East End Film Festival: Don’t Be Nice

Don't Be Nice
Don’t Be Nice
Directed by Max Powers
Starring Lauren Whitehead, Ashley August, Sean DesVignes, Timothy DuWhite, Joel Francois, Noel Quiñones, Jon Sands and Caroline Sinclair
Screening at EEFF April 20th, 2018

by Bernie C. Byrnes

A team of young black Slam Poets finds its voice in telling hard truths as it competes for the National Championship during the racially-charged summer of 2016.

The documentary follows five African-American, Afro-Hispanic and queer poets in their 20s as they get ready to compete in the National Slam Poetry Festival. It’s harrowing in places, full of perceptive commentary on race, gender, identity and sexual politics in America today. It certainly isn’t easy to hear young black men refer to themselves as ‘hunted’ – and with good cause. The incidents of police brutality and fatal shootings that provide the backdrop to these poets’ journeys are sickening and shameful.

Particularly disturbing is the whitewashing of Black culture, which I had never been made so poignantly aware of before. That said, to give the impression Don’t Be Nice is a dry, worthy piece of propaganda would be wholly unfair.

The true strength of this film is the same as can be found in any number of Hollywood blockbusters about the underdogs’ voyage to Nationals (Sister Act and Bring It On being prime examples). These young poets push themselves on a journey of self-discovery through their writing that leaves them permanently changed by one summer. Together they overcome their personal boundaries to write from a place of vulnerability, pain and honesty, producing staggeringly beautiful results.

I liked these people. I was rooting for them. It was also a rare opportunity to attend a poetry writing masterclass that was genuinely brilliant. This documentary is a must for all aspiring poets young or old.


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