Producer and entrepreneur Barion Grant is best known for his work on the Academy Award nominated documentary “Tupac: Resurrection.” He’s produced programming for MTV, FUSE, Current TV, BET and VH1. Grant sits with Bleu on his latest documentary, “Gunland” where he presents the dilemma of mass gun violence in the city of Chicago and its ripple effect felt by the surrounding community.
Bleu: What are you trying to say with the production of “Gunland”? What’s your message to the audience?
B.G: We want to get a message out that gun violence is more than the headlines that people are reading. It’s not just about the numbers and statistics even though the numbers are astounding. I’m trying to put a face to gun violence, so that instead of numbers you see a mother mourning, a friend in therapy, a father that will never be the same. These are the real stories, and their more true than number.
Bleu: In your documentary, what are some of the ways you get into why the oppressed youth use guns in the first place?
B.G: Yes, we get into the history of America with guns and black on black crime as a subset to that conversation. We wanted to focus on how gun control trickles down to people of color. There has been a lot of discussion on how guns change our community and what can be done. But I’m also showcasing the fact that a lot of people in these communities are helping in the fight to end gun violence. The news is never enough.
Bleu: You mention gangs in your documentary. When gangs are fighting and people are killed as result, what do you think they are really fighting for?
B.G: That’s a tough question for me to answer. I would be making assumptions in trying to answer that question. I could say that things might be different if we had more resources and education in our communities. I think there’s a direct correlation between the crime that happens in our community and the resources. As we work to change the landscapes maybe, hopefully, we can see a change in the people.
Bleu: How long did it take you to make this documentary?
B.G: We shot the entire doc in about 4 months. It was a really fast process. I spoke with gang members and those who use guns in the community and had a real conversation with them. I asked them how they felt about raising their children in a community where they are the ones contributing to its demise. It was interesting, they said that a lot of the times they aren’t shooting people that they don’t know. They said that the news portrays them as innocent bystanders which is often times untrue.
Bleu: Gun violence amongst African-Americans might be attributed to a sense of oppression and powerlessness in society. There seems to be more gun use among young white middle class citizens. What do you think is the cause of the uprising of gun violence that has crossed color and class lines?
B.G: I think it’s unfortunate. Although there is more news coverage on what happens to people who are outside of our community, when the reform comes we can benefit as well.
Bleu: Did you lose anyone to gun and gang violence?
B.G: I have. I don’t really want to get into that so much. I was actually a victim of gun violence myself. It becomes a different thing when someone has a gun in your face, taking your belongings; it changes your psyche. To think that your life could’ve ended. This documentary was very personal for me in a lot of ways.
Bleu: In the documentary, someone compares today’s Chicago to the war in Iraq with of the lawlessness and morale decay that a war often brings. Do you agree with what he says?
B.G: Yes, we cover what some people call “Chiraq”. There is a huge array of people that we met while we were in Chicago. There are people who accept this whole “Chiraq” term and there are other people with the courage to say “This is not who we are.” There are people who own that term and people who fight against it.
Bleu: What are some of the solutions you mention in stopping gun violence? How can we discontinue the pattern?
B.G: One of the main ways to stopping this pattern that we covered in the film was the highlighting of different programs that are available to victims of gun violence. We also feature a lot of personal stories from the loved ones of the deceased. We introduce something called The Lyric Squad which is a group of poets. They come together and rap about the good and the bad in their community. What we want to do is educate people about the resources that are available to them. We want to show people that there are solutions that can effect change.
Bleu: Do you plan on making another documentary?
B.G: We’re currently in the works of making a documentary about the black church. More specifically, the documentary will be about the impact that the black church has, financially and morally on the black community. Right now we’re working on six films that will be complete by the end of the year.