Khalik Allah charts the voices and faces of Jamaica’s street life, ranging from prostitutes, priests, saints, sinners to everyone in between. Building on his previous film ‘Field Niggas’ and his work with Beyoncé, Allah mixes audio interviews with footage that rarely synch up with the speaker to create a meditation on a country and its people.
It is clear what contemporary issues sit on Khalik Allah’s mind and ‘Black Mother’ sees him further his style and the topics that interest him. He has a deep passion for his subjects and does not shirk his duty, striving to let the people tell their stories in their own words.
Much of the screen time is dedicated to living portraits of citizens and one of the great joys of the film is to see how natural people can be in front of the camera - like they have been training their entire life for this moment - while others look so uncomfortable gazing into the lens that it provides a real sense of vulnerability to already hard-bitten people. There is a great comfort in the eccentric nature of some characters, and though you never get to learn much about each subject, you do feel privy to a tantalising piece of their personality.
Underneath the footage there are ongoing speeches, oral histories and anecdotes told by the subjects. Some of the voices and the characters give way to a sweet humour, though a melancholic element is never far away, and often an unpleasant image can be cut on top of a character’s tale that drastically changes the intent of what they are saying.
Anecdotes can range from the right fruits to eat, avoiding Kool-Aid, losing a hand (literally), gods protection over prostitutes, tumours and so on. The film is great at portraying all the intricacies and eccentricities of a society but while so many topics are covered by the subjects, some are all too fleeting. Religion has a heavy focus for many - with one person stating that Jamaica has more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world - but it is often hard to tell the religious and the profane apart.
The stories, thoughts and ideas are presented without any authorial or overarching external voice, meaning they are presented with little context, without condemnation or damnation. The film works like a Rorschach test and you will more than likely see your own beliefs and thoughts represented rather than challenged in any great detail. Here, profound thoughts on human existence sit next to wacky conspiracy theories. It really helps transport you to the sights and sounds of a street corner, though it’s difficult to know how accurate it is, it feels authentic and for most that will be enough.
‘Black Mother’ almost transcends description and would be just as suited in an art gallery than in the cinema. A thoroughly thoughtful and provocative piece of documentary cinema.