You’re Not Even Mandem – The Importance of Crafting & Narrating our Own Stories

As I was standing on the left side of the stage watching Dreamville’s Earthgang perform before the main headliner, J.I.D, was about to grace his presence at Adelaide Hall, I bumped into Jazz Cartier and exchanged pleasantries. He’s a very well known artist in the city, and he’s also one of several artists featured in Noisey’s 6IX RISING, which premiered recently online. We talked about the concerns we had with the making of it, and the most striking point was that it was made by people who were not of our kind, highlighting the goings on of our culture which Jazz has given his all to in the budding scene that is Toronto Rap.

Outsiders have taken quite an interest in wanting to profile our city, and the artists whom inhabit it, and that’s not just from a music standpoint – it covers all ground. Having placed in the Top 20 in many categories that rank World cities, even cracking the top 5 in a few of them (excluding Sports – for now), there’s a reason for citizens of this great city to have high expectations in all areas. But Black people in the city of Toronto have longed for their attention on the global scene by the rest of their peers. I won’t name “The Boy” here, because we all know the multiple narratives that exhausted online articles, and unofficial docs across YouTube made by the stanniest of stans that the OVO Parliament has to offer (By the way, Amani Bin Shikhan killed her piece for Noisey) . Like myself, there’s a strong contingent of people who have said “enough already,” and have wanted the city to be represented by more than just 1 dude whose most well known album, Take Care, is a misnomer for characterizing the persona of most men who call Toronto home – if I have to keep it real.

I’ve always tried my best to champion the artists of this city, from Rich Kidd, Luu Breeze, The Kid Famous (yes, at one time, that was a thing), Richie Sosa, Jack Flawless, Tona, and a few of my brejins who actually had something to say in music – it was just a matter of getting their voices heard around the city. But that part is hard, and just because of local blogs like City On My Back & Toronto Rappers, that hasn’t exactly made it easier, although the exposure has improved over time in the local scene. And that’s always been the problem. If you were from Scarborough, East York, North York, Downtown, or the West End, chances are that your crowd stayed within your Ward or respected Police Division (shoutout to 43; FDB though – thanks Tre). Outlets like TDotWire (then transitioning to VibeTO) were gems in connecting people across the GTA, and that allowed reasons for travel to be established. Basement Jams, All Ages Jams at your favourite banquet halls, and if you were a little in the know with the larger scene, downtown was where you were at. For myself, as a youth from Scarborough (deep Scarborough, at that), downtown was a distant place where it was to be visited only on the most special occasions. Little did I know that there was a life of its own down there that contributed to where we sit now with respect to the music world – or more specifically, Hip Hop.

The Arts is a field where many children of East & West Indian immigrants weren’t supported in pursuing. I can only speak for my experience, so if you’re a “but me too” non-POC face ass, then I’m not talking to you (with all due respect). With struggling living conditions and the urgency of money having to be in supply from when the eldest child of the household turns 16 years old (give or take), there isn’t time to invest in a full time pursuit of a career in the arts. Music, Film, Painting, Poetry – these things were meant to be hobbies and strictly that. Makeshift studios were created in the homes of our friends (closets, computer desks in the living room), and whoever had a decent working camera to record some grainy SD footage to get cut up in Windows Movie Maker, a video could be made, and it meant something. It was an opportunity to have a story told. Even if it wasn’t the hottest beat, the story was being told through some form. A neighbourhood, a lifestyle, and some form of authenticity from the individual’s point of view. It was a start, and those same kids from the under-privileged areas would go on crafting their own stories on a larger scale. The Real Toronto, albeit a microcosm of some things that actually went down, and a cult classic.

I’ve worked in Post Production for 4 years, and the first time I discovered that TV broadcasting was an all White affair, was when I was in college. There wasn’t one White student in my TV class, and there was only one in the program. So yeah, colour me surprised that I didn’t quite see myself in the Editing suite. When we get the opportunity to capture our own images through our own lenses, in a way that’s portraying us in an honest light, the feel is different. Nothing is particularly skewed for moderate entertainment, or glorifying the struggle that many have and still endure to this very day. It’s not for mass consumption or some kind of ‘poverty porn’. These are people’s lives, and they’re just as valid in telling their own stories as the next person. But they have to come from us to have a sense of validity. When Jazz mentioned to me in our conversation that “it’s our fault” for letting outsiders come into our spaces, he was absolutely right. We’ve yet to shed the title of consumer to move ahead in being the producers of our own content. Where there might be 1 or 2 Black people or people of colour involved in the creation process (I’m being very generous), the bulk of these productions have White Producers, White Editors, White Directors, White Camera Operators, White Sound Operators – you get the idea. But the faces on screen are Black. The people baring all for their time in the limelight, hoping to have their stories portrayed in an honest light; they’re all White faces staring back. Jazz Cartier posted a very captivating paragraph on Instagram highlighting his opinion of 6IX RISING where although it’s a great start in telling the story of the city’s first massive collective burst onto the Global Rap scene, we have so many passionate and creative artists who have showed time and time again that they have the ability to tell our stories at the ‘industry standard,’ but is just coded language for excluding Blacks from the equation.

The problem is, broadcasters don’t like to look for the talent unless it’s hand delivered to their doorstep. People of colour Black people whom are the best equipped to sharing these narratives, haven’t had the same opportunities to be in the building to create them. If you go into any television or film office (production or post production), you won’t find more than 3 Black people there, usually. Hell, you may not even find one, and they’re fine with that, and that’s the problem. When Black people are excluded from the creation process, you hear about it. This isn’t new information, and it’s what spawned the #OscarsSoWhite movement, and just about anything related to the true diversity and inclusivity of a medium that has been so concentrated in Whiteness, that it doesn’t know what to do with itself.

How can we get in the building? How can we start to facilitate the ways in which we carry out how we are portrayed to the masses? Going the independent route has always been the key, but why can’t we be on bigger platforms? Black people from under-privileged communities have always had to hustle – it’s second nature. But it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to tell the Whites in power to open their eyes and give others a chance. ‘Never beg,’ is equivalent to ‘no handouts,’ and I’m not about to draft up a respectable political quote to tell Black people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get to gettin.’ It’s not one of those conversations to be had. We’ve been here, but we can’t get in the building. I’ve certainly been dealt a great card in my life, where it comes to my position as a Black person in media, but it’s not enough to get in the building. There’s more who have wanted their stories told through their own lens. They deserve the opportunity to do so.

From Us, For Us, By Us.

That’s My Word & It STiXX

 

8 thoughts on “You’re Not Even Mandem – The Importance of Crafting & Narrating our Own Stories

  1. I am the editor of 6ix Rising and I am not white. Im not black. And I am not going to apologize for being a Trini, a cooliebwoy if I may, who in the 90’s back in Brampton where I used to push weight earned the name Yardie by the ‘mandem’ because of how close to Jamaican culture I was ingrained. If you want to have a conversation about referring to me as one of the Staniest of the Stans then bring it!

    1. The purpose of this isn’t for you to apologize for your identity. Where it’s great that you are a person of colour who identifies and can to a sense speak to the culture in which is reflected, the overall execution is outside of your control. As an Editor, yes you’re responsible for crafting a story, but you didn’t pick the artists, nor was the vision yours of how it was shot aesthetically. The excitement for the doc was genuine and I certainly don’t find it to be a piece that is bad in any sense, but more so underwhelming because of the creative process that was put in motion before a piece of footage was shot. Also, that Stan line wasn’t in reference to ‘6ix’ either. It’s bigger than just one doc – it just inspired me to write about feelings that were within from having many conversations.

      1. While I respect the conversation it sparked, leveraging the doc I proudly protected from the influencers who infringe upon the community you are standing up for, your position has left me feeling deeply offended. Sure I may not share the genetics of a black man but I sure as hell shared the struggle. Hustling was also second nature to me but this is not the conversation we are having here, and I don’t need to show you my stripes or explain my come-up. Your voice resonates, but don’t front like the matter in 6ix Rising was somehow molded, skewed and/or told dishonestly. Feel free to not like it for its inherent issues like the absence of a female perspective, or for the end execution in general but there were 8 black voices featured and each of them got a platfrom to tell their own stories through their own words as a snapshot of their own experiences. Certainly you are correct in that I did not choose the talent but it stops there because the aesthetic, as you pointed out, is that of normal film making regardless of ethnicity. As a person in this industry you should be familiar with the process and know publishing a documentary like the one you are calling out does not happen until the editor crosses all the t’s and dots all the i’s, because at the end of the day the editor is the filter and in this particular case the editor is me. The documentary doesn’t go anywhere until it has my seal of approval and that came with deep scrutiny from someone who came-up from a struggle relative to the talent who was followed. They chose rapping and I chose editing so please spare me the rhetoric. Ultimately we share the same hope of seeing more faces like ours prominent in the media landscape. Women and men alike. I would absolutely like to see more of those faces making big decisions and steering the ship as a whole even. I myself like to think that is my trajectory but when you discredit my work and disregard what I put in to get where I am at It feels a lot like crabs in a bucket.

      2. I think what’s being confused here is that there’s a belief that I criticized how you edited the whole piece, and thinking that I, for some odd reason, want to find a reason to tear down your name, when that’s not the case at all. Being that there are rarely people of colour in the edit suite making the final decisions for any type of visual project on this big a platform, I would be stupid to think that I, as another minority editor, would bring down what you’ve accomplished for the sake of boosting my own career. That doesn’t even make sense, and that was never the objective. I fully understand that you have say in the suite at the end of it all, and you have to fight for your art, as editors are artists. I too chose editing, and given that you’ve had more experience than me in the field, I’m in absolutely no position to say that you’re not qualified to speak on the faces in the doc, in which you can identify within your own right, given your lived experiences, and I respect that.

        What I was getting at, as a whole, was the fact that, the project could have had better execution if POCs familiar with the subject were involved from the beginning of the process, so that whatever big omissions made it into the final product, wouldn’t have been there in the first place. That’s bigger than just the editor, although in a documentary sense, you wield more power – but are still limited. You work with what’s been given to you, and you can dictate the story as much as you want when you have what’s in front of you, but that doesn’t mean that the execution was something that was effective.

        The doc was a reason for why I said what I said, because I was looking at it from the bigger picture, and moving forward, what can be done to assure that when it comes to projects that deal with subjects such as this doc did, that the right people are already in place to provide a different perspective. But it absolutely wasn’t an attack on who you are as a person and why you were or weren’t qualified to present this. That’s never what it was about. It was bigger than you.

  2. “With struggling living conditions and the urgency of money having to be in supply from when the eldest child of the household turns 16 years old (give or take), there isn’t time to invest in a full time pursuit of a career in the arts.” This. That whole paragraph perfectly lays out why this narrative is very specific and should be told by those who knew what it was like, and also reinforces what you’re saying about having an opportunity to have a story told by those who lived it. we really have to press the issue of why must the narrative always need to be told from those who weren’t even there! it seems as though, black people always have to grab the mic back, to explain their own accomplishments.

  3. … because my ability to reply to your comment it disabled, I’m laying down my response here.

    You named your op-ed “You’re Not Even Mandem…” and you initiated your point by highlighting a conversation you had with Jazz Cartier, a talent featured in 6ix Rising… “We talked about the concerns we had with the making of it, and the most striking point was that it was made by people who were not of our kind, highlighting the goings on of our culture which Jazz has given his all to in the budding scene that is Toronto Rap.” To this, as a person who played a key roll in the making of this doc, you put me in a position, like it or not, to make it clear that Mandem were involved with the making of it.

    Now to the bigger conversation. Yes it is bigger than me, I could not agree more but the soapbox you are standing on is flimsy, and to have your voice read loud and clear without interference I suggest you plant your feet on something firm because I’m calling bullshit on your use of 6ix Rising as your pivot point.

    When I first commented here I thought this was a blog-post from a stranger and felt I should let the poster know they misconceived how diverse our team actually was. You could only imagine the heartbreaking surprise it was for me to learn that the keyboard cowboy who took aim at my crew was actually somebody I considered a friend and sits less than 20ft away from my desk on any given day at the office. So when you sit there scratching your head wondering why I would take this personally, it is because I have always opened my door to you, and looooong before the release of 6ix Rising I spoke feely about its progress.

    I know you, and as it is reflected in this space you have curated here for yourself you are not someone to hold your tongue, but are someone who will speak up in the face of injustice. Yet you somehow maintained your silence through the making of 6ix Rising. Not a peep. You even lurked it months before it was done and through a smile exclaimed to me how great you thought it was. My thought is, if you harboured a difference in opinion, why wouldnt you seize the opportunity to be the change?

    Your hesitation seems to illustrate the bigger problem this doc has excited for you.

    It is also clear to me how your agenda benefits when you omit details you were actually privy to, or details you had access to. For instance the due diligence that went into the making of this film from the beginning, months before I had a shred of footage to cut. Maybe it hurts your point to acknowledge the NYC POC who was given a producer hat right out the gates, who took it upon himself to select two thirds of the talent we followed. Sure they may not have been your choices but those were creative decisions not Black vs Non-Black ones. The director who is not mandem but comes with huge credentials for immersive documentary film making regardless of the subject was called to the table, and his first step was to consult the POC acting editor for the vertical where this documentary was to be launched so he could absorb the lay of the land before taking a camera out in the field. Ring any bells? And when the director entered the field he brought myself (POC), the above producer (POC), the above producer’s female assistant (POC) and his proven crew of film gatherers. Perhaps you are not familiar with the democratic approach to filmmaking we take and how our horizontally integrated system allows everyone a voice including the PA’s. Im not saying it is without flaws because nothing is foolproof, but I will speak for our team’s amazing ability to navigate spontaneous obstacles as they pop up so we can best maintain the integrity of our doc(s).

    Straight up. You disrespectfully using our film as your launch pad stomps on the diverse set of faces who poured their hearts into it and I resent that. Tell me! Because I am very curious to know what omissions were made that if the right person, presumably you, what would the mandem have included if they were rightfully in control of their own narrative? And be sure to consider whether that thing is a cultural or creative decision.

    TBH, I want the discussion generated in this space to go back to where it matters. I want it transcend your blog and enter bigger forums. Bbut dont cry wolf and use 6ix Rising as an example of the problem. Both you and I know it isn’t. It demonstrated a wholehearted attempt to diversify the talent pool, so please turn your attention to and blow your whistle on actual examples out there, not us.

    Cool? Now please get out of my head because I have actual work to do. Just so you know, there is a Smoke Dawg doc on my plate and I hope you can see how I qualify for the task.

    Peace.

    1. Navin, I’m from Jane and Finch. Born and raised . I also had to opportunity of Going to Central Tech downtown for a little bit before I moved to Miami. My Uncle lives in scarbz so scarbz was my second home when I would escape the drama of the west End. I’ve had the unique ability to be or live everywhere considered to be “Toronto”. Brampton fam is not Toronto . Seriously Brampton is always trying to connect itself to the city but the cultures are different and so are the people. Maybe thats why it turned out like this. I’ma keep it a buck fifty wit ya . The Doc is trash. I mean str8 trash. I mean if the only way I could of save the earth was to throw this doc in the recycle bin I would sacrifice everybody on this planet and throw this DOC in the TRASH Bin because this doc was that bad. As a person who represented Toronto in Miami this is a BIG S.M.B.H. (B stands for bloodclaat). I cant even say I’m disappointed, this is what I actually expected from the jump. This doc makes us look like a wanna be American city. I laughed at some of the things presented and showcased in this Doc. It seemed as if there was no real direction in this documentary . What were the viewers supposed to get out of watching this documentary? Toronto is just another ghetto with no unique story? People get shot in Jane and finch and all around Toronto? In the words of Rico from Paid In full “Niggaz die everyday B” so why even showcase it? What about the culture that has influenced the music? The music is what the DOC is based on right? What about The Caribbean spots , the basketball gyms and the blocks with the Old YAad mon dem playing dominoes & Loodie? What about them same people Grilling up some chicken eating food , the parties and Basement Jams ? Sean Paul’s earlier Videos have done a better job at representing Toronto in 4 minutes than how ever long this documentary is has. The man not even from Toronto Lol. I don’t know stixx but whether you feel like he snaked you or not he right ya Doc could of involved more people would of made this shit a legit representation of Toronto. I would say good try but dis wasn’t even good lol. I’m out dis junk y’all need me holla at me on twitter @jameel3dn LOL Dueces !! Bless up to all da mon dem

      1. @JAMEEL3D thank you for saying this, it needed to be said and I agree. The critique was never about the editing of the piece a, and b, as a person born and raised in Brampton it is not the same or even similar, never has been, never will be for that matter to Toronto. The scope of this doc was a narrow-minded, predictable, already been told narrative we’ve been fed for so long.

        It’s my understanding that this piece facilitated the waves that needed to occur to narrate “our own stories.” @Navin clearly your personal attachment to the doc is clouding your judgement and ability to take a critique that was. not. at. all. related. to. the. editing. of. the. doc. And subscribe to the real issue here is just more fuel to the misrepresentation fire. The piece is ass. Edited beautifully but the content is booty. That’s the point that you’re failing to see because you’re too close to the painting. STiXX’s piece is so far from disrespectful and if I’m being honest the content is beyond your reach. The doc focuses on the “black hood” narrative, features black faces from black families and black cultures. An Indian Trini from Brampton is not fully equipped to tell that story. As a black Trini from Brampton, born and raised I’ll tell you this I’ve held my corner on this topic for longer than is natural to me lol but @JAMEEL3D talk di ting dem fam. Signal boost the one Dem call Jameel with the real feel #bars.

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