The filmmaker and poet takes us on a journey exploring the nuances of black fatherhood in his latest video project
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IGGYLDN is back. The 23-year-old spoken word artist, poet and filmmaker made the world weep with his sensitive and nuanced video Black Boys Don't Cry and followed it up with a live performance which awed audiences at Hoxton Basement last October.
His next topic? Fathers and sons. His new short film, following in the footsteps of Black Boys Don't Cry, is designed to decode the intimacy between men of colour and, in particular, the relationship between father and son – often misrepresented in mainstream media. Fatherhood is a narration which describes the complex feelings that men may have towards their father – starting from childhood through to adolescence and finally adulthood.
The story depicts the emotional turmoil that can arise from an unresolved relationship – how it plays on to a young man’s psyche leading up to adulthood – the way he values the men in his life and his own father. It speaks to the fact that the black Caribbean community has a much higher level of absent fathers than any other group in the UK, but also moves beyond this trope: masculinity is complex.
Incorporating spoken word as the main medium to unpick the words in which young men may have wanted to say to their father but never had the chance to, visuals aid in illustrating the journey from childhood to adulthood, as the main protagonist sets off on his rite of passage.
Dazed spoke to IGGYLDN to see if he would break down why he continues to explore the topic of black masculinity, and how he continues to do it so well:
Was Fatherhood a natural progression from your first film, Black Boys Don't Cry?
IGGYLDN: It definitely was a natural progression. I wanted the conversation to continue in a different form. One that was quite prevalent to me was fatherhood, because, for a long period of time, people in school used to always say to me, "How is it living with your mum? Can I come to your mum's house?" No one actually addressed the fact that their fathers left when they were five or six, or even assumed I had a father living at home, even though I did. I understood that the role of a father was complex, so I found the fact it was dismissed kind of weird and wanted to pick up on it.
Do you feel like the conversation around black masculinity has progressed since you made Black Boys Don't Cry?
IGGYLDN: I definitely feel like the conversation has progressed, in all different kind of ways. So many different people from so many different backgrounds have been able to speak to me about masculinity. They add context, whether it be gang-related and to do with not being able to show emotion in these gangs, or always being seen as a certain stereotype, or having to showcase their masculinity and wear it. I feel like people have been able to relate it to themselves and relate it to their own experiences. But the conversation that I am quite excited to hear about now is where black masculinity is heading to.
At the beginning, the narrator is talking about how bad experiences have made him numb. Do you think a lot of black men have that numbness thanks to their familial relationships?
IGGYLDN: The actual person who was talking at the start was my brother. He is 16 years of age and he was talking about my dad, and the expectations that he had of him. You start expecting things, especially when you’re young, like: my dad to be a hero, my dad to be strong, my dad to be wise, my dad to be financially stable, my dad to have knowledge about girls for me to understand. And when your dad doesn’t live up to these things, I guess you start to feel numb. I feel like it's disappointment that allows people to feel numb. And it’s difficult, because I feel like all men need positive role models, and what better kind of positive role model can there be than a male figure in their lives? They’re numb to these things because they’ve felt like their fathers have, so to speak, failed them.
What was your relationship with your own father like?
IGGYLDN: My father was quite difficult. I don’t really wanna talk about it too much, but it's definitely one where a lot of things were not said. That led to assumptions and confusions as to whether my father was really present in my life. I feel like I resented my father for such a long time, but now I am able to be better and be quite mature about the way in which I deal with my father’s issues. That's why I wrote, the repeat of "Mr Mr / you seem to have neglected / that we are born perfected / in more ways than rejected". I wanted to show, the design, the make up of our relationship. Our relationship is perfect in the way it is. He didn't need to be the person I thought he had to be, he was perfect in the way he was. And that's the same thing with manhood and with masculinity.
Who was the young boy in the video and what was it like filming with him?
IGGYLDN: It was a young boy called Mkai. It was actually really good working with him. One time he fell and actually I really wanted to make sure he was okay. I felt like, wow, this person’s actually taught me a lot as to how to be a man. I learned these things through that: him falling and me trying to protect him. He said, "I didn't cry" and I was like, "It's okay to cry".
What do you think about the 'missing black father' trope? Is it too simplistic to hold stock in the idea of the nuclear family?
IGGYLDN: There’s this massive phenomenon as to like, black fathers (leaving). I was just like, where the fuck do they go to and, even if they go, like your father still has a lot of accountability because at the end of the day, there’s still a relationship or there’s still a link there, you can’t just walk off the face of this earth and leave your son to figure out the world himself? How do you tell a son that he’s gonna be faced with pressures and a lot of people will target him, and he will feel inadequate at times, and people will racially profile him? Like how do you tell a man that by bouncing, and having him to figure it out? And I feel like that’s the difficulty the massive, massive difficulty. I think it needs to be discussed and treated in a separate way. I think men need to take accountability, and fathers need to come together and be like, "rah". They need to have a conversation.
“The young boy in the film is called Mkai. When were were filming he once fell over and said, ‘I didn't cry’ and I was like, ‘It's okay to cry’. That was beautiful” – IGGYLDN
Do you think this generation of young black fathers could change the stereotype?
IGGYLDN: I definitely feel like a younger generation of fathers are changing that stereotype and they’re trying to kind of provide in more ways than one because their masculinity has been questioned and the definition of masculinity in the 21st century has definitely changed. More and more people feel that they are adequate enough, ready to be in people’s families, ready to be in their families and to stay in their families. We’re looking at men and seeing that they’re okay and they didn’t, they were enough to stay in these houses, in these family units, and their manhood wasn’t questioned enough that they had to leave those families and leave those settings that they were okay to raise these men, because they were men themselves, and I feel like so many men weren’t able to actually be men when growing up and so they find it so hard to have those conversations, find it so hard to lead men, and raise children however communication is key and I feel like a lot of young men are feeling communication is key.
What’s your creative process like?
IGGYLDN: I’m a perfectionist, I like to make sure that every stage is kind of like done correctly and accurately. It was a true response to my situation and my relationship with my dad. It took quite a long time, because I kind of do this on the side. I work in a law firm full-time.
Do you think there's a bit of an upsurge in the amount of young black filmmakers at the moment? Who are you following and why?
IGGYLDN: Definitely feel like there’s an upsurge in kind of black male creatives and filmmakers at the moment, mainly because they don’t necessarily feel like they have to be conventional. I feel like they’re creating from their own expression. That’s really important. I feel like people are taking that on board. I personally have a massive appreciation for Joseph Kahlil. I just feel like he’s a sick creative director, and his artform is like mine, akin to me. My kind of expression of showing things which are real and natural within the community, especially within the black community. It’s definitely telling a story which I am a massive, massive fan of doing.
IGGYLDN: I just wanna create more films, more short films, documentaries, I wanna direct music videos, and keep on just creating like work and content, which is very much reminiscent of a political statement, or political action, but do it in a way which is like quite profound and beautiful. I want to continue the artform like I did with Black Boys Don't Cry and Fatherhood. Telling the story of something which is outspoken and deliberately done to provoke thought.