Creative Sensemaker #3  

A man and a woman sitting on the bonnet of a vintage American muscle car.

The third instalment of Creative Sensemaker, a new cultural series by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d’Ancona   Above image: Queen and Slim (Universal Pictures)   Friday 5 June, 2020   Short read

‘This is precisely the time when artists go to work… We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.’ (Toni Morrison)

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media. Since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday 25 May, many have posed the question that is always asked by campaigners for justice after such a tragedy: is this a moment, or a movement?

To which the answer is, emphatically, the latter. Amid the grief, anger and pain, there has been an astonishing surge of hope and a collective demand – especially from young people – for those with power and privilege to do better. 

Across America, and now around the world, protests and rallies under the Black Lives Matter banner have sent an unambiguous message that enough is enough. There has also been a flourishing of art and creativity, precisely in the spirit that the late Toni Morrison identified.

So, this week’s Tortoise Creative Sensemaker is both celebration and toolkit. A celebration of the ways in which those with most to mourn have channelled their sense of loss into creativity; and a toolkit for those who do not have the lived experience of Black people. 

Please note: this is only one such guide. I am a White man of Mediterranean descent: these are the movies, books and works of art that have helped me understand a little better. There are other resources online and I’d urge you to consult them, too (try this by Jessica Morgan at Refinery29, or this by Layla F Saad in The Guardian). 

At a Tortoise ThinkIn on Thursday attended by more than 250 young people, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Head of Editorial at gal-dem, said: ‘Make sure your White ally-ship is not performative’. Hashtags and black squares on social media are not enough. This is a time to listen, be open-minded – and to learn.
A woman in a large high ceilinged room.
Five men with their arms around each other kneeling by a patch of ground.

Queen & Slim
(iTunes, VOD platforms)
Scandalously ignored in the 2020 Academy Awards, Melina Matsoukas’ directorial debut is quite simply one of the great movies of the past decade. From the unlikely beginnings of a dud Tinder date – Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith in standout performances – the film is transformed by an encounter with a racist cop into something extraordinary: a fast-paced road movie, love story, and compelling exploration of the contemporary African-American experience. Essential.

Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement (YouTube) 
Laurens Grant’s 2016 documentary is a fine primer on the origins of the campaign, from the killings of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Michael Brown in 2014, the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent establishment of Black Lives Matter chapters across the US. It’s chilling to see the footage of Eric Garner, killed in 2014 by a chokehold applied by an NYPD officer – and to hear him gasping ‘I can’t breathe’, just as George Floyd did in the last moments of his life.

The 13th (Netflix)
Ava DuVernay’s justly acclaimed documentary takes its title from the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution (which abolished slavery), and reveals the structural racism of the criminalisation and mass incarceration of Black people in contemporary America.

Da 5 Bloods (Netflix, 12 June)
Spike Lee’s latest is a Vietnam movie with a twist, as four African-American veterans return to South East Asia decades after the war in search of their squad leader’s remains – and buried treasure. Speaking to the BBC about the movie and George Floyd’s murder, Lee said: ‘This is not new, it’s been going on for 400 years.’

The Stuart Hall Project (Vimeo)
Written and directed by John Akomfrah, this 2013 documentary chronicles the ideas and activism of the great Afro-Caribbean cultural theorist (who died in 2014) – making extraordinary use of the music of Miles Davis.

I Am Not Your Negro (iTunes, VOD)
Narrated by Samuel L Jackson and inspired by an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin, this 2016 film is an instructive introduction to Baldwin’s writings and activism.
Two book covers on a grey background.
A bookcover on a grey background.

Here are some of the many books that have helped me understand the scale of the problem a little more:

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge 

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

People Like Us: What It Takes To Make It In Modern Britain by Hashi Mohamed

Safe: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space by Derek Owusu 

Tribes: How Our Need To Belong Can Make Or Break Society by David Lammy

Mouth Full Of Blood: Essays, Speeches, Meditations by Toni Morrison

Natives: Race And Class In The Ruins Of Empire by Akala

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity And Belonging by Afua Hirsch

Intersectionality by Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge
A mural in a bombsite with three men standing around it.
George Floyd mural (Getty)

The appearance – literally overnight – of murals and street art all over the world honouring George Floyd has been truly extraordinary.

Don’t miss this wonderful online exhibition of photographs from the civil rights era at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
A man sitting on a chair holding a flute and a saxophone.
A man with pink light on his face.

Spotify’s eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence (the time that Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck) as part of the music industry’s Blackout Tuesday protest on Tuesday 2 June proved controversial.  

Instead of silence, here are some of the tracks that have already been posted in Floyd’s honour:

‘Untitled’ by LL Cool J


‘PIG FEET’ by Terrace Martin feat. Denzel Curry, Daylyt, Kamasi Washington & G Perico

‘FTP’ by YG

‘FIGHT!’ by Wyatt Waddell

‘Front Lines’ by Conway The Machine

And do read this beautiful account by Colin Fleming in JazzTimes of listening afresh, in the wake of Floyd’s death, to John Coltrane Live At Birdland (1963) and specifically the track ‘Alabama’.

If you wish to donate to one of the many causes and funds associated with the victims of racist brutality, there are useful lists here and here.

This is a time of great anguish, but also of great possibility. As Opal Tometi, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, told The New Yorker this week, ‘What we are witnessing now is the opening up of imaginations, where people are beginning to think more expansively about what the solutions could be.’

So, above all, don’t forget about George Floyd when his name slips from the headlines. That is when the real challenge will begin.

Have a peaceful week.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media
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