Shots flicker from scene to scene in subtle and purposefully understated ways: a father gently kisses his young son on the lips; a barber cuts hair as the hum of his clippers engulfs the quiet; shrouded in a soft pink glow, two men sit side-by-side as they read from texts by Wole Soyinka and bell hooks. Monochrome, a 4-minute short about black male affection, is threaded together by these hushed and tender exchanges. Directed by Seye Isikalu, a London-based photographer and filmmaker, it’s a delicate piece of cinema made all the more beautiful by its regularness. Isikalu’s is a sweet-tempered and precise outlook not bound to the imprecise projections of others. These are images that tell us so much of how black male affection is alive in our day-to-day.
Over email, Isikalu told The FADER that much of the short — which is part of a larger work about black male identity — “stems from seeing how intimacy between black men is policed, especially online. The Vanity Fair image of Michael B. Jordan placing his hand on Ryan Coogler’s head sparked a lot of unwarranted outrage, but also much needed discussion about perceptions of romantic and platonic black male intimacy and its surveillance.”
As the film comes to an all-too-soon close, a voice breaks through as the screen goes colorless: “Grey is the wonderland we’ve learned not to trek to, because displays of black male affection are strategically met with seeds of suspicion that sprout this myth that if black men are touching it means we’re either fighting or fucking. For us, there is no grey. But this too, is distortion … Our emancipation resides in the grey we’re denied.”