I can’t tell you when I realized that being Black in America was a fragile existence. Was it a slow revelation gleaned from car rides with my father? Replaying his lectures of how I had to work twice as hard for half the recognition? Maybe it went further back to when I had to swallow my accent and hide my culture to get along with kids in elementary school. Maybe it wasn’t a slow revelation at all; maybe it was a violent confrontation of how easily Black lives could be torn apart, how easy it is for the light to leave our eyes. It was Trayvon Martin. Later, it was Sandra Bland, then it was Eric Garner and Alton Sterling. It was Philando Castile. I watched that video. I saw his girlfriend mourn; I saw his daughter try to comfort her mother. I saw Blackness at its most fragile, at its most broken.
And then I saw people argue in the comments that maybe he was a criminal. Maybe he shouldn’t have reached for his license. Maybe he shouldn’t have been driving at night. That’s when I finally understood. The wool was stripped from my eyes and I could see. My Nigerian blood, my USC Master’s degree, my goal to be the U.S. Ambassador to China or South Korea, my dream to be a novelist—none of it made me special, and none of it would save me in the face of an officer who was trained, conditioned, and armed to believe that I was dangerous. I could strut my talent, speak in the tongue of a born and bred Valley girl, claw my way to middle ranks of power, and absolutely nothing would change. I would still be a Black woman. I would still die at the hands of law enforcement.
Fast forward to 2020, while we were all in the midst of a global health crisis (of which Black people were already dying at a higher rate than any other demographic) on May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed in Minneapolis while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. We held our breaths as we watched him struggle for his. Nine and a half minutes later he was executed. Some people were shocked. Some people were outraged. Some people were apathetic. Some people mourned. Some people carried on with their day as if nothing had happened. Because nothing had changed. After so many years of watching my people decorate the streets with their blood and their bodies, why did I decide to write In Case I'm Next last summer?
I wrote because I was tired. I wrote it because I wanted to leave behind a will, a manifesto of sorts just in case it was me. I wanted my peace-totting, well-meaning Christian and non-Black friends of color (Asian friends, I’m talking to you specifically) to get out of their bubble. In all of our conversations about race last year, people kept throwing out the words “forgiveness” and “peace.” As a believer in Christ, I was frustrated because I wanted them to remember the God of justice too. Why is it that we ask so much of Black survivors? I wanted to ask them a simple question. If I was the next person to die of police brutality, what would they say? What would they do? Would they argue in the comments that not all police officers are bad? Would they say that maybe I was hiding a closet full of secrets? If I was murdered before their eyes, would they spend their energy denouncing looting? Would they seek justice for me? Sadly, I’m not too sure.
In Case I’m Next is a scream, a plea, and a prayer for everyone who loves Black people, culture, music, entertainers, artists, and athletes—for anyone who recognizes that the U.S. wouldn’t be where it was without us. I wanted the film to showcase the pain but also the beauty, resiliency and vibrancy that continues to persevere in the Black community despite institutional oppression. This film is a resounding cry to apathetic Americans and a declaration to people who refuse to see and acknowledge the truth of what white supremacy has wrought upon us all. When you watch it, I hope you learn, reflect, mourn, celebrate, and support the lives of Black people in America. I hope you support artists like me. Most of all, I hope you are moved into helping make sure that something changes. So that we can have a future where Black lives aren’t so easily torn, where Black children aren’t taught to fear sirens, where Black bodies don’t decorate the streets or function as cogs in the prison-industrial complex. So we can have a future where we all have long, full lives.
Director: Gabriela Ortega (@grabrielaortega5)
Writer: Kae King (@thekaeking)
Performer: Kae King
Director of Photography: Kenzo Le (@kenzo.dp)
Producer: Juice Wood (@juicewood_)
Producer: Mykaila Williams (@filmblacktivist)
Production Company: Crimson Edge (@crimsonedgecreative)