Prior to the opening title appearing on screen for short documentary All Skinfolk A’int Kinfolk, a brief video clip is shown of a WWLTV debate between three candidates running for Mayor of New Orleans in 2017: Council Member LaToya Cantrell, Former Chief Judge Desiree Charbonnet, and Former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris. The moderator askes Bagneris – a black man – to state what he likes about his opponents – two black women. His answer for Cantrell? She’s a good mother. His answer for Charbonnet? She has good shoes. Holding on the three candidates on a stage in front of an unseen audience, who chuckle at Bagneris’ responses, the camera captures not just the stubborn “Aww Shucks” look on the face of Bagneris, but more importantly, the expressions of Cantrell and Charbonnet.
Absolute annoyance, saying “You ought to know better” with their eyes, not just to their black male colleague, but the potential voters in front of them.
This short documentary may only have had about twenty minutes to craftily comment on what this historic runoff meant as a whole and on a personal level ( it was between two black women vying to become the first female Mayor of our city), but what Skinfolk accomplishes is nothing short of being victorious. It helps to articulate not just the struggle for diversity in seats of power, not just the equality that demands to be recognized across the board, but also the everlasting fight for proper representation of the people and for the people. This film is a permanent fist in the air towards the bitter cycle of how voter-given authority does not guarantee true change.
Local filmmaker Angela Tucker provides much voice-over monologuing, a running commentary of insightful and individual thought (I assume it’s her though this role isn’t credited) that never undercuts the archival footage showcased, existing to highlight and contextualize it. Looking towards a Post-Mayor Landrieu New Orleans – who famously or infamously (depending on how you feel) approved the removal of some Confederate statues throughout the city (google United Daughters of the Confederacy for more information), the runoff between Cantrell and Charbonnet gave many residents and, perhaps, citizens of color across America, a feeling of solidarity and inspiration in a world of MAGA hats. Tucker, however, despite acknowledging these feelings and the possible default good the end result might produce, voices much skepticism.
We hear over flying footage of our streets and skyline, Tucker interviewing black women voters, getting their hopes and outlooks on voting. The answers provided were somewhat mixed, but all shared a collective shrug towards the status quo in general changing at all. Skinfolk opens with those with influence (politicians, media, etc) showing fake concern or disregard over two black women running for Mayor, but by the end, challenging questions and startling truths come up. This is where Tucker and her crew excel; by way of repurposing and juxtaposing footage of the election with that of black women politicians and activists over history (including Condoleeza Rice and Barbara Jordan during Nixon’s impeachment, both going over oppression in their own ways), they’re able to construct a video/film essay that not only makes its audience observe what Tucker is observing, but also come to the same righteous conclusions, no matter of political affiliation.
It’s a challenge of a movie for sure, and a heavy undertaking to carry, but Skinfolk manages and then some. It succeeds all the way and is all-in with holding everyone accountable.
In its final moments, we see clips from Latoya Cantrell’s victory speech on runoff election night. She delivers lines like any politician would, strung together for inspiring and rabble-rousing effect. One line, in particular, stuck out to me like a sore thumb: “No one will be left out! No one will be left behind!”
To whom was she referencing? Was it the undocumented Hard Rock Hotel construction workers who either perished – some still trapped and/or covered up via tarp – or were deported before investigators could take testimony? In this city, a sanctuary city, it all feels rotten to the core. Alas, just like Angela Tucker says and just like her film All Skinfolk A’int Kinfolk expresses, just because they look and sound like you, doesn’t mean they’ll represent you. The tools of white supremacy exist all throughout the halls of power, in every city and every state, and nobody is immune to the charm that comes with having a seat at the table (so to speak). Just as important as voter turnout and voting itself, and as important as electing black women to office, is a voter that is critical of everything and everyone. A voter that is proud and loud. A voter that never lets up or takes their finger off the pulse of officials.
From undermining and overwhelming citizenry and campaigners alike, from flooding newsrooms with misinformation, to buying the souls of otherwise good people, the power cycle continues.
Always. Be. Criticizing.
Never. Stop. Asking. Questions.
Keep. That. Megaphone. Charged.
Knock. On. Every. Door.
Don’t. Let. The. Bastards. Get. You Down.
It feels good to see that in a movie. To type that in an article. To feel that in action.
RATING: 5 / 5
All Skinfolk A’int Kinfolk previously screened at last year’s New Orleans Film Festival, and is currently making theatrical exhibitions across the country. Visit the official website for more info and how to contact the filmmakers.