Filmmaker Mystery Clemmons on latest film ‘Astray’ + The Blurred Lines of a Black Boy Living in America Today

ATM: Why did you pick to implement the overused paradigm of the black boy walking home vs. him skipping in your film Astray?

MC: It starts off slow with the movement the main character gets hit. It was about surprising the audience. The original character is slow and calm. As he progresses, he gets more hyped and not himself because the other character influenced in a bad way. This is why I did this. I wanted to make sure the audience knew he was calm and collective. It is obvious he messed up his life in the end. I did not make the film by myself. I did it with my friend from California. We met in high school in an intro class. It clicked in my head that this what we wanted to do. He is not from Texas but lives here. I am from the South Side of Chicago but also live in Texas.

ATM: Express the reasons for the inferior trait and superior trait.

MC: The character starts off kind and opens to help someone. Most of the time people are taken advantage. You do not know them. It messes you up. It represents to take on your path and not let others influence you in the wrong way.

ATM: What can you reflect about the naivety in your character when meeting people?

MC: You never know how people are. The main character is trying to be open and be friendly. He does not see the guy he is helping is a theft and a bad influence. The whole reasons this guy is in trouble is because he got in trouble with the people who are jumping him. He is trying to be kind and receives good karma on this life. He did not stay in this ware land or be aware of your situation. Most of the time you can get caught up, especially today. I am from Chicago. Being a black young man growing up in the United States these days, if you do not mind your own business and stay in your lane you can get caught up.

I was trying to portray this. You immediately know this at the beginning of the film. There is a camera shot of them walking away from this watch. It is representing the guy got what he wanted. He is infiltrating the good guy’s life to be like him. The bad guy represents every negative thing. It does not have to be another bad friend. It could be a cop or a girlfriend.

ATM: I am a black woman, but not a black male. Our gender and race are both marginalized, but differently. But because I am not a male, I did not know how it feels to be feared in America to this degree. Chicago has a reputation for a very high crime rate. The feeling could be different between us because of our gender, economic status, and educational factors. So, walking out the door of your apartment or house in the morning could be different.

MC: The United States is all about “freedom.”

ATM: Last I checked there is nothing to be free for if you are black. Yes, it is a contradiction.

MC: You are scared as a black young man. You fear the police because you never know what is going to happen. You see black men get shot most of the time. You are afraid of being safe in your own country. We have to extra extra try to be successful. White males do not have to try. We have to push even harder. We are set to a higher standard than everyone in this country. Personally, and honestly for me, I do not feel free. I feel scared. I know I have to be brave and healthy for my peers and other people in my race and other minorities. This film I trying to show them to stay in your circle. This is the problem with people in America. They are followers. People like swaging their jeans and being in gangs.

It is a dangerous life. It cycles, but people just keep following it and leads them down a wrong path. You must focus on yourself and face your dream. This goes for rappers such as Lil Pump. Everyone wants to be like Lil Pump, but this not your dream or life. I feel scared inside, but from the outside, I cannot show it. I am a black man, and I have to be healthy and look healthy. You never let them see you with your head down and see you weak. This moment is when they attack you and get you. You cannot be weak.

ATM: The black race has always been like this young man. It has been like this for generations and generations. The older generation had it harder. There is no German shepherd bites or water stains on your clothing. This is the reality of realizing the threat of being black in America. It was never easy from when we picked cotton to when you as a young man are walking down the streets of Chicago today.

MC: My brother was shot in Chicago. He got shot in the head and in the heart. I did not cry when first receiving the news. I was more confused. I realized more when getting older that he was being a follower. Just because of his skin color, he got up. His own people killed him. I grew up with the mindset that “We all have to stick together.” Why fight each other when we are against the world?  

ATM: And this is the reason we cannot move forward as a nation and as a race. As a black male in America or black female, you have a higher chance of dying to the bullet or the hand of your own kind.

MC: This country is saying black people are less and most of the black people feeding into this. We treat each other differently similarly to scums at the bottom of the earth. Black is beautifully. In Africa, it is black is beautiful. We come from queens and kings. We come from royalty.    

ATM: Born 1583 and died 1663, Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba was one of the royal Queens you are talking about. She reigned all over in her sector in Matamba, Africa. For the African King, you have the earliest Endubis who lived 270 – c. 300. He was the King of Aksum in East Africa. He minted his coinage. The rest of the Kings followed making it a tradition. This is what your education does not want you to know.

MC: This is not a cocky way. It is just in our blood. This country started off with us. Are you a black female? Do you understand what I am saying? It is kind of worse for you all.

ATM: Yes, but this is relative. I have been racially profiled. I have been called out of my name, but this out of the naming calling was by my own race. It is opinionated because when walking out of my door, I do not be afraid. I do not walk with my head down fearing the black man, the Latino man, the white man, or the Chinese man. I do not. I walk with my head up, thinking about some interview I must do. Of course, I feel the fear, the systematic pressure, but I do not tap into it. I made this choice. This is no more my country than a white person.

You are not scaring me out of my own country. You can scare the next black man or woman, but not me. I do not fear I will get shot because of my gender. I am not oblivious or naïve in this way. Black females do also experience things. The stereotype of black males getting incarcerated is more likely and higher than black females. There could be more cases and stories, but our media in America does not focus on this. There are a lot of stories that did not even make your eyes. The fear comes from not being educated. You are either born fearless or not. This is not a trait you can make, but it is a trait you can develop. It does not cross my mind that I could get shot or murder. No. I have better things to do and think about and should the next black person. Scare for what? This is what confuses me about the black race. A lot of people are scared but pose like they are not.

MC: I am not trying to be biased. This is also for people who do not understand. This is also for the other minorities.

ATM: A black male or female receiving education in a low impoverished sector of the world are more likely to feel afraid. If you have a lack of resources, then you are going to get controlled easily. If this is not true, then this is the stereotype or narrative put out for these types of people. Most of my education has been with predominately white or internationally born people in America. I went to school on Capitol Hill near the White House. So, I cannot understand how it would be for any other black male or female who did not. If I could remember, then most of my classes were never predominately black. I have always been the only black person and youngest dining at eating establishments and professionally.

I get what you are saying, truly, but unfortunately, I cannot relate and have this frame of mind. No one gave me anything, I worked for it. I know very well my race is a threat to America. So, you have a lot of people stepping to this mindset, but also trying to change. You cannot be scared and try to cause change. You cannot pretend to be fearless. More black people have called me nigger, then white people.

MC: I am trying to change the standard of how people change. White people see black people as gangbangers no matter what. You could be a black dude wearing glasses and get called a nigger. I saw something on Twitter where this black guy said other black people said he sounded white. He asked what does this means. Black people have to talk like, “What’s up my, Niggah. What is good?” They are not educated. This is just being ignorant. I-I just. . .

ATM: Why you stop talking?

MC: Give me a minute. I am just thinking about my brother.

ATM: What was his name?

MC: My brother’s name was Deonte.

ATM: How old was he?

MC: He was 22 when he got shot.

ATM: Okay.

MC: I met him one time. I will never forget. It was powerful. I am also a big brother. I have three stepbrothers. I have two half-brothers that are dead. I have one who died in the ER when he was born. This brother got shot. My third brother has no connection with me. I feel as if something is missing all the time. It inspires me because I know he is watching me. I want to make him proud. Even though I met him once when I was little, I still have a strong connection. I know he wants me to be better than him and make better decisions.

It is a huge push for me. I remember him being very taller than me and very kind. There was one time in the car on the South Side of Chicago. We were in the hood. We were driving down the street and we stopped at a stop sign. Dudes were hollering at my mother. My mother is not his real mother. My dad had him with someone else. My real mother was in the car and the dudes were catcalling at her. He protected my mom.

I saw a lot of character in him in the small time I met him. It was him being a big brother. I only got to experience this for a day, to be honest. I felt I learned a lot from him based on the one time. I was little, but the more I think and learn about him from my father, he was not the type of guy to be involved in gangbanging. He was not a gang member, but at the wrong place and time.

Gabrielle, is it okay that I ask you questions? I know I am getting interviewed, but I want to get more comfortable. I feel stiff and tense. Where are you from?

ATM: I was born and raised in Washington, DC, on the northern side but reside in New York for the time being.

MC: This is interesting. What made you want to get in the field of interviewing?

ATM: I have always been curious and extremely inquisitive. I never stopped until I found the answer, not nothing close to the answer, but the full answer. I have always had a deep obsession with asking questions more than the average person. It is the one thing that I could never get bored doing.

MC: I wanted to know more about you so I could get more comfortable. This is my very first time ever doing an interview. In the Texas town where I and my co-partner in this film live everyone is so fake and follow each other. From where we are from, people are creative and do their own thing. It makes us feel weird because it is not where we are from. I connected with him on a deep level.

ATM: Why did your mother name you Mystery?

MC: My mother named me and my sister Janessa Clemmons. This is my baby sister. My father named my other brother’s names are Music and Magical. My mother told me she looked in my big beautiful brown eyes and my name came to her. This is the story she told me.