Filmmaker Jahmani Perry: “Once we can open our hearts and begin to let go of the false conditional, unconscious bias and judgmental narratives we all have learned, anything is possible”

I would inspire a movement for us to begin to see and understand the unlimited depth of how powerful and abundant we each are as creative human beings and creative human spirits. Once we can open our hearts and begin to let go of the false conditional, unconscious bias and judgmental narratives we all have […]

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I would inspire a movement for us to begin to see and understand the unlimited depth of how powerful and abundant we each are as creative human beings and creative human spirits. Once we can open our hearts and begin to let go of the false conditional, unconscious bias and judgmental narratives we all have learned and been taught. Once we can begin to let go of our limited roles and labels we hold so dearly in this limited world, anything is possible.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jahmani Perry, Filmmaker, Writer, Producer + Photographer, living in New York City. Jahmani is an award-winning filmmaker, producer and photographer from Brooklyn Perry’s short film, Why Am I A Threat, featuring Ice Cube was selected to be part of BAM’s (Brooklyn Academy of Music’s) retrospective film series on African-American directors from the 1990s “Black ’90s: A Turning Point in American Cinema.” Why Am I A Threat is four-minute film I made in 1993, a year after the LA Riots when racial tensions were high. Sadly, the message resonates today. In the film, Ice Cube issues a stinging spoken word rebuke of white America and the hypocrisy of those who deem him a “threat.” For the event at BAM, his film is paired with with John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood (also featuring Ice Cube) and both screen on Sunday, May 12–6:45 pm + 9:30pm + Monday, May 13–4:30 pm. More on event here: . Most recently, Perry has been focused on photography and has an exciting work-in-progress project entitled ASPHALT SPIRITS NYC that he has been photographing for the past thirty years (Part I, 1976–1986 + Part II, 1999–2019) on the unpredictable and illuminating streets of New York. See portfolio here. He is also developing a new music documentary series with award-winning filmmaker Sam Pollard.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Born and raised in Brooklyn, as a young kid growing up in the late 60’s and early and 70’s, my younger brother and I traveled from our East Flatbush, Brooklyn neighborhood to the East Village in Manhattan every Saturday. While attending the Third Street Music School on East 3rd Street and Second Ave, I learned to be a pianist and violinist. In high school, I traveled to Harlem everyday to attend Music and Art High School. It was here that as a young black teenager, I was crossing over into different worlds of experiences expanded through multi-cultural mix of fellow music and art students from all over the city. Around this time, I also picked up my first camera and began observing and capturing the relentless visual melodies of the streets. Between a vibrant music school and Music and Art High School in Harlem and playing the violin and beginning to photograph and capture these adventurous and turbulent times of the post Civil Rights movement, Anti-Vietnam War protests, Women’s Lib, Black Power and Peace and Love demonstrations that occurred every weekend. As a musician, what stood out for me were the silent spaces between the notes, as the confusion of the times sparked a revolution of consciousness for myself and a nation going through a transformation. As a young photographer, what mesmerized me was observing and capturing the unknown diverse dimensions within New Yorker’s inner and outer everyday lives, on the chaotic and illuminating streets of this city.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I would say there were a few opportunities that occurred. When I was in High School at Music + Art HS, there was an English class given by Mr. Illman. Mr. Illman was a passionate teacher about literature and film and it was during his class that awakened and became aware of the power, depth and inspiration that films and art can have upon myself and us all. When I got to college at Pratt Institute, I thought I was going to be a photographer. At Pratt during your first year, you study all the different arts and then go into your major in your second year. During my first year, I took a filmmaking class and totally fell in love with filmmaking. And went on to major in filmmaking throughout my years at Pratt and after leaving Pratt. I received a directing fellowship at The American Film Institute in Los Angeles, CA.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I’ve had many interesting and wild stories, one would be how I snuck into Madonna’s ‘Who’s That Girl’ World Tour rehearsal in LA. Introduced myself to her and shared with her about my work as a filmmaker. Came back the next day and walked into her rehearsal and gave her show’s director, a video of of one of my film ‘The Nightmare.’ Her director, Jeffery Hornaday, watched my five-minute short film, unaware that Madonna was also watching it. She loved my film so much that she paid me to use my film as a visual dream during a section of her song ‘Papa Don’t Preach.’ My film was shown every night on tour with her around the world.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Currently, one of my 1993 short films Why Am I A Threat? featuring Ice Cube was recently selected by the film curators at BAM Films (Brooklyn Academy of Music) to be a part of their retrospective film series on African-American directors from the 1990s, Black 90s: A Turning Point in American Cinema, May 3rd thru May 22nd, 2019. My film will be screening alongside John Singleton’s debut feature film ‘Boyz In The Hood’ at BAM Films on Sunday, May 12, 6:45 pm + 9:30pm & Monday, 4:30 pm. I also will be introducing my film on both days.

Also, I’m working an exciting work-in-progress project entitled ASPHALT SPIRITS NYC journey into remembrance and awakening. For the past thirty years I’ve been working on a photographic series on the unpredictable and illuminating streets of New York. This project is currently being developed as a photographic and soundscape installation and accompanying photo book. Part I of the series focuses on photographs from 1975 to 1986, shot with Kodachrome color and Tri-X black and white film. These images capture the timeless nature and communal lives within the reality of people’s everyday inner moments and outer lives at the intersection of race, culture and class. These photographs recall a city and it’s people going through the brink of financial bankruptcy, violence, decay, overflowing drugs, the birth of hip hop, punk and the turbulent era of the times in America. My work has been exhibited in a number of group shows in New York and Los Angeles and a solo photography show at the infamous Just Above Midtown Gallery in NYC in 1983, with curator: Linda Goode Bryant. My work is also in the collection of artist Keith Haring, Andy Spade, The Buhl Collection, Marjorie and Leonard Vernon and Kurt Andersen.

I’m also excited and currently developing a music documentary series with award-winning documentary filmmaker Sam Pollard.

I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

I also am more than ‘interested’ in diversity in the entertainment industry and any industry. I believe it’s a critical factor to have a diverse representation in film and television of America, because America is a diverse country made of millions people from every country around the globe. As a filmmaker and producer, it’s so important to me to create films and advocate for this and other industries to diversify on all levels, in front of the camera, behind the camera, in the highest level of decision-making and in the board rooms. Because it promotes a true and healthy understanding of how our society should operate and can operate for the good and wellbeing of all people. It opens doors and gives new and much needed opportunities to others talented and gifted people, more than one just one segment of the usual population who received these different positions and opportunities. Also, for a healthy society to prosper on all levels, we need to rigorously honest, ethical and cultivate a new way to see, acknowledge and celebrate the wonderful contributions of others in the country of color and women. Who for so long have been discriminated against and not given the rightful opportunities to fully grow, flourish and be empowered on all levels. That day is here now, for the wellbeing of everyone in America.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone had told me to not be afraid of failing and that it’s ok to not fully know or understand whatever you might be creating or doing in your field or etc. When I first started out as a filmmaker, I was very intimidated when I would get different directing jobs and didn’t know exactly how to do them and I thought that I couldn’t do the jobs, because I didn’t know every element. I’ve come to know that it was my inexperience and lack of confidence getting the best of me. What’s important is confidence, trust and faith in ones ability. Confidence, trust and faith and knowing that in going through whatever project or process is before me, in taking the actions necessary and going through whatever it takes to successfully accomplish whatever is before me. The answers will come and the project will manifest in the highest and best way it needs to come through. The best lesson when first starting out, is to just show up, be wiling to do whatever it takes to make it happen and treat all people your working with and around you, with love, compassion and respect.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I would recommend taking the time everyday to consciously breathe, be present with yourself, others around you and all beings, meditate daily, and learn to enjoy the beauty, mystery and wonder within our daily lives.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would inspire a movement for us to begin to see and understand the unlimited depth of how powerful and abundant we each are as creative human beings and creative human spirits. Once we can open our hearts and begin to let go of the false conditional, unconscious bias and judgmental narratives we all have learned and been taught. Once we can begin to let go of our limited roles and labels we hold so dearly in this limited world, anything is possible.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

That person would be my dear Mom. From an early age, my Mom was wonderfully supportive, caring and inspiring and she did everything possible to always make sure that I was provided for and that I was moving forward in every area that I wished to grow and develop in as an musician, as an artist and as growing young black man heading out into the world. My mother truly believed in me and fostered a way for me to learn and become the well-rounded filmmaker, photographer and artist that I am. I have fond memories of my mother taking me and my younger brother Dwayne to music school in the East Village every Saturday. The subway ride took one hour each way and we were usually there on Saturday’s taking different music classes around three-hours. My Mom was a patient person who believed in the power of art and culture and continuously supported my work and vision as a filmmaker, photographer and artist throughout my life. For this, I am forever grateful.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I can’t say I have one favorite life lesson quote. Although, a life lesson thought that I hold as important to my daily life and that I take actions to live by each day is how am I being in any circumstance and how is my being impacting others within my everyday circumstances and life. Also, how can I be fully present and conscious with how I am being, with the utmost integrity, passion and joy of being fully alive? This is what I aspire to bring to my work as a filmmaker, producer, writer, photographer and artist each day, in the highest and best way possible that I can.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love have a private breakfast or lunch with Oprah Winfrey. Now more than ever, there’s a need for people in the world like Oprah. People who are willing to use their vision of humanity, influence and power for the conscious evolution and wellbeing of all people and beings. This is what Oprah does so well, so boldly, fearlessly and lovingly. She’s a beautiful angel. I look forward to meeting her and having a wonderful breakfast or lunch.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

1. They can follow me on instagram at @jahmani_perry

2. They can also check out my work on Vimeo: Jahmani Perry’s Asphalt Spirits NYC project… Director / Producer reel, TRT: 5:35 mins.

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