Curiously placed to air at the bewitching hour of midnight on Saturday mornings, Terence Nance's Random Acts of Flyness premiered on HBO this weekend with a first episode equally haunting and hilarious, urgent and yet placed in a horrific historical context.
Part anthology series, part sketch non sequitur, Nance's creation is both singular (the sociologically racist perception of Black America as viewed through a White Gaze) and stringently all-encompassing (the deemphasizing of a white narrative as means to handing the perception of African-Americans back to African-Americans).
It's also extremely inventive, finding a way to incorporate multiple directorial voices into a cohesive presentation that's both appreciatingly schizophrenic and yet narratively sustained. A project of collaboration, the first episode is an excellent example of filmmakers using their own styles to complement a singular vision.
Taking the form of stylistically confrontational and contrasting shorts, the first episode is bookended (and briefly revisited several times throughout) by Nance himself, bike-riding and informing the viewer, via his camera phone, of what we should expect over the next 30 minutes. He's our nonchalant but panicked host for the evening, a Rod Serling with much more to lose.
Why is Nance panicked? An NYPD police car pulls into frame, cutting Nance's introduction abruptly short. Are we witnessing an incoming act of police brutality? And if so, why do we automatically assume that?
Over the next half hour, Nance shows us why we're right to assume as much, as recurring thematic material—via an infomercial, an early morning children's program, a talk show that incorporates stop-motion animation—accentuates the ways the black body is viewed through media (and the very specific ways it isn't).
The episode serves as a strong example of incorporating different voices into a singular entity.
Both Frances Bodomo and Shaka King (two respected independent filmmakers in their own right) contributed to the episode, and it's worth noting that their material either influenced or is outright sampled here from preexisting properties (Bodomo's Everybody Dies! was first featured in the 2016 omnibus collective: unconscious and the Jon Hamm-starring White Thoughts is based on King's own short LaZercism).
The episode serves as a strong example of incorporating different voices into a singular entity, and for filmmakers looking to start a collective or collaborative production company, Nance's own MVMT is an excellent case study. Random Acts of Flyness is a further example of that infrastructure.
Without providing further spoilers (watch the first entry above!), the episode also excels in the power of repetition, both in imagery (as seemingly non-actors stare directly at the camera and repeat the word "blackface") and in sound (the more we hear the word "blackface" accompanied by the men and women reciting it, the negative connotations of this descriptive word transform before our ears). With its breakneck editing (via Nance) and different styles of cinematography (primarily via Shawn Peters), the episode's constant shifting in presentation is grounded by this recurring moment of emphatic fourth-wall-breaking.
Have you watched the first episode of Random Acts of Flyness? If so, what did you think? Will you continue on with the series? Let us know in the comments below.
For more information on 'Random Acts of Flyness,' click here.