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Writer/director Sonia Lowman’s second project Black Boys, a film to illuminate the full humanity of Black boys and men in America, is coming to NBCUniversal’s Peacock this week. Beyond its relevance to current times, Black Boys offers a unique perspective, a raw look at some difficult conversations around race, and tugs at the heartstrings. It also features a direct title, one that, as it turns out, was supposed to be confrontational.
She explained why when I chatted with her about the documentary and was curious about what birthed the idea for her. She shared her thought process behind titling the film Black Boys, which in a way calls out what people are reluctant or unwilling to discuss. Here’s what she said:
It was around 2017 and that was when take a knee was happening… there was the first wave of the Black Lives Matter movement and we’d been seeing a lot of the police killings on the news, and I was just sort of watching how white Americans were responding to these things, and I felt like there wasn’t nearly as much outage as I would have expected to be witnessing these murders, and also watching the backlash against the sports activism…
It really got me thinking about these questions around the humanity of Black men and boys. Why didn’t white people seem to care more when they die? And why don’t we see more of the full humanity of Black men and boys depicted in the media? Why doesn’t there seem to be more respect for that? So, those were kind of the central questions driving Black Boys but really looking at this, this issue is kind of the thing we don't want to talk about in America, you know, and that’s why we called it Black Boys, it’s kind of confrontational. It’s sort of like, nobody wants to talk about the way that Black men and boys are treated. Especially white people don’t want to talk about it.
Lowman made her filmmaking debut with Teach Us All, a documentary that looks at school segregation in America. Teach Us All was acquired by 13th director Ava Duvernay’s distribution company, ARRAY, and is currently available to stream on Netflix.
The director was as thoughtful and meticulous during our conversation as she was putting together this film. Her care is evident even in the way the documentary is structured and throughout its presentation of each male that is featured. The interviews in the film hold a lot of emotion, and I wondered what the experience was for the black men and boys. How did they perceive the process of Lowman telling their story?
Pretty well, it seems. Here’s what Lowman told me:
With regard to me being a white woman and making this film, talking about and trying to understand and learn about the experience of Black men and boys...a number of the young men I spoke to especially said, ‘Nobody has ever asked me these questions; nobody’s ever been interested in this.’ And I think it was sort of maybe disarming for me to be very honest about, you know, for me saying, I was afraid of Black men.
Wow. There is so much power in that statement she made, in her ability to admit something that many would recoil from. Lowman’s honesty is part of what makes the film so striking, as well. It’s very important to her, as she said,
My feeling is that those things won’t change until we’re honest with ourselves. So I think everybody should reflect, personally, on how they are contributing and be willing to be really honest with themself, and not be afraid to say, ‘Oh, God, I’m a part of this, so how do I start to unpackage that? How do i start to decondition myself?’
Sounds like the goal here is for audiences to walk away with a great deal of introspection, and I certainly did after watching.
Black Boys is available on NBCUniversal’s Peacock September 10. While you're on the platform, be sure to check out these Peacock Original series as well as these hidden gems. If you're looking for more documentaries, we've got you covered there, too.