You Do Not Know Me Film Premiere
You Do Not Know Me: A Spoken Word Film explores themes of police state violence and racial and gender stereotypes within the frame of Tulsa’s history. The film, directed by Myles Dement, premiered on Juneteenth of 2021.
Dement first saw poets Amri’ Littlejohn and Kelanni Edwards perform the spoken word poem at Booker T Washington in 2018. Three years from its original performance, the poem’s themes still hold, and Dement gives them new life through the camera’s lens.
“I don't think much has changed...since I saw it performed,” Dement said. “The change that we are seeking, unfortunately, has to take so much longer.”
I had the chance to speak with both Dement and Olive Blackmon, the film’s director of photography, about the piece. The two film students first met years back, at a film camp hosted by the University of Tulsa. Now, both study film in L.A. They came back together to make You Do Not Know Me when Dement posted a crew call on his social media. Blackmon was the first to answer.
Pictured Top to Bottom: Olive Blackmon, Myles Dement on the set
Making a spoken word film posed a new challenge for the young filmmakers.
“The visuals are what we had to focus on the most,” Blackmon said. “With feature films or short films, it's more about what's not being said...With spoken word it's literally what's being said. So we had to figure out how to not make it too much visually...simple enough so that you can truly hear every single word because every single line, I'm telling you, is like a punch to the face.”
With simple visuals, the words of the poem shine. The majority of the film is in black and white, with red accents reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.
The costuming too, designed by Lonnie McQuarters, is minimalist. Poets Littlejohn and Edwards wear white dresses and stand barefoot as they deliver the lines of the poem.
Dement had another key ingredient in mind.
“With this specific project, it's more about the content that's being said,” Dement said. “And also, secondarily, the historical significance of this setting.”
The majority of the film was set at the Historic Buford Colony Church. Littlejohn and Edwards perform standing symmetrically on the cement of the church porch.
Another segment of the film takes place on the stretch of highway where Terrence Crutcher was shot and killed by Officer Betty Jo Shelby in 2016. The echo of police violence still rings today and the words of Littlejohn and Edwards serve as poignant reminders that there is still work to be done.
“I'm hoping that this will just continue to push people to advocate for change locally, and...catalyze conversations,” Dement said. “I think that's the most that I can do because I don't have the biggest platform to just tell people ‘Hey do this,’ but I feel like we can all do our part individually on a grassroots level.”
Some of You Don't Know Me's cast and crew