Skinny Jeans: Seye Isikalu’s Film Challenges The Black Masculinity Monolith

HISKIND sat down with Seye Isikalu, the photographer, filmmaker, and creative force behind ‘Skinny Jeans’, an upcoming film that delicately blends poetry and storytelling to compellingly reframe, complicate and queer the narrative around black masculinity.

What is ‘Skinny Jeans’?

The Skinny Jeans project is a film and exhibition I’m curating that centres topics that fall under the umbrella of Black masculinities. I feel like the current general discourse around black masculinity often omits queerness from the discussion and Skinny Jeans centres queer black masculinity. It started off as an idea for a web series that I had started filming for, and as time went on and ideas developed, I decided that I wanted to actually make it into a film instead. It’s a hybrid of interviews, narrative, and poetry to visuals. The exhibition will premiere the film alongside art from other artists who are doing similar work.

What was the great impetus for you to make ‘Skinny Jeans’?

I shot a viral photo series called ‘Don’t Police My Masculinity’ based on a conversations I’d been having around black masculinity, and ideas sort of developed from there. I had never heard the term [Policing Masculinity] before and when it was introduced to me, it gave definition to behaviour that I’ve been familiar with from a very early age. I think it can begin a process of healing when you understand the behaviour that’s been projected onto you, the logic behind it and how that can be internalised and eventually unlearnt.

The photos got a great response and it inspired me to expand on the topic a bit more. I wanted to make something for black boys and men who needed to hear or see something that represents them/speaks to them and hopefully aids in healing.

How did ‘Don’t Police My Masculinity’ come about?

So the main premise of the conversations I’d been having was that there are so many limitations on the ways in which Black men are allowed to explore and express their manhood. Anything perceived to be an ‘alternative’ expression of masculinity is met with some level of resistance especially for black men. ‘Don’t Police My Masculinity’ is a direct response to that and Skinny Jeans expands on the commentary.

How did you choose your subjects for the film?

For the interviews, a lot of the people in the film so far are people that I know that had relevant experiences and stories. Friends, family — I don’t think there’s anyone I’ve interviewed it that I didn’t already know personally.

What do you think is missing from the conversation about Black Masculinity?

I think what’s missing as far as I’m aware, aside from wider acknowledgement of queer black masculinity, is discussion of HOW black men can navigate owning up to where pain lies within us, and how important the process of unlearning toxic patriarchal masculinity is in healing us.

Who/what are some of your great cultural inspirations?

I’m inspired by the work of director Marlon Riggs, poets Nayyirah Waheed & Yrsa Daley-Ward, and the work of contemporary artists like Cecile Emeke, Ib Kamara, Khalil Joseph.

If you had to choose a favourite image or photograph or other piece of art what would it be?

Barkley L Hendricks, Family Jules: NNN (No Naked Niggahs), (1974). It’s very representative of carefreeness to me.

You released ‘Monochrome’ earlier this year. Does that tie into this project?

Monochrome is a scene from ‘Skinny Jeans’ that the narrative flows through. It’s a taster of what to expect. There’s also [Flourish] which is commentary on when black men dance, another preview from the film that people can watch to get a feel for the film.

What do you people to take away when they watch ‘Skinny Jeans’?

I want black men and boys to watch Skinny Jeans and be inspired to be free. ‘Freeness’ is one of the main themes of the film.

‘Skinny Jeans’ is currently raising funding for it’s completion. You can donate to the Skinny Jeans Crowdfunder here.