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  • Moving Images and Black Life-Worlds:An Interview with Terence Nance
  • Elizabeth Reich (bio) and Terence Nance (bio)

terence nance's moving-image productions span decades, styles, sounds, rhythms, and genres. They bring profound colors, cuts, and noise to the screen; envision otherworldly beings and modes of embodiment; transport us through breath-giving alternative time-spaces; and continually stretch, and strain against, known visual and sonic forms and strategies. They also range wildly in scope: from political shorts, such as The Time Has Come: John Burris Speaks (2015), music videos (nick hakim's Bet She Looks Like You and the dig's You & I & You), an experimental French-African drama and a speculative history of jimi hendrix, to The Triptych (2012), an Afropunk-produced full-length documentary with nance's neighbors and collaborators, wangechi mutu, sanford biggers, and barron claiborne.

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Terence Nance. Photo credit: Barbara Anastasio

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Figure 1.

Terence Nance. Film still from You & I & You (2015). Image courtesy of the filmmaker.

Perhaps most importantly, through their logistics of production as well as their transformative sound-visions, Nance's works bring new, and often communal, Black life-worlds into being. Yet until summer 2018, when HBO premiered his collectively written and directed series, Random Acts of Flyness, and more recently in fall 2018 when Warner Bros. announced that Nance would direct Space Jam 2, Nance was primarily known for his 2012 feature An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. Oversimplification premiered at Sundance and received positive reviews highlighting the film's creative form—a semi-animated, highly reflexive collage of found and new footage—although it didn't bring Nance the kind of recognition his contemporaries, Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, 2013) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, 2016), received for their work.

When I spoke with Nance on September 24, 2018, my focus was on his use of documentary because I was writing an article on The Triptych. But I was also eager to ask about Nance's relationship to Afrofuturism, a phenomenon I understand to be expansive in its aesthetic, thematic, and political scope: a transnational, transhistorical, and continually arising form of Black art and expression tied to the political commitment to imagine Black life otherwise. Nance was surprised that I found his work to be Afrofuturist, and described his form as shaped instead by "litany." Litany is a practice Nance identifies as intrinsic to Black [End Page 276]

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Figure 2.

Terence Nance. Film still from The Triptych (2012). Image courtesy of the filmmaker.

American arts, literature, and religion. It is a practice, I would argue, that renders Black art as always-already political, engaged with a demand for freedom and repair, and shot through with the efforts of protest that have been fundamental to the creation of Black publics—whether viewing audiences, church congregations, slavery resisters, or #BlackLivesMatter and other Black freedom activists. Such litany (the verbal and visual lists at the beginning of Swimming in Your Skin Again; the repetition of names, exhortations, and interactive images across The Time Has Come, for instance)—for me—is the stuff of Afrofuturism: a form that functions in a time-space alternative to the sociopolitical; an embodied insistence on what Ashon Crawley has called "otherwise possibilities."1 However one might describe it, Terence Nance's profound assertion of litany as fundamental to Black expressive practice proposes a reconsideration of imagination as insistent world-making: an issuance of a set of demands rendered real and persistent through their very form.

Terence and I spoke by FaceTime. Our discussion meandered through my questions about Afrofuturism and Terence's thoughts about litany. We talked about Terence's early documentary film The Triptych, its situatedness in Black community and collaboration, and how documentary practice has changed across recent decades. And Terence explained his hopes and frustrations with Random Acts of [End Page 277]

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Figure 3.

Terence Nance. Film still from Jimi Could Have Fallen from the Sky (2017). Image courtesy of the filmmaker.

Flyness, another collaborative project, and one which Terence imagined might create political change despite...


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