I Can’t Breathe: This is a Cry of My People

Lionelle Nsarhaza’s poetic short film, made in collaboration with other creatives, explores systemic racism from a personal perspective.

“I Can’t Breathe – this is the cry of my people” is a series of monologues and vignettes performed, filmed, and edited over lockdown by a diverse collective of artists. All of us got involved in an effort to tell our stories and help get this message out there. I am very grateful for how it turned out.

I was motivated to write and produce these pieces as a visceral response to the global movement, a movement responding to the death of George Floyd. As a young black woman, this project allowed me a chance to voice my experiences and feelings about the systemic racism that pervades this country. Something that is so often unseen to those with the privilege to look away. It is my desire that what we experience and learn from being part of this movement will continue to resonate and reverberate. These days, people are often and easily regarded in unfair and dangerous stereotypes. I want to continue using the humanizing power of film and performance to explore this truth creatively and broadly.

This work was created during the first lockdown of 2020 the world had stopped and on the 25th May emotions hit an all time high with the death of George Floyd. At the time I was encouraged by director Sally Cookson to not shy away from my emotions but instead confront them and express myself creatively. I’m currently studying acting at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

As acting at the time wasn’t an option I turned to writing, the biggest hurdle was sharing that work, but once I had I was very blessed to have everything fall into place. I was nervous taking on such a meaningful project during lockdown restrictions and with a lack of budget but in the end this was a positive. We used what we had, which was our phones in hopes that the message would speak for itself, this approach we felt made the work more authentic. I was lucky to have a wonderful team behind me that were also very passionate about the message.

In the last couple of years one of the biggest encouragements I’ve had is make your own work, tell your own stories and in that way as an actor I also get to play parts that don’t limit me, not to mention writing has been a fantastic use of self-expression. I want to tell raw stories that put a magnifying glass to the ordinary and find the beauty in them, the kind of stuff that makes you see your own life reflected “that’s me, my brother, my neighbourhood, my story”. 

To quote actor and teacher William Esper “Art is the mirror of reality that can influence, entertain, inspire and change”.  I wholeheartedly agree.

It is vital that this film be shared to continue the momentum created in the wake of the protests. And it requires work, particularly, the amplification of black voices. If you are in a position to share this content—our message—all artists involved in its creation would be most grateful. I think most of the world has now put Black Lives Matter to bed because it is no longer trending. However, the issues are still very real. All of these people came on in an effort to get this message out there and I was very grateful for how it turned out in terms of the process its self.

Follow I Can’t Breathe – Vignettes here

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