Love Letter on Storytelling

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Storytelling is witchcraft. Through the deft handling of a few words, a finely diced delivery, stories transport us entirely to new worlds—stories build worlds. 

Stories dare us to see reality differently and shape it to our highest imagination. In the hands of a masterful shaman from that future world, a good story has the power to feed our celestial hungers, mend hearts and put history on a path of truth.

The story I’ve been most riveted by these past few days is When They See Us, Ava Duvernay’s harrowing portrait of five boys whose youth was snatched away because they happened to be in Central Park and black on the wrong night. Korey, Yusef, Antron, Raymond and Kevin are now grown men. They were ages 14-16 when the state knowingly painted them as “super-predators” for a racially charged-crime the state understood they couldn’t have reasonably committed. They’ve since been exonerated, receive standing ovations whenever they gather and have the most buzzworthy Netflix show sharing their ordeal. Nothing will restore the stolen years. 

What stands out to me in the historical account is just how powerful storytelling is to shaping reality. The media—America’s griot class—fucked up on a cataclysmic scale. Storytellers allowed a toxic and racist portrait of black boyhood to pollute public opinion, long before the first day of trial. Yes, private citizens can take out ads in any paper they please. But surely there should be some accountability from the likes of The New York Times, for accepting money from Donald Trump to print a full spread calling for the boys’ death? Had 2016 not gone awry—in large part owing to the media’s fixation with ratings and profits over honoring truthful stories—what happened in 1989 might not sting quite as much today. Where is the accountability?

Beyond journalists, just about every creative I know is telling some kind of story. Whether she knows it or not. It’s not just journalists and writers and film gods like Ava Duvernay (let that fine woman’s name stay black baby Jesus blessed and highly favoured!) who share important stories through their creativity. It’s also the jeweler and the blacksmith, the sculptor and home cook, even the plastic surgeon is telling an interesting story about beauty and our collective values, in how she wields that knife. 

Because stories matter and can have such a dramatic impact on real lives, our work as creatives must be honoring the story itself. Heeding its integrity and telling the truth of the whole thing, no matter how hot that shit burns. 

I resisted watchingWhen They See Us. Too much hurt. The little I knew about “The Central Park 5” was enough to shut me down. Trauma. Triggers. I don’t need all that. But, armed with a bottle of rose and a peachy summer day, I dug in. I don’t recommend the show to everyone. But I do recommend knowing the times we live in being accountable for how the story you tell through your craft feeds into and lifts up our times. That’s not about watching any particular show, it’s understanding that the power you wield everyday as a creative is witchcraft. Let it be the best kind

Makhene