TEB: How would you describe your occupation? What do you do for a living?
DLW: I create art. I never know how to answer that. I have no idea. I have absolutely have no idea what I do. I wake up and whatever it is I do that day is what I do for a living.
TEB: So what’s your occupation?
DLW: Recently, right now I’m a filmmaker. And yesterday I was too. But a month ago, I was an explorer. Like Magellan.
TEB: Both of your documentaries focus on the African-American community. Is that intentional? Or was that intentional only because of the topics.
DLW: Yea very much so. I feel like Nina Simone. As an artist, your art has to reflect the times. And I feel like, that’s what I’m doing. I never sat down and said I’m going to make something about black people. It just came to me one day like, “Hey yes…that’s what I should do.” The thought just popped in my head or someone mentioned it in passing and I just ran with it.
TEB: So this was your first documentary, right? What prompted you to put down the pen and pick up a camera?
DLW: People don’t read. That was basically it. I was like, no one’s going to read. I could write about this and I could talk about it like I do everything else. But people won’t read it. Film is so immediate. Writing is more like, “Ok I wrote something and a year I’ll hear back on whether or not it was accepted. Or I’ll never know who said what. Film is more in your face and gets you more access to more people and through more doors. So, I was like, “let’s make a film.” I’ve been involved in filmmaking before and all that stuff. But this was something new. Let me try it and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But someone will see it.
TEB: Why did you need this to be more immediate?
DLW: Because the way the world is moving and with the topic itself, I’m trying to get people out of here as soon as possible. So having to wait those six to nine months for my writing to be done wasn’t an option. Especially with the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. The whole of 2015 and 2016 was just like every day somebody black was being killed. So like we don’t really have any time to waste. So with film this will cut down on time.
As someone who is perpetually out of the country, is Seeking Asylum your story? Or has it become your story?
DLW: Sort of. I am currently searching for a place. I’m in South Africa now but I don’t know if that’s going to be where I live and seek asylum. But I am currently outside of America with no intentions of being full time there anytime soon.
TEB: You mentioned Freddie Gray being the push before the film. But why was this death so pivotal?
DLW: For me it wasn’t a pivotal moment, except for it’s what sparked my friend to ask if I was seeking asylum. But I’ve been involved in that whole fight for years. Since my childhood. I went to Ferguson. I went to Baltimore. So it was just a constant fight. It wasn’t’ anything new. It was just another thing. So like, I’m tired of this. I’ve been tired. But [Freddie Gray] sparked my friend to ask, “What are you going to Norway for? Are you seeking asylum?”
TEB: What did you do in Ferguson and Baltimore?
DLW: When I was in Ferguson, that was the first time I created these short [videos] to bring back and show what was happening in the world. Freddie Gray was the first time I put a film together and promoted it. It was just me going home and showing what the news wasn’t showing; what was actually happening. And I saw what they were doing on the news and I was like, “this is all a lie.” So [the film] was just me exposing things and showing what was happening. So it’s just this thing that’s out there. I don’t know what you would call it. I had no intentions of it being anything more than, “hey this is the truth.”
TEB: So tell me what was being shown that wasn’t accurate.
DLW: The craziest one was we were standing in front of the police department and the news was reporting about a protest. And we were standing right there and nothing was happening. There was one time where they were like, “Oh the protesters are out here in front of the police station. They’re marching and rioting.” And when I say there were three people out there. And we were all standing there like, “what are they talking about?” So we’re calling people like, “Hey are you at some protest?” And they’re like, “No, there’s nothing happening tonight.” So everything I was doing was basically to show what was actually happening and the difference between who was protesting and who was doing counteracts.
TEB: It starts with the scenes of police brutality or excessive force. Is there one in particular that just pushed your button?
DLW: I think it’s all of them. It all shows what’s happening here in America with police and how blacks are treated. The police are doing it in the videos. But it’s like how America treats [its black community]. Like I think the world is anti-black. But America especially has really shown its face in the last years.
TEB: When you say the world is anti-black, can you give an example?
DLW: We have Black Pete in Amsterdam that they refuse to get rid of. You have places like Cape Town, where racism is still very heavy by the Afrikaans toward the Africans. You have BLM protests that are still happening in London. In Paris, they’re having issues with people of color in general; especially black people and Muslims. And colorism is still real. It’s a lot of stuff that’s out there that shows that black people are not the favorite.
TEB: There’s a tag on some of your trailers saying “Escaping American Tyranny.” What is American Tyranny?
DLW: The power structure here. So, the government, police forces, White men. All of that. The lawmakers. All of the powers combined. Now we have Donald Trump. It was Barack Obama.
TEB: What’s the difference between the two presidents?
DLW: One’s more public about his intentions and very unapologetic. The other was well hidden behind apologists. It was a smarter time. There’s just a smarter team.
TEB: Given what’s going on in the country now, with the change of power and immigration, what can this film speak to?
DLW: I think it’s showing people that, hey this isn’t the place. There are other places to go that will gladly take you in. There are other countries worth exploring. Like this isn’t the only country to have a dream.
TEB: Surely the US doesn’t hold a monopoly on racism and discrimination. Is there an escape?
DLW: Yea. I think that sometimes you have to weigh the lesser of two evils. There is no escape from racism. Because like I said, I think the world is anti-black. But there are places where if I go out, I’ll make it home tonight. I know that if I get stopped by a cop I won’t all of sudden tense up, be nervous, and fear for my life. Like those places do exist. And that was all of the places that I’ve been except America.
TEB: Do you foresee a mass exodus of the black community? Do you support it? Why/not?
DLW: Nah, that won’t happen. But I do support it. Completely. Because I think it needs to happen. Why be somewhere you’re not wanted? I get the whole argument that my ancestors built this place I’m going stay. But your ancestors built this place because they didn’t have a choice. And, if they had the choice, I’m quite sure they would have left. But now that it’s accessible and it’s easy to do, I think you should go.
TEB: Regarding the film, where did you shoot?
DLW: Oslo, London, Amsterdam back to London.
TEB: How has it been received by multi-racial audiences?
DLW: It’s received well. The White folks who watch it, they all watch it from a very privileged place. And so they say things like, “Oh I definitely support this. I just don’t understand why you feel this way about America. America’s not that bad of a place. Why do you hate America so much?” The black people they all love it. So the white people who love it, they love it but they say things that they don’t realize they’re saying from this seat of privilege.
TEB: If they don’t understand it, why do you think white people love it?
DLW: White people love seeing stuff that talks about them. Like anytime you talk shit about white people they love it because they don’t think it’s them. They think “That’s one of those white people. That’s not me.” And then you have the woke white people who say, “thank you for showing my privilege to me.” And it helps them get a little more woke.
TEB: Do you hate America?
DLW: No I don’t hate it. I think America is like this foster mother. Like, at any point she can just give us back. And she treats us like these foster children. I’m indifferent toward America. I see the flaws. I don’t love it. But I don’t hate. There is some beauty. There are some great things here. But there’s a lot of bad.
TEB: You talk about a girl you went to school with whose abusive father was a cop. And you ask the question, “What do you do when the people who are supposed to protect you are hurting you?” Why did you use that example?
DLW: It didn’t even…it’s nothing I even thought about. I was just sitting there and that story just came to my head. That wasn’t planned at all. I just set my phone up and started recording.
TEB: While you were in London, there was a Black Lives Matter protest. Who was there? Was it mostly U.S. citizens?
DLW: Most were Londoners. It was a mixed crowd. It was great. It was great to see that there are people, not just black people, who truly believe that black lives matter. And that protest was around the Freddie Gray situation that had happened. Because when it was going down in London those were my last 2 days on the trip. My first day was the day after Freddie Gray was killed. So it was like this thing that had come full circle because again Freddie Gray was the reason I had my camera there and was asking these questions. So to get to London and someone say, “Hey there’s a rally that’s about to happen down the street around the Freddie Gray situation,” I was like, “wow.”
TEB: For this film, who is your intended audience?
DLW: I didn’t have one. I never do anything with an audience in mind. I just create it and put it out there and see who flocks toward it. So if nobody watches it, that’s fine. But I definitely just need to create it.
TEB: So now that you know who your audience is, if you could tell your audience one thing, what would it be?
DLW: I want them to get that this place is not safe for black people. And I want them to be able to stand against racial injustice toward all people of color and the mistreatment of anybody; not just black people. But because [black people] are in the hot seat and have been for the last 398 years, I think that they need to stand for [black people] the way we’ve been standing for everybody.
TEB: So your main message is that there are safe places for people of color to go.
DLW: I want to say there are places that are safer. I don’t know that there are places that are safe.
Darnell Lamont Walker
Seeking Asylum, Director & Producer
The Echoes Blog: You seem to float a bit. Where are you actually from?
Darnell Lamont Walker: Farmersville, VA. But I’ve been everywhere. I’m omnipresent.
TEB: How does that inform your art?
DLW: I don’t know actually. I think whenever I go somewhere I just get influenced by whatever’s around me. So, I never really go anywhere for the art. But the art just finds me wherever I am. So like if it’s writing, there something there that will inspire that or if I feel like making a movie or whatever that is. There’s always something about that place that will do it.