A Colorful Video Reveals the Invisibility of Black Lives

‘Color of Reality’ combines visual and movement artistry to tackle issues of injustice and violence.
Sep 20, 2016·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

It’s been 64 years since Ralph Ellison made that poignant observation in his novel Invisible Man, a literary classic about a black man whose skin tone makes him invisible. Nowadays some Americans say the nation is post-racial or that they don’t see color—even as the television news reports on the latest officer-involved killing of a black person.

So can black people finally become visible if they’re painted with a palette of blues, yellows, and purples? That’s one of the questions raised by the short film Color of Reality, a collaboration between visual artist Alexa Meade and movement artists Jon Boogz and Charles “Lil Buck” Riley.

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The video shows Boogz and Buck, who have been painted by Meade, watching a television that broadcasts a stream of news about the deaths of black people and the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The two men “release their emotion into a stirring dance that is both a lament and a spirited call to action,” according to the video’s YouTube description. When the dancers leave the painted room and emerge into the real world, they’re confronted with the harsh reality of being invisible—just as Ellison’s nameless protagonist was six decades ago.

“We wanted to use the art to turn these tough topics and tough conversations into beautiful messages for people. Hopefully it will inspire them to take action and make a change, start uniting as a people and stop these senseless acts of violence,” said Boogz, a Los Angeles– and Las Vegas–based movement artist, director, and choreographer, who came up with the concept. “If anything, it’s really to provoke people to think about it and have empathy towards what’s going on out here, and hopefully that will make us as a human race—as human beings—want to come together more.”

Alexa Meade painting Lil Buck. (Photo: Matthew Brush/Alexameade.com)

So far, the clip, released two weeks ago, has racked up nearly 85,000 views on YouTube. Thanks to the connections of producer Kalie Acheson, through the end of September, residents of Los Angeles are also able to see it at the top of every hour on a StandardVision billboard downtown. The response has “been overwhelmingly positive,” Meade said, and it’s shifting some folks’ understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“There are people saying that they didn’t empathize before with the movement. They just thought people were making some noise, and then they watched this video, and all of the sudden they got it,” Meade said. “They felt empathy. They understood that this is a problem and that beautiful people are being taken too soon.”

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Art enables people to empathize, said Meade, because it allows people to connect to a topic “in a way that’s not threatening. It’s not somebody who’s telling you ‘You’re wrong. You need to change. Let me throw statistics at you, or let me tell you the end is near.’ Instead, you’re seeing something and feeling a story emotionally.”

Meade invented her signature style of painting, which makes 3-D objects and people appear to be part of a 2-D work of art, in 2009. Her 2013 TED Talk about her technique has just over 2.5 million views on YouTube. “I’d been a fan of her work for a long time,” Boogz told TakePart, but the two had never collaborated. This summer, as he was scrolling through Meade’s Instagram feed, an image she posted in May of a man watching television caught his attention. It made Boogz, who has previously tackled social and environmental issues through his art, reflect on the steady stream of stories about violence, inequality, and injustice that people are inundated with when they watch the news.

Boogz and Buck are longtime collaborators and the cofounders of Movement Art Is, an organization that turns dance into a tool to inspire others to break down social and economic barriers. It took about a month for them to plan out the choreography and storyboard the scenes in Color of Reality.

Meade spent four days “painting the background of the furniture, the clothes, the TV, all the elements of the scene,” she said, prior to a two-day shoot at her studio in Los Angeles. The color scheme used for the background was intentionally chosen. “The blue just worked so well for feeling like sky and dreams, but it also symbolized the bubble that we’re in,” Meade said.

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“Living in that painted world is subliminal for how a lot of people think some of these issues that are going on don’t affect them,” Boogz explained. But watching the news “gets us so sad and infuriated that it makes us want to go out in the world and provoke change and bring love and healing to the world.”

The scenes after the dancers leave the room have a double meaning, Boogz said. They represent “the racial issues we’re dealing with as a society,” and they reflect the artists’ feelings about how art is often not appreciated in America.

“We’re these beautiful pieces of art walking around, and we have nothing but love and innocence about us, and people still don’t care because of how we look,” Boogz said. “We’re trying to talk to people, trying to reach out to them, and they just look at us like we’re crazy. They don’t pay us any mind because we’re different.”

Boogz’s and Buck’s characters end up being gunned down on the street, and Color of Reality ends with a drone shot that slowly pans up from the two men’s bodies to show the skyline of downtown Los Angeles. “The nickname for Los Angeles is the City of Angels, and we happen to be, at the end of the film, passing away,” Boogz said. “It’s just showing no one is really safe from these injustices, no matter who you are or how safe you may feel. There are reckless acts of violence happening all the time.”