The Sleeping Negro
Sleep is restful. Sleep is gentle. Sleep is relaxing. Yet to be asleep is to be complacent. To be inactive. To be unresponsive to the swirl of daily life and whatever misfortunes it may bring. Skinner Myers’ The Sleeping Negro portrays the idea of sleep as being all of these things. But to the Black Man (Myers), to be sleeping is particularly dangerous as it is to be accepting of all the injustice, inequality, and separation that Black men and women still experience from their White counterparts. The unnamed Man of the film is seething. Both with hatred for himself and hatred for those in his life that minimize and objectify him. The idea of suicide is something he fantasizes about, and he is frustrated with his inability to live his life without constant reminder and belittlement that he is Black.
The Sleeping Negro recalls Ellison’s Invisible Man, perhaps the best out of any film I’ve seen. Myers uses nightmares, hallucinations, an unsettling soundtrack, and showing things in reverse to reveal the Man’s psyche and allow us to see the sources of his aggression. Not all of Myers’ experimentation lands, however more than enough makes an impression such that the film will linger with you.
As his first feature film, I look forward to seeing what Myers can do with a larger budget. On one hand, I could see him turn to directing horror films, but on the other, he could expand upon what he has shared with us in The Sleeping Negro. Shown for the first time to audiences just this February, this film will hopefully be shown at enough festivals to generate interest in Myers’ work.
At its core, Clean Slate is a documentary about addiction. Josh and Cassidy are lifetime drug addicts who are in rehabilitation under the care of A Better Way Ministries. They are part of an 18 month, zero-tolerance program. If they relapse during this time, they are removed from the program and instructed to find a ride home from a nearby Waffle House. A Better Way Ministries provides its attendees with access to professional filmmaking equipment, and they can help produce commercials and graduation videos during their time in rehab. Film is a passion of Cassidy and he’s lined up to direct a short film about addiction entitled ‘On the Fence’. However, the prospect of filmmaking isn’t enough to prevent Cassidy from relapsing. Not part of A Better Way Ministries anymore, his involvement on the short film is in limbo until he enters an agreement that allows him to continue directing the film.
Just as much as Clean Slate portrays the fight against addiction, it also shares the making of Cassidy’s short film. Clean Slate director Jared Callahan– who directed the documentary Janey Makes a Play– is no stranger to depicting the creative process and all its challenges, and he highlights Cassidy and Josh’s experience coordinating the casting process and leading rehearsals. With only a budget to support two days of filming and a constant chance of rain, creating ‘On the Fence’ proves to be much more arduous of a challenge than anyone expected. Callahan’s portrayal of the teamwork and dedication involved in making the short film possible shows the sense of accomplishment shared between the cast and crew.
Even so, over the course of Clean Slate we’re reminded of the lived experience of drug addicts. When Cassidy’s mother is interviewed about Cassidy’s addiction as she watches the filming of ‘On the Fence’, she says that she honestly doesn’t think filmmaking will keep Cassidy away from drugs. Not with condescension or frustration in her voice, but with the tone that one might use in saying that there is rain to follow from cloudy skies. As Cassidy is in and out of rehab, he becomes a stranger to his own family and while he earnestly wants to overcome his addiction, there isn’t much that can support him other than himself and A Better Way Ministries. When he applies for a job cleaning toilets, he is turned down because of his criminal record with drugs. There isn’t much place for those who are trying to heal.
Though we can’t be certain that Cassidy or Josh will have a brighter future, they do experience fleeting moments of joy nonetheless. Following a screening of ‘On the Fence’ at the Atlanta Film Festival, we see Cassidy stepping away to take in the moment and we hope that this great experience is only the first of many to come.