community. I picked up a camera and started interviewing people about how they were introduced to Crystal meth or what they called Tina. In 2017, I created my first documentary, parTy boi: black diamonds in ice castles. It was a groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind film. I was proud that I helped make that movement. Now, we are celebrating my new documentary called Black as U R. It’s about the intersectional lives of gay black people and queer black people fighting for equality within their families and communities.
PI: That is outstanding. As I was listening to you share your background story, I could hear that you have gone the nonfictional/real-life docu-film route to tell stories. Why did you believe that writing non-fictionalized accounts in your films was important?
MR: I thought it was important because I wanted to challenge myself with having to meet people in their actual situations in real-time. Whether that was a positive or negative or a weird circumstance, it wasn’t the right time. And me having to maneuver through it as a filmmaker. It taught me on-the-spot filmmaking, dealing with people and who they are and their humanity, and dealing with people where they’re at that moment. And to me, that was more challenging than creating a situational scene or setup. To just tell stories. I wanted to get into the heart of it all. I tried to get, as some people say, get into the dirt, get into the mud, and really like work my way to understand because I was searching for understanding because I had a friend that had overdosed on Crystal meth. So, I was also working out of trauma and pain. And trying to figure out where was this happening? And where was this coming from?
PI: Black As U R has already screened at the Frameline Film Fest. What was that experience like? How did audiences react to it?
MR: It was an amazing experience, like none other. It was exciting to see a line wrapped around a building. I was thinking, Why are all these people here? I was told they’re here to see Black as U R. I was floored. But about 98% of the audience was white. I did see some of my people of color in there, sprinkled here and there. I didn’t know how it was going to be perceived. But that’s okay. I’ve learned that this film is not just for black people. It is for everyone. Black As U R speaks about universal subjects of affirmation, love, acceptance, bullying, suicide, HIV, white privilege and supremacy, racism, and what’s happening now with police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.
When Black As U R came to Frameline, I was honored to be the first black recipient to receive their prestigious “Out In Silence Award.” Frameline is the largest LGBTQ film festival in the world, and to have that honor bestowed upon me through the embodiment of my work, was humbling. And to have my mother, the production team, and the cast of young people from my film to be in that moment with us was incredibly joyous.
PI: That is wonderful. The participants who were the subjects in this film were there. How did they react to seeing themselves on film?
MR: When they watched this film for the first time, they were crying. Although they might tell you publicly, they don’t care. We’ve all grown as a family. The participants faced reality and where they were in 2020 and were overwhelmed and excited. When I found these young people, they were around 18, and now they are 21, coming into adulthood. Seeing the pride instilled in them when they saw their face on the big screen, knowing where they came from, and having people come up to them and say your story changed my life, I could see this growth in this fondness and I’m proud. This just comes out of them. I was so happy for them.
PI: I saw parTy boi at the Black Alphabet Film Fest in 2020. I look forward to seeing Black As U R. Where else do you plan on showing this film?
MR: We’re excited to attend the Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. After that, we’re going to be heading to the Queer Lisbon Film Festival in Portugal, and then we come back to Atlanta for the Out in Atlanta LGBTQ Film Festival. It’s a journey.
PI: How do you decide which film festivals to enter?
MR: I’m blessed to have an excellent team of people to help me. I have my manager, two publicists, an assistant, and producers who help me to get sponsorships. We’re fortunate to work with financially equipped festivals to ensure we can get this film out there too.
PI: Hypothetically speaking, if the President of the United States were to reach out to you and ask for your participation on a panel to assess issues of importance to the LGBTQ+ communities. What would you recommend to him?
MR: I would recommend that the President create spaces for the black community where we could develop businesses and own land and property given by the United States in the form of reparations. We would also have subsidiaries that could help micro-communities within the black community, IE, the black queer community. There would be access to housing and healthcare for queer people all over the country and a place where black youth could express themselves through art. And there would be money for every black child to attend college without paying for it. That’s what I would recommend to this panel and to President Biden.
PI What else would you like to share?
MR: I appreciate the support and love that I have received from my films Black As U R and parTy boi. I would like to thank the entire film festival market. Festivals like Frameline, Black Alphabet in Chicago and Cincinnati, along with websites such as PrideIndex.com, and TheEsteemAwards.com are making a difference in our community. They give us a voice to celebrate our blackness and queerness. I love, love, love celebrating my blackness and queerness.