First of all, Daughters of the Dust is playing in the Black Light Retrospective. What do you remember of that movie?
I remember being in South Carolina; I remember being frightened because I had never shot a film before, aside from some 16mm shorts. I remember being elated, because I had the opportunity to work on a proper feature film. Julie [Dash, the director] and I were married at the time, and our daughter was a little baby girl on set. So I remember quite a bit.
I like your theory about a correlation between black music from the 20th century and films from the 21st century. Why do you see these similarities?
What it really comes down to is black aesthetics: expressive traditions, tendencies, philosophy, I guess. Music is the space where we sort of actualize our expressive intentions, our capacities and desires. In cinema, on the other hand, that isn’t really true. Cinema as an artform requires capital, and it’s a very young artform, it doesn’t have the thousand-year old tradition that music has. So we’re talking about transferring aesthetics of beauty, truth and correctness from one space to another. Music and cinema have this complicated relationship, in terms of what defined popular culture in the 20th century. They also sort of gravitate towards one another, popular music, i.e. black music [in the United States], and cinema. There’s also a political implication, as to what it means to make an impression. In this day and age, no one can control what’s happening. What they can control is how we understand what’s happening.
I heard you’re not a fan of Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave (2013), and the recent wave of new Black cinema.
I like him as an artist, beyond his film output. I really like his first film, which does talk about the black condition by being set in a prison, even though there are no black characters in it, and it’s not black cinema per se. I do not like 12 Years a Slave at all. I’ll even go as far as saying I think it’s an abomination. As for Black cinema, I’m not calling for it to be one thing; I think there has to be a more complicated relationship with the social reality of black people, and the aesthetic used to convey that reality.
How important was Stanley Kubrick to you, as an artist? You worked as a second unit director on Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
Well, 2001: A Spacey Odyssey (1968) was, in many ways, my first conscious artistic model. It had a profound impact on me. I can’t really say I liked it, but I was mesmerized by it, I was captivated by it. As for Eyes Wide Shut, I did that to have an opportunity to talk to Kubrick, which I never actually did. When he died all of a sudden I was a bit depressed, because I never talked to him during the year and a half we spent working on the film. I did have the chance to talk with him on the phone a few times, but I think I refused to do so because he had such a profound impact on me that I didn’t want to chat over the phone, I wanted to have an actual conversation with him.