Spoken word poet, director and Queen of the South actor David Bianchi is always using his craft to deliver powerful and impactful messages about racism and justice – and his latest project is, without a doubt, his best work yet.
Wade In The Water, which he both stars in and directs, is a 10-minute short film named after the negro spiritual, about three men who passionately convey their fear of being a Black man in America.
Also starring British actor Joivan Wade who’s widely known for his work as half man, half machine “Cyborg” in the HBO Max hit series Doom Patrol and actor/writer Llewellyn Radford, the film is a raw look at the pain, suffering and oppression of the Black community which will ceaselessly weigh on your heart and mind.
It is confronting. It is deep. And it is a stark reminder of the horrors of inequality that still exist today.
We sat down with David to learn more about the film and why he made it:
How did the idea for this film come about and why was it so important for you to make it?
David: I’ve been wanting to incorporate “Wade In The Water” into a spoken word piece for over a decade. The stars just never aligned. I had always envisioned it in my head and then post what was going on in America at the time, I just decided that because of the COVID situation, I wanted to take advantage of being able to make a film.
So I had a lot of resources at my fingertips with people that weren’t working. But we were willing to work despite the pandemic. And so I started planning this and producing and writing it before the death of George Floyd. In fact, George Floyd passed away the day before we shot it.
The civil rights movement ended up happening around us as we were in post production so it wasn’t instigated by George Floyd. It was just instigated by the fact that America has this ongoing pandemic of violence against people of colour.
Can you explain the title and what it signifies?
David: “Wade In The Water” is an old negro spiritual that is rooted in the Bible. During the slave days, the slave owners would only allow the slaves to sing hymns while they worked in the fields because they were trying to strip them – and actually they did strip them – of all their African roots and all their African heritage.
And so “Wade In The Water” is a song that goes back to Israelites escaping persecution, and it was also used by activist Harriet Tubman to help guide slaves as they were escaping from the Deep South and eventually going up North through the underground railroad. So it’s a very important song to people of colour. Not just African Americans, but African Brits and anybody that is African in Western culture.
And the idea of “Wade In The Water” has deeper significance in that the lyrics in and of themselves to me say that God is going to trouble the water. So the idea that as you are wading in the water, the water is up to your waist or up to your knees and you’re constantly in a perpetual forward motion of struggle. And so the struggle is going to continue and is going to persist and it is a guarantee that the waters will get rough. So continue to wade as you can and expect turbulence because that is what it means to be a person of colour in the modern world.
There is so much pain and passion in your words and those of your fellow actors Joivan Wade and Llewellyn Radford – what is the process in writing something like this?
David: Initially when I was conceptualising this, I had envisioned that “Wade In The Water” was going to be sung by us, as men. We open up singing, under our breaths, gutturally, as if we’re actually working in the fields and then theoretically the song was going to interconnect us in between each of our respective verses. So that was my vision for the skeleton of it and then it dawned on me there was no feminine component to this and we had resources to bring a vocalist into this.
So we ended up connecting with singer ONYI. And ONYI is actually sanctified in the Orishas and so she has been to Nigeria and she has been blessed in those roots and those traditions. To have her evoking the ancestry through her song and through her voice was truly, I think, divine intervention. And then having the divine feminine, that really changed what the treatment of the film, the script of the film became in my head.
Once she came in, I was able to create a script around the idea of us coming to a place of protection by the divine feminine. That the ideas that these men of colour are in a constant state of struggle, a constant state of anxiety and constant state of fear and they can return to the divine feminine for a small respite and also give the audience a break from the intensity of the verses.
Each of us wrote our own individual verses and then we sort of stitched them together in a rehearsal process. And we all went over each other’s words and we were able to be open and say ‘hey we like this word or we don’t like this word’ and we collaborated in that way and created a script and everything else sort of happened on the day.
What is the message you want people to take away from this?
David: I think there are a lot of messages people can take away from this. One is that it is a perpetual struggle. That this problem is still very real, it’s still very present, it’s still very dangerous for people of colour. You know, the statistics don’t lie.
But there are other metaphors in there. The plain visual metaphor that I use in the script where it’s the modern man seeing the man of past but they are the doppelgänger of each other in that the slave sees the contemporary man and is not surprised by the violence. Whereas the contemporary man is surprised to see the slave of past. But the slave of past is so indoctrinated in violence that it doesn’t even disturb them and they continue to move to their place of divine feminine and protectionism into the water whereas the present men are shocked to see their doppelgänger selves in slave attire in that worn field-slave look.
This film is part of a larger series of short films you are working on – can you tell us more about that?
David: This is an art form that I call “spinema” – spinning cinema through spoken word. So for me it’s not about reinventing the wheel but just making it better.
I’ve been a poet for two decades now and basically integrating all the art forms that is David Bianchi: the director, the producer, the writer, the on-camera talent, the behind-the-camera talent so I’ve created this hybrid where I want to attempt developing a television series that revolves around the idea of spoken word film. Essentially the narratives are told entirely in cinematic form. Taking the art form of spoken word poetry and taking it away from the stage and a microphone and integrating all the languages of cinema to create compelling, visual pieces that are socially conscious.
And I’m so thankful that you believe in the work that I do and the work that we are doing. I think that the work that I’m able to do through these poetic films is to raise the conversation, raise the social consciousness, give our young minds more to look up to than you know, drugs and women in jacuzzis or whatever else is going on in the rap game, but not to insult their intelligence. To deliver them something that is going to evoke inspiration, that is going to lead them to higher consciousness and hopefully leave the world a better place.
That’s ultimately the goal and that’s the goal of the series we’re developing and I won’t say much more about it because it’s still in development but much, much more to come!
WATCH Wade In The Water (2020) now on YouTube:
(Feature Image Credit: Supplied/davidbianchi.actor)