100 days of Trump: Jay Z′s ′Race′ and other documentaries you need to watch | Film | DW | 27.04.2017
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100 days of Trump: Jay Z's 'Race' and other documentaries you need to watch

As the US president reaches the 100-day mark, these films shed led on the polemical leader and the issues he is facing. Among the upcoming docu-series also exploring Trump's America is a project on race by rapper Jay Z.

While Donald Trump is struggling to promote the achievements of his 100 first days in office, his controversial political style and the deep divisions in the country he is leading are bound to further inspire investigative journalists, late-night talk show hosts and documentary filmmakers.

Among them is rap icon Jay Z, who's renowned as one of the best-selling musicians of all time. He is also a film and TV producer, whose real name is Shawn Carter. Last September, Carter signed a two-year deal with The Weinstein Company, allowing him to produce various projects.

Forever and 100 days: a mirror on racial injustice

Jay Z's latest announcement revealed that he was preparing a six-episode documentary series on racial inequality in Donald Trump's America, given the working title "Race," produced for National Geographic. The different episodes will explore issues such as crime and punishment, wealth inequality, the role of social media, activism, and family.

The series plans to allow people from all walks of life in cities across the US to tell their stories, combined with references to decisive historical moments underlying ongoing racial injustices.

"The stories explored in the project are necessary, and conversations that this series will inspire are needed. The country is more divided than ever," Jay Z said in a statement. The rapper refers to "deep-rooted wounds and beliefs" that have infected American society "forever," adding that, "Right now, we are experiencing the resurgence of attitudes from an ugly time in our history."

With the series, he hopes to "hold a mirror" to broken institutions and to society.

Inspired by the tone and the issues raised in "Jay Z: The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail," the project will blend documentary, animation and archival footage to present these issues in new cinematic form.

Although no release date has been revealed, the series is planned to be aired in 171 countries and made available in 45 languages, as the project aims "to ignite a global conversation," said National Geographic Global Networks' Courteney Monroe.

Nightmarish ordeal: The Kalief Browder Story

Other projects produced by Shawn Carter also focus on events that have highlighted these divisions over the last years.

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival and released in March on Spike TV, the documentary series "Time: The Kalief Browder Story" exposes the tragic fate of an African-American man called Kalief Browder.

The trailer to this six-episode series echoes the style of horror movie films - and depicts a real-life nightmare: Browder was arrested at the age of 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack. Without a trial, he was kept for tree years in the Rikers Island prison; he had to spend over two of those years in solitary confinement.

Affected by severe PTSD, Browder committed suicide two years after his release.  

Jay Z had met with Browder before his death after reading a profile on him in "The New Yorker." It made him want to deal with his case through this TV series. The rapper sees Browder's fate as symptomatic of a racist criminal justice system - but he also sees the possibility to change it.

At a press presentation of the series, he described his story as one that had the power to wake up the population. "We're society. We affect change. We can change everything. (...) Our voices are stronger than ever. If everyone in this room is like, 'I don't agree with this happening to a 16-year-old,' then it won't happen again. It's that simple," he said.

Also upcoming: Trayvon Martin's story

"Variety" magazine also revealed last month that Jay Z and The Weinstein Company had secured the rights to adapt two books on the story of Trayvon Martin, "Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It" and "Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin," to adapt them into another documentary series as well as a feature narrative film.

Martin was fatally shot in 2012 by a member of his community's neighborhood watch named George Zimmerman. The shooter was controversially acquitted at trial on grounds of self-defense - a decision that sparked outrage throughout the country. "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," said former President Obama at the time.

Racism in the Trump era

"When talking heads spoke of a post-racial United States of America, prejudices snuck into dark corners; injustices never stopped and stereotypes never faded," said Jay Z in a press release for his "Race" project.

Reflecting this view, in one of Obama's last interviews before his departure in January, the outgoing president reminded that talks of a post-racial America after his election were "naïve." Nevertheless, beyond any unrealistic expectations, many activists were disappointed by how little Obama intervened on behalf of African-Americans during his office.

Donald Trump's election only highlighted the still existing deep divide within the population, shedding light on those unfortunate "dark corners" in which prejudices were temporarily hiding. Projects like Jay Z's different documentary series are more necessary than ever, as they address those inequalities head-on.

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