East End Film Festival: Don’t Be Nice – Review

I adore slam poetry. I just love it. I love listening to it, I love creating it, and I love being a part of it. Though people have this bizarre stereotype for poets, especially slam poets, the emotionally charged medium is filled with all shapes and sizes confronting not just the society around them but the faults within them. It is always intense, always engaging, and always so intelligently creative.

Don’t Be Nice, a brand new documentary movie from Max Powers (no, really,) looks at this world of words in a brilliant way.

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Don’t Be Nice follows Lauren Whitehead, a slam poetry coach as she selects a small team of performers to take to the National Championship during the racially charged 2016 summer. During the creative process, Whitehead urges her team to face emotions that run deep within them and comes across headstrong talents who are sheepish about taking that journey inward. Battling it out against other groups, this Brooklyn based team must learn to listen together, craft together, and work together in order to succeed, not just winning the competition, finding their own voice. 

In similar respects to last year’s documentary Step, Don’t Be Nice looks at how racial tensions can impact creative. Young BAME writers look to excavate their emotions and how they connect to a much bigger world. There are social viewpoints raised about being a young black person in America or how different sections of abuse can radically alter your person and, indeed, your perspective of the world. Whitehead is an impeccable teacher who pushes the boundaries of her student’s work. She is eager to see them flourish not just for the sake of the competition, but for themselves and their talents. It’s interesting to watch her shape their work and feed off one another to write some great art.

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Powers’ documentary flows because of their and at times breaks the mould from bog-standard observation  in order to showcase the poetry in daily life. Ashley August’s Octan***** is told in a New York station that is decorated with sea-life, fitting into her metaphor of being called “over-dramatic” and to see this kinetic piece in a real-world setting adds another layer to the film. That being said, this technique is used twice and, perhaps, should be used consistently throughout. There’s also an inter-spliced with news stories revolving around unjust deaths at the hands of the police and the Black Lives Matter movement, informing more angered (yet impeccable) poems.

Of course, the highlight here is all the poetry and the performers. The energy and creativity that flows from these young performers results in some genius performances. Their collaborative Google Black is one of the most phenomenal pieces I’ve ever seen, seconded only by Timothy DuWhite’s So He Called Me A F*****.  When they stand on stage, magic happens and goosebumps will rise from you.

Powers’ work is tantalising and breathing with life. Bursting with vibrant slam poetry, this documentary is an interesting look at a writer’s life and the atrocities of society that may inform it.

Don’t Be Nice screens at East End Film Festival on 21st April! 

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