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Watch Teaser For "I Am John Wayne" (Young Black Cowboy Struggles w/ Death Of Best Friend)

by Courtney
May 29, 2012 7:53 PM
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I Am John Wayne

Here's a very brief teaser for a short film titled I Am John Wayne, directed by Christina Choe. It doesn't give you a lot of information about the film, but I'm drawn to it. Something about a melancholic young black man riding a horse in the middle of a desolate, gritty, grimy New York city street locale; throw in the unexpected background music. 

That's enough for me to take notice and want to see the rest of it.

And it's apparently worth seeing since it's been picking up acclaim on the film festival circuit, where it's been all year, and continues to travel. It started off the year winning the Grand jury prize for best short film at the Slamdance Film Festival in January, and has played at several film festivals all over the world since then.

The synopsis reads: A young black cowboy struggles with the death of his best friend.

Watch the short teaser and see if it draws you in as well (I like the poster too):

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  • lauren | June 6, 2012 10:33 AMReply

    And... the film looks good.

  • Donella | June 4, 2012 8:18 PMReply

    I subscribe to the Public Enemy view: "Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant $hit to me. Straight up racist he was straight and plain. Man, muthaf^ck him and John Wayne!"

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  • Muse | June 1, 2012 2:01 PMReply

    The trailer reminds me of the scene in the Wire where Dookie is riding in a buggy with the drug addicted metal scrap dealer.

  • Dankwa Brooks | May 31, 2012 4:13 PMReply

    LOL. Well Elvis is not of my era, but growing up in a black family, in a black community, you learn things through osmosis. Some how I knew about Elvis, but not about John Wayne and I think everyone is indeed taking A TITLE of a grad student film too seriously. The same reason someone(s) thought Soul Plane was a good idea specifically because no one from our culture was in the boardroom when that was greenlit. I felt the same way about 'The Help'. I never expected a white writer/director to adapt a book from a white writer to have any real resonance of black culture/history thus I wasn't even offended. Some things just aren't that serious

  • Dankwa Brooks | June 1, 2012 2:29 AM

    I agree! I enjoy the discussion and different opinions. There are no ill feelings about anything said.

  • Laura | May 31, 2012 8:42 PM

    No this is not a serious matter. However it does not mean a film and the context in which it was made can not be critique.

  • CareyCarey | May 31, 2012 3:59 AMReply

    My vote goes to Leon and Darkan. Listen, I was hesitant to read this post because I didn't want anything to do with a black image under the words "I am John Wayne". I can only assume the filmmaker wasn't aware of John Wayne's racial views, but that does not excuse her misstep. And Charles's analogy was off base. Seriously, who associated X-Clan with the Klu-Klux Klan? That's really a stretch. In different cultures and situations, a clan may mean the same thing as other kin-based groups, such as tribes and bands. Often, the distinguishing factor is that a clan is a smaller part of a larger society such as a tribe, a chiefdom, or a state. The word is derived from 'clann' meaning 'family' in the Irish and Scottish Gaelic languages. And John Wayne's "PERSONA" may be manufactured, but he owed his racial remarks. He did not utter those words as lines from a movie. So I agree with Darkan, being an artist does not give one a free pass. The artist still has to respect the feelings of others and be fully aware of sensitive issues that may offend a specific culture. To that point, how and why did Aaron Copland's music fit this discussion?

  • Laura | May 31, 2012 8:40 PM

    Let me add to Charles comment. As a filmmaker one the things you are suppose to do is research. Particularly as a director and writer. It's borrowed from stage drama. It's called dramaturgy. Researching a topic is one of the commandments of film making. The fact that the director invoked John Wayne's name means that she knew that the particular icon has some weight in American culture. She could not scratch the surface more to know about his personal history. I call BS. Either she is very lazy or it's some sort of in joke and she is being "ironic". Personally I'll take the latter explanation. And no she does not get a pass because she is "Asian."

  • CareyCarey | May 31, 2012 12:45 PM

    Come on Dwanka, how is a person suppose to know?! Wait a minute, you said you've heard about Elvis's racial views but not John Wayne's... because Elvis is in "your era"? So are we to assume that you are only aware of the racial attitudes of those born in your era? Certainly that can't be the case. Also, as Darkan implied, there is a responsibility of the artist to KNOW their subject matter. The streets to hell are paved with good intentions. And you're right, if you made a film about Asian culture that offended them, you can certainly expect to be called on it. So again, it's wise to do your homework.

  • Charles Judson | May 31, 2012 12:04 PM

    And keep in mind, my last comments, while starting in response to Dankwa, are meant to be part of a larger conversation and not aimed at Dankwa specifically.

  • Charles Judson | May 31, 2012 11:19 AM

    Dankwa your comments--unintentionally--reinforce my personal frustration with how limited these conversations are. There is more than one way to dissect a film. Choe doesn't have to come from within, or be versed in African American culture to be aware of John Wayne's standing. As you pointed out she's Asian. She's also a woman. If we're using the main character's race to claim she should know about John Wayne's racism, than she should be just as aware as someone who is Asian. If that's the way we're going. You can take it further because one of Wayne's most iconic role is as a virulent racist in THE SEARCHERS. Even as filmmaker she should be aware what weight the name carries. To immediately slam Choe and claim she's suffering some historical or contextual blind spot, without demonstrating that blindness, is shortsighted. HOWEVR. While I don't agree that Choe should be limited in how she creates her films, which includes everything from the script to the title. I do understand the fundamental nature of where Leonraymond and Darkan's critique come from. If you want to be taken seriously as a filmmaker flippantly making choices without regard to why you're making those choices, with an eye on a particular goal or outcome, tends to make for weak filmmaking, confusing messages, and uninspired careers. It may seem overly harsh, however, I have lost respect for many a filmmaker when I've asked them about why they picked a title or named a character and their reply betrays they didn't really even think about it. Then as we talk more, I come to understand how little thought went into the entire project. It's disappointing to then watch that person treat their next film with the same shallowness they did with the last film.

  • Dankwa Brooks | May 31, 2012 10:20 AM

    I cram to understand how the heck someone outside of African American culture is supposed to know about John Wayne's racist views? Hell I didn't know. I've heard about Elvis' racist views and such, but never John Wayne's. He's not of my era so all I know about him is that he was a huge star in the "olden days" and they showed his movies all the time on the UHF channels. This scrutiny is far too harsh. I'm 90% sure that if I made a film about Asian culture that I might portray something that might offend. I'm sure of all the things she would want us to be talking about in her film, I'm sure the title isn't one.

  • Charles Judson | May 31, 2012 8:01 AM

    It's about using iconography as a tool as a filmmaker. We're supposed to be filmmakers who use a variety of tools to tell stories and convey messages. X-Clan used both clan's denotation (a word meaning family) and it's denotative elements that would have brought the Klan to mind to turn it into a name that empowered. This is a group that did come out in 1990. Do you really think an audience who heard the name X-Clan first, before they saw the name, wouldn't at some point think of the word Klan? Especially after years of Ronald Reagan, the dismantling of social programs, the Willie Horton Ad, and specifically in New York, the highly publicized murders of two Black men in 1982 and 1986. From X-Clan's biography: "X Clan stayed focused in it's mission of freedom and upliftment in the face of racial tension and indigenous genocide." Spike Lee used a piece of music strongly identified as Americana to juxtapose two American systems, namely the prison system and college basketball. Two systems that can entrap and ensnare young Black Men and use them for their own ends. Only one does it more overtly and the other, ironically, in the guise of being a means to a better life. In the cases of X-Clan and Copland, it's using icons to comment on multiple levels and to create a frame or multiple frames. So what does using the name John Wayne and having a title called I AM JOHN WAYNE convey? What does that create when you read or hear the title and see that the protagonist is Black? Considering John Wayne's stance on Vietnam and some of his troubling roles, including playing an Asian (and looking pretty sh*tty when he did), I'm sure an Asian director and screenwriter like Choe is fully aware of that she's invoking both the "positive" traits of the John Wayne, just as much as the negative. To continuously run things through the "Black Filter-tron" instead of as an artist and as a filmmaker is something I find both frustrating and troubling for the long term health of our creative community. I have no problem with someone taking offense with the use of John Wayne, but can we take these conversations up a few notches? This is supposed to be a virtual gathering place for the discussion of cinema.

  • Charles Judson | May 30, 2012 1:16 PMReply

    So what about a group like X-Clan? True, they aren't using the K version of the word, however they are playing with the iconography of the name. If she had reworked the title along those lines would that have made a difference? John Wayne is just as much a manufactured persona as it is a stage name. There are negative connotations to the John Wayne persona, there are also instant associations that put it in line with Marilyn Monroe, Betty Page, etc, which also come with their own baggage. It's that complexity that gives them weight and power to comment and juxtapose ideas. Why shouldn't a filmmaker be able to play on those icons to create and frame stories? Spike Lee used Aaron Copland's music because of it's status in He's Got Game. Should he have not used Copland's music because it's from a pre-Civil Rights era or because he should have hired a Black composer? How exactly are we supposed to continue expanding what's possible for Black filmmakers and films that feature Black characters if everything must first be run through a "Black Filter" for appropriateness?

  • LeonRaymond | May 30, 2012 10:19 AMReply

    and I support her as a filmmaker 100% I did not have a problem at all with the premise nor would I ever critique the film grad student or super star, I do not roll into that cause this is a palette to make art, I just wanted that person to know in regards to what John Wayne meant to people of Color, hey they have postage stamps of him but yet they ask our President of the United States to produce his birth certificate. But she should be able to make and endear any project she sees fit and feels she might want to do, and I would be there to fight with a baseball bat for her right to do so!!!

  • Darkan | May 30, 2012 1:30 PM

    The bottom line is as reporters of emotion and thought... Filmmakers should also have a responsibility of how their work will promote the images and affect those who are viewers. Why do people feel like just because you are an artist you also have the right to be free in your responsibilities? When it comes to misinterpretation of culture and touching themes, I have a tremendous issue with that!!!

  • Yolanda | May 30, 2012 10:08 AMReply

    There is a more detailed description of the film on her old Kickstarter page...

  • Dankwa Brooks | May 30, 2012 9:50 AMReply

    First of all I saw this @ the 2012 Maryland Film Festival and HE IS NOT an "angry young man riding a horse". He is indeed a bereaved young man over the loss of his friend.  Second, the director is Asian and I think she picked the name for the iconography of John Wayne as a cowboy more than anything else. In the Q&A after the film she said that she wrote the story based around actual black men who rode horses in New York (can't remember the borough). She was a film grad student looking to make a film around an interesting subject. Nothing more nothing less. I don't think she knew or took into account any racial animus by John Wayne. The film itself was good, but not outstanding. It was what it was a grad student film and should be scrutinized as such. I reviewed all the films I saw at the 2012 Maryland Film Festival (& there were many) on my company Facebook page

  • Darkan | May 30, 2012 1:26 PM

    What does this clip speak to you?

  • LeonRaymond | May 30, 2012 12:58 AMReply

    @Anita Swift, your not talking to some boy, go back and look at the tapes of John Wayne's statements that he would not do films and or star in films if a colored man was in a lead, he never felt we were at all equal to Whites. Just because he did films with WOODY STRODE don't mean jack. He had a hard time with us as a culture and always always sided with the Klu Klux Klan when asked about their own hatred of Black folk. You may have known him sat down with him and had a delightful meal and even went fishing but at the end of the day he just did not like us. To hell with that nonsense about re-claiming the name , oh so I should a film called I am the Klan, come on stop with the justifications for some one who was overtly against who we were as a people. The point is to be sensitive to cultures you may not understand Go and ask Native Americans how they felt about your beloved John Wayne, go ahead and ask them. Then ask Latino's how he felt!!! and the truth of the matter , they would not even let Spike do a Holocaust film, his script would not get past the front door and I understand that, that's a very sacred cow and I dig it, the thought of what went down with Hitler gives me goose bumps cause I know we would have been the next on his extermination list. But I just want to say NO it's not okay also to do a film that embody's the name of some one who looked at us as something below the human scale!!!!

  • Darkan | May 30, 2012 1:31 AM

    Thank you LeonRaymond.

  • LT | May 29, 2012 11:24 PMReply

    It's a reclaiming of the name.

  • LeonRaymond | May 29, 2012 8:48 PMReply

    The title, I am John Wayne, and anybody who knows their film or political history knows John Wayne Hated Black People, he never thought of us as human, so why would any American ride and a horse embodying John Wayne The premise sounds good, but this for the title and using a Black person, they had to have had a memory wipe or they never live in America !!!!

  • Laura | May 31, 2012 8:28 PM

    If she understood Black culture in New York then she would know "The Federation of Black Cowboys" located in Brooklyn. Yeah this looks like some BS up in here. Exoticizing and fetishizing Black folks as usual.

  • Anita Swift | May 29, 2012 11:05 PM

    Did you know John Wayne personally? I did and he was not a racist.

  • Darkan | May 29, 2012 10:57 PM

    Agreed @LeonRaymond. I thought the same thing when I read the post but I didn't want to be the first to say so because I'm I get tired of people on this site telling me to lighten up. When I looked it up I saw a clip that didn't impress me and actually made the lead protagonist as an angry black teen looking for trouble. That's the problem when we applause non-blacks for telling our story. They don't understand the struggles or the fact that Elvis and John Wayne were racist men towards blacks. But these are the film makers who aren't sensitive to our culture who get rewarded for telling these types of stories. That's like Spike Lee directing a story of the Holocaust. Huh??? I appreciate the director wanting to cast against type but I think she dropped the ball by not knowing this about our culture and naming the film the way it is. That's why I accept the responsibility to tell or stories correctly and will die doing so!

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