“Hanna, we’re ready for you!” he yelled from the traffic island, motioning for me to come do the scene. I crossed two busy lanes of traffic and met Yousef, the director of the music video, who was donning a sleeveless gray jumper covered in gray sequins with a bright orange zipper. Somehow he didn’t seem to be freezing in the chilly November weather in Berlin. Once I’d crossed the two lanes, I made my way over to our small crew.
“I am a dog and you OWN me. You must assert your dominance over me – I am subservient to you,” he explained as he pulled a frightening, army-green gas mask over his face.
“Tie this around my neck,” he muttered through the gas mask, handing me a red rope and getting down on all fours, positioning himself the way he wanted to be in the frame. It was cold out and his nature was both earnest and urgent, so I swiftly followed his instructions and tied the rope around his neck.
“Camera rolling…action,” Lawrence said and there I was in the middle of four lanes of Saturday traffic dressed like a Black version of Zenon the girl from the 21st century, holding a leash tied to another human by the historic Frankfurter Tor, a bustling intersection reconstructed after World War II.
“I need you to pull harder on the rope, you have to show that you OWN me,” Yousef garbled through the gas mask, goggles fogged up from his hot breath in the cold air.
“I want you to step up onto my back,” he said repositioning his grip on the ground.
“Camera rolling…action,” and as Kalpour played the track, “The Breeze,” off of his portable speaker, I started moving and tugging at the leash. One by one, I planted my Doc Martens that had been spray-painted gold earlier that day on top of Yousef and tried to keep my balance as I pulled at the leash and rode on his back. Everything was happening so fast I wasn’t really processing, but when I saw it played back on the camera screen after we finished the shot, I realized how talented of a director and team I was working with and to trust them fully.
Kalpour’s track featuring yours truly, “The Breeze,” off of his latest album, The Reach, is a track about power and proclaiming power, but not a competitive, external power. It’s the power in “empowerment,” a self-respect that involves safety, security, and self love. I wrote these lyrics shortly after the #MeToo movement began a year ago and the beat reminded me of some Missy Elliott – Timbaland tracks. I studied videos and Missy’s flows from songs like “Gossip Folks,” and ironically, “One Minute Man” and “Get Ur Freak On” in order to write “The Breeze.” The bridge, “Hands off, Step it back, Pay attention, Get on track,” is a message to any person who feels the right to touch someone else without their consent. It’s unfathomable the extent to which sexual assault is normalized in today’s society.
There is so much to unpack about the image of a woman holding a man dressed as a dog on a leash. The dog scene represents a world opposite from the world we live in, the one where women are valued less than men. It represents a woman in control, a woman exhibiting superiority over a man. The more extreme the image seems, the more a person has to work to break down the societal structures telling us that women are the property of men.
Not only was this scene an incredible interpretation of the message of the track, it also served as a reminder for me to keep getting uncomfortable in my creative work. I love being pushed by people who are better than me and who have broader visions than what I can see on my own.
The way things came together was fortuitous. Kalpour and I had scraped together a tiny budget and our talented film friends, Yousef and Liv, to start off with. Then we found Lawrence, our director of photoraphy, through a recommendation of someone I’ve messaged a few times on Facebook and he brought Caterina, another photographer/videographer who provided much needed help with lighting. Then there was a sequence of friends and strangers who volunteered their time to meet up with us throughout the two days, each bringing a different style and mood to the video.
Like Carmela, who I met in a hip hop class at the House of Melody dance studio. I had misread the class description and gone to an intermediate level class which was very overwhelming, but I still had fun because we got to listen to “Just Friends” by Musiq Soulchild over and over. After class, I complimented her on her moves and invited her to come to our shoot. I was having issues with my phone and couldn’t reach her all weekend until we tried from Yousef’s phone halfway through our last day and she miraculously agreed. We ended up getting some incredible shots with both of us doing synchronized moves we made up on the spot. It was dope.
With each additional person contributing whatever they had to bring to the table, working hard with practically no money or compensation involved, this project kept evolving into something better and better which was invigorating to be a part of. Sometimes everything feels like a struggle to me, but there were moments throughout this weekend where my internal monologue was, “There is nothing else I would rather be doing, there is nowhere else I would rather be.”
I hope I can find a group of individuals in LA this January who want to create with me not for cash or likes, but for the sake of putting in the work to make something come to life. That shit makes me tick.