Gun violence in the U.S. -- particularly the kind that involves disproportionate numbers of black men killed by police officers -- has been a near-constant topic of discussion in 2016. And despite one's best intentions, it's easy to feel tired, defeated and overwhelmed when nearly every day brings with it another trending name -- another hashtag who just yesterday was someone's father, husband, brother, son.
But for people like Xavier Dphrepaulezz, better known as the Oakland musician Fantastic Negrito, taking a break from the conversation simply isn't an option. When it's personal, when it affects your family and community -- Dphrepaulezz lost a brother, a cousin and a close friend to gun violence, each before they turned 18 -- you don't have the privilege of just checking out for a while.
That's one heartbreaking truth I took away from "In the Pines (Oakland)," a powerful new short film the musician released Sept. 28 (it premiered on Noisey here). Directed by LA filmmaker Rashidi Natara Harper, the nine-minute film is set to Fantastic Negrito's plaintive cover of "In the Pines," a traditional Appalachian folk song that dates back to the 1870s but was popularized in the 1940s by Louisiana folk-blues virtuoso Leadbelly.
The track appears on The Last Days of Oakland, the righteous, deservedly buzzed-about LP Fantastic Negrito released in June. Dphrepaulezz says the song's lyrics made it a natural choice to accompany the film, which he intended as an offering to the countless black women who've endured the pain of burying a child.
"This is dedicated to women who bury their children due to gun violence," wrote Dphrepaulezz in a statement accompanying the video, "and all mothers throughout the world that hold the fabric of society together."
Fantastic Negrito's well-known for his Oakland pride, so it's no surprise that the black-and-white short stars his hometown, along with plenty of Oaklanders: Renee Moncada-McElroy, also known as "the woman behind Big Freedia," plays a mother who's attempting to make sense of the senseless after her young son has been killed by police. Seen in flashbacks, the child is played by Renee's actual son, Thomas Makai McElroy.
Watch the video below, then join the artist for a special free screening of the film at 7pm tonight, Sept. 30, at Red Bay Coffee in Oakland. You can probably also count on him performing the song live at Biscuits and Blues this Sunday, Oct. 2.