“Violence is beyond flesh, it’s spiritual.”- Donté Clark
Most people are first introduced to Shakespeare in high school. As teenagers, we sat hunched over our desks trying to make sense of 16th century prose. More often than not, it felt like a bunch of archaic language mixed in with some incomprehensible jargon, until we were finally able to grasp the stories and the nature of the words.
Jason Zeldes’ “Romeo Is Bleeding” is the story of Donté Clark, a young educator, activist, poet and resident of Richmond, California. After rereading Shakespeare’s “Romeo + Juliet”, Clark realizes that the same strife that happens in the classic story, is also happening outside of his window.
Richmond, California is bleeding, hemorrhaging actually. North and Central Richmond have been at war for years, and people are being slaughtered in the streets on a daily basis. Donté Clark stands in the midst of this, desperate for change. Growing up in North Richmond with seven brothers and sisters, Clark’s goal was to become the biggest drug dealer in the Bay Area. But, his goals shifted when his teacher, Molly Raynor, introduced him to Richmond’s “Making Waves” college preparatory program, where he discovered his most powerful weapon, his voice.
The documentary follows Clark as he rewrites Shakespeare’s tragedy into his own adaption, one that he hopes will bring together the youth of Central and North Richmond. Clark also enlists his students from his program RAW Talent (Richmond Artists With Talent), where he serves as artistic director, to help him write and put on the play, which he names, “Té’s Harmony”.
For the first quarter of the film, there were a ton of aerial shots of Richmond, along with flashy stylistic choices that really weren’t needed. As the audience tries to get to know Clark and the world that he lives in, these over the top film techniques constantly jerked us out of the story. Luckily, as the film pressed forward, this calmed down considerably, letting the audience focus on Clark (who is extremely compelling) and the others involved in the RAW talent program.
For six months, RAW prepares “Té’s Harmony,” for the stage. Clark writes the dialogue, while his students write the monologues for their individual characters. They all come together numerous times for workshop sessions. During these workshops, we come to know more about Molly (Clark’s mentor) Deandre Evans, his protégé, and D’Neise Robinson who plays Harmony opposite Clark in the play. Evans especially seems adamant about running from a fate that so many of his friends have fallen to.
Continue reading at Shadow and Act.
Image: Romeo is Bleeding Film