‘Every day was an ethical dilemma’: telling the difficult story of XXXTentacion | Documentaries

men one of many cooling scenes in the XXXTentation documentary Look at Me, the young music artist whose real name was Jahseh Onfrey leaves Florida Jail and Google itself. It’s March 2017. At the top of the search results is Onfrey’s biography, accompanied by a mug photo of his 2016 arrest for brutally imprisoning and assaulting Geneva Ayala – his then-girlfriend. The detailed biography, evidence that he did it, has him screaming.

While Onfrey was inside for almost six months without a data plan, a 2015 song he uploaded to SoundCloud called Look at Me went viral along with that photo of his tattooed face, Cruella-style black-and-blonde locks and piercing look. His raps and raps lured the internet. His explosive success was immediately and intricately linked with the terrible domestic abuse, which, at the time, did not seem to bother Onfrey at all. His festive scream, which the film plays against the haunting and twisting sounds of Look at Me, leaves knots in his stomach.

“Every day was an ethical dilemma,” says Look at Me director Sabaah Foloyan. She describes her experience struggling with the legacy left behind by the Billboard top artist who was murdered at the age of 20 during a gun robbery in 2018. Before she was involved, Foloyan says she set her terms with the film’s producers, which include Onfrey’s mother, Cleo Bernard, and his manager, Solomon Sobande. She said the documentary about the Florida musician will have to honestly face “the good, the bad and the ugly,” including the attacks and battery charges that Onfrey publicly denied while he was alive.

“Women have no incentive to lie about allegations of abuse,” says Foloyan, declaring a diametric stance against all the toxic XXX Temptation that has trolled and terrorized Ayala on social media, refusing to believe what she has endured at the hands of Onfrey. Foloyan says she half-expected Bernard and Sobande to be intimidated by their position. Instead, they accepted her understanding of Onfrey’s story, which is not simply about a celebrity behaving badly.

Onfrey was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He struggled with that openly in his music. Fans have gravitated to his vulnerability in hits like Sad, which gets into violent and suicidal thoughts. His social media is also a living document of wildly erratic and violent behavior, tearful pleas for empathy and heartfelt hopes of recovery as he went through various recording studios and detention centers. His is a story about a mental illness, a robbery music industry that rewards bad behavior and a prison system that prevents healing.

Foloyan is uniquely suited to tell that story. She was an advocate of mental health at the City Justice Center and also worked at the Osborne Association, an organization that helps individuals and families affected by justice. She has an intimate understanding of how the criminal justice system is worsening the country’s mental health crisis – too many resources are directed at incarceration instead of assistance and healing.

Watch me also do an interesting follow-up to Foloyan’s first film, Whose Streets? , which was about the protests in Ferguson after the shooting death of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Whose Streets? contained on the power that social media has given the community to organize and demand justice for a Black teenager. Look Me is about how social media brought out the monster in a Black teenager who didn’t have access to the help he needed.

In the early scenes of Look at Me, we see Onfrey as social media clever in the worst ways. He would streamline his brutal attacks because he knew they would make people notice both him and his Soundcloud account. He had his friends create several online accounts to engage people in his music and adjust algorithms in his favor. As previously mentioned, his arrest after leaving Ayala beaten got him millions of followers, a new manager and a record deal.

Look Aat Me is about how social media brought out the monster in a Black teenager who didn’t have access to the help he needed. Photo: Courtesy of Hulu / Hulu

This is also the story of hip-hop. The genre was born to represent, elevate and empower but it also has the tendency to glamorize misogyny and violence.

“These young people respond to what they sell,” says Foloyan, explaining that young talents like Onfrey can’t figure out how their contributions affect society. “They respond to what is being encouraged at a very basic level. I think the question is, who are the adults in the room? … Who really benefits from the way this culture is formed? I think a lot of responsibility has to be taken by the people who hold structural and biased power. “

I asked Foloyan how much responsibility falls on Onfrey’s manager, Sobande, who entered the scene while the teenager was making his six-month offer, and is there anything predatory about the documentary he produces that could be accused of finding yet another road to Foloyan. take advantage of bad behavior.

“Solomon’s perspective is that he was an activist for a young man who was really, really bothered and really, really talented,” says Foloyan, who adds that she is not ready to attribute blame to anyone. “But I think this person’s manager and representative is part of that general machine. Solomon came into this situation without much power. He acted out of survival and personal ambition. That’s a little different than sitting on top and greening and financing certain things. “

Foloyan’s refusal to blame is true to the general mood she brings to this conversation. She finds no guilt helpful or constructive. She feels the same way about convictions against Onfrey online, which she compares to posing rather than problem solving.

“We have an undeveloped revenge-based prison reaction when something bad happens,” Foloyan says. “We run to a corner, raise our flag and say,‘ I’m on this side. That’s what I believe. Look how right I am. ‘ But what happens in this situation is that Geneva has been left to dry up. She was helpless and unsupported, even with all the energy that was put behind canceling him. The energy that was put behind to cancel it finished extending to him.

“What we’re really doing is just consuming people’s pain as a distraction,” Foloyan adds, acknowledging that this conversation also resonates with the way the public digests the. Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial, who inspired memes and TikTok parodies mocking the former for not being the perfect victim. “Our public scrutiny is not always constructive. And I think it’s more constructive if we were a little more curious about our own lives and the people around us. Because we have a situation where survivors are unprotected and unsupported.”

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