Within the first minute of “Love is the Message, The Message is Death”, it’s understood that everything is about to change. Intertwined with the memes, jokes, and highlights we all adore are the most brutal, wretched, dehumanizing clips of violence against black souls. The films planned discontinuity allows you to endure these gut-wrenching depictions by giving you doses of comedy during the troughs of hopelessness. The pirouette of comedy, violence, achievement, comedy, violence achievement, comedy, violence, achievement, endures endlessly until the viewer succumbs to nihilism from the past pyrrhic victories or weeps in awe of the endurance and tenacity of the black spirit.
The tremendous hiss, equally marked with hellish lows craft a wide lens through which you can view the black experience. The inanely off-key Ice JJFish provides an emotional respite in the midst of black and white shots of hosings and cellphone footage of institutionalized racial violence. As opposed to comic relief, the entertaining shots of black folks serve as an addition to the interpretation of the black american experience rather than a distraction. To show only suffering is unequivocally depressing, but to focus on the funny and inviting is disingenuous. The oscillation between morbid and monumental serves as an eraser for the myopic assumptions of blackness.
With context, you can understand the importance of the first black president singing amazing grace after the Charleston massacre, without it the reverence is readily visible. How can a group of people continuously subjected to a consistent history of violent oppression and still smile as the sun comes up each morning? In omnipresent fashion, we see the sun lashing out at the errors of our ways brief clips of explosive solar flares. An enormous ball of energy hangs above our heads, pulsating through time as it forms no opinions, only floating to serve as a reminder that despite the trajectory we choose, the passage of time is an inevitability. The time we are given to live on this planet is only that, a gift. Whether we spoil that gift through violent conflict or finally confront the truth about ourselves is entirely our choice, but how it all ends is not.
Neither optimist nor cynic is entirely satisfied with Love is the Message. The transitions from organized civil rights marches to black figures at the apex of their industry defining representation provide an uplifting depiction of progress, yet begs the question, why must black existence need justification at all? Why must the bare minimum be fought for? Jafa stops short of providing a critique or call to action, perhaps to his detriment.
In a later interview, Jafa denounces the crying and tears induced from the film. “I started to feel like I was giving people this sort of microwave epiphany about blackness and I started feeling very suspect about it”. — Arthur Jafa, The Guardian
For many, Love is the Message serves as the closest you can get to the black american experience without having to live through it. The lessons the film wields are dulled and reconstructed into self wallowing, and paralyzing shame. The unfortunate truth is that for every murderous clip in Love is the Message, there are countless other exponentially horrific depictions of slavery that are lost to the annals of American Histry. If the brief recordings of the past fifty years have proven too much to handle, then perhaps we aren’t ready to speak honest truths about the last four-hundred.