"They Still Want to Kill Us"
AMHERST, Mass. – On May 25 at 8 p.m. in a free virtual stream, the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center will join with a group of arts institutions across the nation to premiere the short film, “They Still Want To Kill Us,” about a new aria by composer and activist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR).
Directed by filmmaker Yoram Savion, the film features mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges performing DBR’s new aria written to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. DBR’s new work speaks truth to what transpired in 1921 at the Tulsa Race Massacre, an atrocity all but swept under the rug and deleted from history until recently. The Fine Arts Center and their partner organizations are releasing the video on the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder as a commentary on our progress this last century on the issue of race and America’s treatment of Black life.
Following the May 25 premiere, the piecewill continue to stream on the platforms of each presenting organization through Saturday, July 31. The program will include the premiere of the video by Savion, and a discussion moderated by UMass Fine Arts Center Executive Director Jamilla Deria with DBR and Bridges, along with a statement by Damario Solomon-Simmons of the Justice for Greenwood Foundation.
Learn more about the uncensored aria and project at www.theystillwanttokillus.com.
“Daniel’s beautiful project was in need, and the nationwide response of all these organizations quickly coming together to make an even bigger version of it happen shows what can happen when people work together in this historical moment of racial reckoning in the USA,” states Deria. “Together, we are imagining what more we could all do because we have realized what’s at stake for everyone in society. We must lift each other up, and Daniel’s project is a perfect vehicle to demonstrate both the brutal reality and communal potential of American society.”
This work of social justice and global change is produced by Rika Iino and Ichun Yeh of Sozo Creative with support from Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma,and is commissioned by the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Apollo Theater, Opera Philadelphia, Capital One City Parks Foundation SummerStage Anywhere, Joe's Pub, Stanford Live, University Musical Society at the University of Michigan, Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University, Creative Alliance, Bill Bragin, and Washington Performing Arts. It is supported by National Sawdust and the Lotus Education and Arts Foundation, distributed by ActiveCultures, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, Esty Dinur, globalFEST, ¡Globalquerque!, and HotHouse.
DBR: ”What happened to American citizens on May 31, 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a massacre by white people perpetrated upon Black people. A toxic mix of misinformation, bigotry, ignorance, and white rage ignited a race war that left hundreds dead, a community destroyed, and a nation still struggling for its identity. It seems that some white people still want to kill us (Black people), and the murder of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and so many others is evidence of this bloodlust sown deep within the American psyche. What are the words and methods of The New Racism? Each day we bear witness to it. Violence against those who are Other in America is deeply rooted in our history, and we have a choice. We can be silent – or we can move mountains and create new spaces for our communities.”
Background on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and the film
During the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which occurred over 18 hours from May 31 to June 1, 1921, a white mob attacked residents, homes, businesses, and places of worship in the predominantly Black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. This thriving business district and surrounding residential area, referred to as “Black Wall Street,” was burned to the ground. The tragedy remains one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history, and, for a period, remained one of the least known. Despite the fact hundreds of people were killed and thousands more left homeless, news reports were largely suppressed.
This work is being filmed in May 2021 in New York City’s Sultan Room and Central Park’s historic Seneca Village site. A 19th-century settlement mostly populated by the largest number of African American landowners in New York before the Civil War, the site was torn down to help make way for Central Park. 225 residents (two-thirds Black and one-third Irish) lost 50 homes, three churches, and a school of African American children. Archival image references and evocative visual narrative are used to connect the past and the present, highlighting a pattern of hidden and historically ignored state violence and the forcible displacement of African American landowning communities across the nation.
The aria is a part of a larger pocket opera of the same name currently being developed by DBR and slated to premiere in the 21-22 season.
About the Collaborators
DBR’s acclaimed work as a composer, performer, educator, and activist spans more than two decades, and he has been commissioned by venerable artists and institutions worldwide. “About as omnivorous as a contemporary artist gets” (New York Times), DBR is perhaps the only composer whose collaborations span Philip Glass, Bill T. Jones, Savion Glover, and Lady Gaga. He most recently scored the film Ailey (d. Jamila Wignot), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2021.
American mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, known for her “rich, dark, exciting sound” (Opera News) is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after talents of her generation, gracing the world’s top stages in repertoire ranging from traditional favorites to world premieres to spirituals and standards.
Yoram Savion is a filmmaker, writer, and multimedia artist. His pan-genre, award-winning onscreen work spans movement-based documentation, narrative, documentary for youth- and humanitarian-centric initiatives, and creative work for multinational brands. The innovative filming techniques developed in the production studio he co-founded has drawn a strong global following, with more than a half billion views online.
Sozo Creative believes in the role of artists as thought partners and catalysts for innovation. With art and technology, social impact and immersive arts as their three core creative tracks, Sozo’s global portfolio spans the spectrum of film, digital content, educational residencies, live performances, and site-reactive activations. Founded and led by women, Sozo’s team of world class artists and producers partner with brands, arts institutions, creative agencies and civic entities, building artistic and cultural bridges through bold, perspective-changing projects, to invoke a vibrant, trusting, and compassionate society. For more information, visit sozoartists.com.
Call to Action
As an essential part of the project, the organizers refer the public to support the Justice for Greenwood Foundation (justiceforgreenwood.org), a network of activists, attorneys, volunteers, experts, and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre seeking accountability, financial compensation, publication, and greater truth-telling around the facts and legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
The UMass Fine Arts Center is supported by the New England Foundation for the Arts through the New England Arts Resilience Fund, part of the United States Regional Arts Resilience Fund, an initiative of the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with major funding from the federal CARES Act from the National Endowment for the Arts.