When musicians and filmmakers Bocafloja and Cambiowashere first set out to create Nana Dijo, a gripping documentary about the African diaspora in the Americas, both wanted to stray away from traditional documentary approaches that have tended to sensationalize the Afro-descendant experience in the Americas. Nana Dijo instead provides viewers with a host of intimate accounts of people whose lives have been defined by their ability to negotiate a black racial consciousness in a series of disparate racial, social, and political contexts. But while the film’s directors sought to reconcile regional difference by not providing viewers with the names of locations throughout the film, Nana Dijo also highlights the complexity of identity as it centers blackness through a diasporic lens that moves beyond geo-politics and nationalism.
We sat down with Bocafloja to talk about the inspiration for his documentary and decolonizing our notions of race and identity.
Can you describe who you are and the meaning behind Bocafloja and Quilomboarte?
“We didn’t want to do a journalistic or National Geographic type of documentary.”
I am a multi-disciplinary artist. I started to produce artistically as a rapper and performed spoken word poetry while growing up in Mexico City in the mid 90s, but I’ve been involved in other forms of cultural and political participation like filmmaking, theater, literature and [political] organizing. Quilomboarte started as an initiative to create a cultural agenda that could be articulated as an alternative form of political participation through the use of hip hop culture as a vehicle to approach and dialogue mainly within black and brown communities. We started bringing artists from the U.S. and other countries to Mexico in order to be part of some sort of exchange in which we would facilitate an interaction between them and the community. In essence, the experience was planned to go beyond the actual performances in order to build other type of platforms for discussion, dialogue, and long term impact.
Your music tends to center on popular conceptions of the African Diaspora, de-colonialism, indigenous rights, and anti-black racism in the United States and throughout the Americas. Your new film Nana Dijo is doing the same thing, albeit through a visual medium. What was the inspiration for this film?
“We wanted to reflect our narratives in first person and formulate a collective voice proving that beyond our nationality we were able to share experiences as black and brown people.”
I understand this as a historical responsibility in which we reclaim our narratives from a perspective that is not subjugated to cultural hegemonies. Most of the visual work that has been done in regards to the African Diaspora in Mexico or Latin America happens to be inclusionist, politically safe and focused on a culturalist approach instead of other more transgressive elements that are inherent in the whole experience. Nowadays there is an “Afro-Latino” boom which under the liberal democracies framework becomes just the ideal experience to promote shallow forms of multi-culturalism that are not really promoting any type of process of empowerment or deep analysis about the effects on our psyche as colonial subjects today. I identify myself as a black and brown individual, so for me this project was definitively relevant in order to give voice to thousands and thousands of people that in the context of Mexico and Latin America never found an outlet to express or justify the true genesis of their identity.
It also seems like a lot of your work tries to promote solidarity between black and brown communities throughout the Americas, how do you think this film builds on that vision?
Politically it’s important because as historically oppressed people we have to build together, we have to legitimize our knowledge production, we have to fortify our economies, and we have to understand that the animosity that has been created between us will only be capitalized by models of white supremacy. It’s really important for us to understand that as black and brown people, we have a shared history that started way before colonial times. Also, it’s fundamental to deconstruct that myopic idea that “Mexicanness” is a racial category. Perhaps the film will contribute by opening platforms of discussion in which some people will understand that black history and experience is not only an “additional element” to “Latino” culture, but an inherent component of it.
This project was filmed in the United States and throughout the Americas. Was that the goal when you started filming? How did the film evolve throughout the filming process?
The goal was clear in the sense that we didn’t want to do a journalistic or National Geographic type of documentary. We wanted to reflect our narratives in first person and formulate a collective voice proving that beyond our nationality we were able to share experiences as black and brown people. We were in Uruguay, Honduras, México, Argentina, and the U.S., but we didn’t specify the locations in the film — totally on purpose — just to prove that our similarities connect us deeper than language or geopolitics. I did this project along with filmmaker-rapper Cambiowashere who is half responsible of the project and was in charge of the photography, cinematography and editing process of it. We have worked for years together creating music and the way we understand each other creatively made things flow smoother while working on Nana Dijo.
“It’s fundamental to deconstruct that myopic idea that “Mexicanness” is a racial category.”
The Black Lives Matter Movement continues to fight for racial justice for black Americans in the United States. Yet we also know that anti-black racism exists throughout the Americas. How do you think a film like this can help promote a larger diasporic black racial justice movement?
We hope it opens a solid discussion about anti-blackness, because as you mentioned, it’s a major issue in the Americas. Unfortunately, the fundamental construction of most Latin American countries when it comes to identity, morality and systemic procedures is absolutely anti-black and anti-indigenous. We lived under models of internal colonialism in which the historical benefactors of wealth and power are white Latinos, and this process of racial stratification doesn’t even exclude some Latin American leftist movements from a huge level of privilege.
What was the most challenging aspect about seeing this project reach fruition?
It was a powerful experience when it comes to fully understanding that a personal and almost intimate experience can be so useful collectively. The most challenging process would be confirming how the cultural industry is mostly controlled by whiteness and how knowledge and cultural production goes through a sterility filter in order to be certified and approved by their power structures. A project like ours is not subjugated to their accepted narratives, so it’s hard to access certain spheres that could potentially represent more visibility and exposure. And that applies to academic circles, colleges, universities, cultural institutions like museums or non for profit organizations, film circuits, etc. At the end of the day it was totally expected and we were playing a calculated risk when we started the project.
Any upcoming projects or events related to Nana Dijo?
We will be doing screenings and Q&As the next few months, and then at some point during the year we will release the project online for free in order to socialize it as much as possible. Thank you for the opportunity, and please check out sociedadcimarrona.com, which is a critical analysis platform that I created in order to share constant information on art, culture, and politics from a decolonized black and brown perspective. And also please check cambiowashere.com with updates on our visual projects.