Growing up in a city like Houston, Texas, it’s easy to forget that my city is the exception and not the rule.
Publications like the Forward Times are a staple in our community, so are HBCUs and Black high schools. Houston is probably the biggest city in the country when you count Katy, the Woodlands, Baytown and more, but within those miles lie a great history of telling our own stories and keeping our legacies in our own hands.
Over the weekend I watched Jeen-Yuhs, which is a documentary that follows the life of Kanye West and I found it motivating, fascinating and interesting, all in one. But when I went to tweet about it, something bothered me. The articles associated with the documentary alluded to none of what I felt.
“The Tragedy of Kanye West”
“The Netflix documentary Jeen-Yuhs traces the rise of an artist whose gift for provocation mutated from intriguing to disturbing.”
“The three-part film offers an intimate account of the star’s underdog era as well as a behind-the-scenes glimpse at his tragic fall from grace.”
I read these headlines and thought maybe I was overreacting but when I read the articles, I realized I hadn’t overreacted at all. As a matter of fact, it was probably worse than I initially thought. Not only did they not see what I saw when I watched the documentary, but they didn’t seem to feel the essence of the story. It wasn’t just about this incredibly talented man who believed in himself, it was also about the relationships he formed that helped make him who he became.
All these years I’ve heard stories about Kanye’s love for his mother but to actually see it on screen was powerful. To see her rapping his lyrics, speaking life into him and being his best friend opened a window into who he is and what Black mothers are that maybe you can’t relate to if you aren’t a Black man or the mother to one. None of the articles I read spoke on that.
Coodie — One of the two directors of Jeen-Yuhs, Clarence “Coodie” Simmons Jr., is also its narrator and becomes a recurring character throughout all three parts. This man was a standup comedian and after one interview with Kanye, he realized that his calling wasn’t to be on stage telling jokes but was to spend the next twenty years documenting one of the biggest artists of our lifetime. I can’t imagine giving up on my dreams in my 20s to follow a man because I believe in what he might become. As impressive as Kanye is, Coodie is just as impressive. At any time he could have given up or decided he wanted more.
I had no intentions on writing this article but what I realized is that we have to tell our own stories or else we let others create the narrative for us. Calling a man crazy that believed in his music when no one else did is what’s crazy. Calling a man crazy that created a brand worth nine billion dollars and partners with some of the biggest corporations in the world is either done to slander or willfully ignorant.
I’m not here to put on a cape for Kanye as a man because I don’t know him as a man. But Jeen-Yuhs is to be viewed as a piece of art, not as a referendum on Kanye’s tweets. It’s a look into Black Excellence and believing in yourself when no one else does.
One thing the internet has done is given everyone a voice and that’s amazing, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that not everyone has the right to speak on our behalf and our culture.
For years, decades even, the media has been used to vilify Black men and women. I could go on for thirty pages about why this happens and what they gain from it but that’s not what this article is about. This article is simply saying, the documentary into the life of Kanye West is the story of perseverance, love and loss and believing that your dreams can turn into anything you want if you have the desire and talent.