Lil Buck and Jon Boogz Made a Moving Video About Mass Incarceration

May 11, 2017

How do you make a dance film about one of the most devastating social issues of our time? In the latest collaboration from Lil Buck and Jon Boogz, the answer is to merge visceral movement storytelling with cold, hard facts.

“Am I a Man?” follows Lil Buck and Boogz as they dance through an experience that one out of every three black men in America between the ages of 18 and 30 faces: arrest, conviction and imprisonment. But what takes this video to the next level is the interspersed interview from lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson, whose commentary on the ways that our justice system unfairly treats people of color brings a sense of urgency to the narrative.

Dance truly carries the narrative arc of the film, from the dancers’ smooth, walking-on-air quality pre-arrest to the way their desperation seems to grow in intensity the longer they’re imprisoned. When they’re released, their movement mirrors phrases from the beginning of the film, but this time more subdued, less carefree. The dancers’ embodiment of the experience of being incarcerated is a powerful reminder of dance’s ability to address even the most complex social issues.

Just last winter Kyle Abraham tackled the same issue onstage in his Untitled America for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, focusing specifically how the incarceration of black men affects their families.

“Am I a Man?” was produced by Movement Art Is, a organization founded by Lil Buck and Jon Boogz to harness the power of dance for social change.