I was in Park City when Trump announced his Muslim ban in 2017. The overall mood in that town of celebrity, parties, and excess was true hopelessness. I felt it too. Up until that point I held out hopes that Trump was all talk. Perhaps he would be a lame duck president from the start, more interested in golf than following through on all his asinine declarations during his campaign. After his first executive order it became clear that I was wrong. So I found myself walking up and down the hills of Park City feeling hopeless. I didn’t feel like I could do anything to help these innocent people that were caught up in the leader of the free world’s xenophobic declarations. Marches were organized in Park City and while they are essential at the time it felt silly. I wanted to go to the Seattle Airport and escort those people stuck in limbo past the guards and turnstiles, out the door and onto the soil that I call home, that they call home.
But that was impossible, so then what? Much like when I am making a short film I took inventory of the tools at my disposal and thought about how to use those for good. I have a camera, I have computers to edit on and a small (very small) voice. I didn’t want to post on Facebook, the echo chamber of your own beliefs. In recent years I have lost all hope in social media. It is a necessary evil for what I choose to do as a profession but it seemed unless you had a critical mass of followers it was as effective at social change as a cloud of bees.
I decided I couldn’t stand by and watch a few people, mainly one racist billionaire, tell me what my country really stood for. so I looked for opportunities and projects that aligned with my beliefs. When River Whyless asked me to direct and write the music video for their song, Born in the Right Country, it was a perfect fit.
My first question was how to represent something like baked in racism and privilege in a new way? My initial idea was to use ropes to bind them or weights tied to their body, limiting their movement and ability to excel as high as those with whom no weights were tied. The more I thought about it though I realized that the burden is not dead weight holding someone down. It’s alive and moving and dangerous and it’s danger increases depending on the fear that others perceive when they encounter it. The weight of institutional racism that manifests itself in things like the muslim ban, or more recently the children taken away from their parents in Texas, that weight is alive and menacing. Your skin color, nationality, or who you sleep beside at night is either the only thing people see and a threat to what they hold dear or it’s nothing and as powerful as what color your eyelashes are.
So I decided on a wolf. We would follow a young man as he made his way through life with a wolf tied to his arm. He spends the afternoon with a young woman from class. They drive and talk and grow closer together. He forgets about the wolf, because she doesn’t worry about it either. Her dad, on the other hand, only sees the wolf and makes it clear he doesn’t approve. We wanted it to be subtle, though. Because that is what happens. For every innocent black man that is shot there are thousands of micro aggressions that go unreported. A parent that says “I don’t want you to hang out with that boy,” or a cashier that refuses to take a check, or the police being called on a couple of kids selling magazines door to door.
The young Man leaves the house hoping she will text, but she doesn’t. Now the young Man is far from home in an unfamiliar neighborhood. The neighbors call the cops “just in case” but since he hasn’t done anything wrong, the cop lets him go. He goes home and on the TV is the leader of the free world declaring that wolves don’t exist.
With the ending we wanted to convey that the policies the current administration pass effect minorities first. Even the weakening of the environmental standards effects poor communities exponentially harder than it does more affluent communities. If you are low income, chances are you live closer to industrial areas where the air quality is worse. If regulations are relaxed, air quality goes down, if air quality goes down, Asthma goes up.
Recently I was at another film festival and I heard National Geographic photographer, James Balog, discuss the current administration. He said that this administration and their hateful policies will be a blip in history. That momentum is on our side and the world is moving towards inclusion, acceptance, and responsibility.
Trumps time in office will be the final claw marks on the door of those clinging to the past, afraid of a future where they are not guaranteed to succeed just because of where they are born or how light their skin is. Wolves do exist, but their time is almost up.