In this feature length documentary about the life of spoken word artist Donté Clark—directed by editor Jason Zeldes, best known for the 2013 Academy Award® winning film “Twenty Feet from Stardom”—you feel a sense of urgency, fear and ultimately pride in everything Donté’s accomplished. Russell Simmons is executive producer.
Donté Clark’s poetry tells his truth without apologies and in that truth, bodies drop. He grew up in an urban war zone, the apex of a bloody turf war between North and Central Richmond—resulting in Black bodies dropping for decades.
There was something about Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” that resonated with Donté’s soul. He knows what anger and vendettas can do to a community and he is all too familiar with the sting of loss and the numbing feeling of watching his young friends and family die, murdered in the streets by his own people. Donté also knows the emptiness left by mass jail incarnation and just when he begins to stand up again, to face his world again, there is more death, hitting like a ravenous phantom, snatching up those he truly loves without hesitation.
Bodies drop …
Decades of blood shed with each generation having their own folkloric stories of how the war and blood shed began and Donté’s voice, his prowess with words, is the result of living inside the heart of this storm. When Donté discovered poetry, he found a new way to stay afloat moving from base survival to striving mode.
It’s not wrong to share that—right now—everything in this young man’s life is moving forward in a positive way. Donté has been named poet laureate of Richmond, California; a high honor giving national recognition to his poetry which captures the senseless violence and bitter, numbing heartbreak that haunts certain Richmond, Ca. without compromise.
Donté discovered self-empowerment by writing about his experiences and now offers that same opportunity to Richmond’s youth, through an arts organization called RAW talent.
As a founding member and artistic director of the RAW Talent Creative Arts Program, Donté wears many hats—coordinating shows and field trips, teaching poetry and theater workshops to low-income youth in his community and coaching his students to find their voices through performance and publication.
Donté also performs at schools, conferences, poetry readings and hip-hop shows on a regular basis and has hosted town hall meetings on violence in Richmond. He took the lead with planning and writing the majority of the script for “Té’s Harmony”, and also wrote and directed the play, “Po’ Boy’s Kitchen”.
Here is what Donté Clark and Russell Simmons had to share the power of the spoken word and making “Romeo is Bleeding.”
L.A. Sentinel (LAS):
Does the artist really have power?
Russell Simmons: Of course we do. Artists have always been able to inspire. There is power in the spoken word. You have to know the voice of the people.
LAS: In “Romeo is Bleeding”, the voice of the people is strong, raw and down right dope. This is poetry that I understand. The documentary was photographed over five years. How did you feel when you finally saw the final version?
Donté Clark: Thank you. When I watched myself [on the big screen], I was like, damn, that’s what I look like, that’s what I sound like? That’s what I was going through [then] … I am not uncomfortable with cameras but I prefer eye-to-eye contact. I am not sure if I am really connecting to the person on the other side. I still don’t know how people feel about me while they are watching [“Romeo is Bleeding”].
LAS: What did you learn from this experience, if anything?
DC: A lot. It makes me more comfortable [with cameras] and more aware of the power of being. When a camera is rolling 16 hours a day, after a while you forget the camera is even there. But you know … I am going to do what I do.
LAS: What is power? In Quantum physics there are several explanations about the power of sound. Spoken words have a definite impact on our direct physical environment. That is power.
DC: Power is beautiful once you understand it and you are humble with it. I feel like a lot of people abuse their power. I think that a lot of people try to take other people’s power [away] from them, so they can feel powerful but if you really understood that everything in the universe is here for a purpose, and we depend on each other, and within that there is a power within you and it’s a gift that’s in you to use that power. So, I feel like once you understand that — ok — ‘I’m not bigger or smaller [than you] ‘I just have a particular position to play and I have a gift to use that power. I have no reason to want anything outside of myself. I have no reason to be upset with anyone because you all have a role to play and I can’t do my job, if you don’t do your job.
So if you are slacking, my job is to inspire you to do your job.
RS: When I was [Donté Clark] his age, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. To see him this way … to get out of the suffering, to know the power of ‘the self’ [past the suffering] to love ‘the self’ enough to get out and to do something different. I didn’t know that at his age. He [ Donté Clark] is twenty-seven. At 27, I did not know shit. All I knew was cocaine, frivolous behavior, and balling. We had hit records and shit, so we were balling.
LAS: Twenty seven is a very tender age. I think this generation would say that [Donté Clark] is #woke. He wants more from life.
RS: It’s ok to operate from a present place, a comfortable seat. That’s what the goal [of life] should be. Life only gives you happiness. You can only sit your ass in one seat. No matter how rich you are, it’s one seat at a time and if you can be comfortable in that seat, that’s [your] life goal.
The digging process and self-realization that comes from [his] poetry with what [ Donté Clark] he does—that’s it! It’s different. His soundtrack is the world and in that soundtrack, the world can teach you anything.
“Romeo is Bleeding” opens in Los Angeles July 28 and is available on itunes on August 1st.