Monday, December 8, 2008

Spoken Word: "Black White Whatever" Kelly Tsai (Def Poetry)

From Kelly Tsai's website

In a dynamic collaboration between spoken word artist Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, director Jazzmen Lee-Johnson, and producer Alli Maxwell, Moving Earth Productions has produced a spoken word video version of Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai’s “Black, White, Whatever… a witty spoken word poetry call to arms for politicians everywhere to stand up for underrepresented communities, like the Asian Pacific Islander American community and all those who fight to have their voices and lives heard OUT LOUD! For more information on “Black, White, Whatever”’s online viral distribution campaign, click here.

“Black, White, Whatever” Artist Statement:

The real genesis for “Black, White, Whatever” came to me one day while listening to Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child gushing on the radio about how Destiny’s Child loves ALL people, “black, white, whatever you are!”

Although it was probably the millionth time that I’d heard that phrase, it was the last time I could stomach its flippant, simultaneous embrace and dismissal of the complexities of American diversity today. I filed away my annoyance and hoped for a more fully formed poem to come to me eventually.

Lo and behold, as the presidential campaigns for the 2008 election began, I found myself rapt and rabid in front of the television screen and the radio speaker hoping, praying, begging that somebody, anybody would even mention the word, “Asian,” in ANY of their speeches.
I found myself making touchdown victory-like dances at the rare mention of “Asian” or just muttering, “Damn,” on the more likely occasion of its omission. My standards for politicans were sinking to new lows: “Just SAY Asian pleeeeease!”

In the midst of all the media spin, mud-slinging, and rare dialogue on real policy issues, I wondered shouldn’t we expect and want more from our candidates? Our candidates need to not only acknowledge us, but also take on the charge to advocate for the rights and freedoms of every single one of us.

Alli Maxwell (Producer) and Jazzmen Lee-Johnson (Director) passionately took on the task of translating this crowd-pleaser to video capitalizing on Jazz’s background in animation and the able talents of still photographers Sona Z, Matt Weiss, and Michelle Woo.

“Black, White, Whatever” was shot over two days in Brooklyn at the DUMBO Arts Center and the Brooklyn Navy Yards to provide a stripped-down authenticity as a backdrop for our beautifully unique and dynamic crew of over 20 extras representing the fluidity and complexity of this generation with clarity and impact.

“Black, White, Whatever”

Artist Bios:

KELLY ZEN-YIE TSAI (Spoken Word Poet, Producer “Black, White, Whatever”) is a Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Chinese Taiwanese American spoken word artist who has featured at over 300 performances worldwide including 3 seasons of “HBO Def Poetry.” She constantly strives push the boundaries of spoken word poetry and innovate it for the stage, page, and screen. “Black, White, Whatever” is her third spoken word video and the first produced by her production company, Moving Earth Productions. Her previous spoken word videos include “By-Standing: The Beginning of An American Lifetime” (Dir. Karen Lin) which won special recognition at the Media That Matters & VIBE UrbanWorld Film Festivals. Her second spoken word video “Weapons of Mass Creation” (Dir. Kamilah Forbes) was commissioned by San Francisco not-for-profit Youth Noise’s nationwide Youth Summit Tour. For more info, or

ALLI MAXWELL (Producer, “Black, White, Whatever”) is a director/producer working in theater and film. Of her most recent theater works, she has directed multiple productions as a director and company member of At Play Productions, an NYC based theater company & the resident company of The 24 Hour Plays Off-Broadway. At Play and its 40 emerging actors, directors, writers and producers came together through a project created by Kevin Spacey and The 24 Hour Play. Her current film projects include production coordinator for “The Black List,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and has since been bought by and currently airs on HBO. She is also in various stages of production as Producer on projects with spoken word artist Kelly Tsai, people’s poet Kahlil Almustafa and music videos for The Lost Crusaders.

JAZZMEN JOY-LEE JOHNSON (Director, “Black, White, Whatever”) is a film & video artist, animator, multi-medium designer, dancer, musician and activist from Baltimore currently residing in Johannesburg, South Africa. A graduate from Rhode Island School of Design, her work as a director, editor and producer has been recognized in a range of outlets including her award winning work in the ’05 Hip-Hop Odyssey International Film Festival & as a Thomas Watson Fellowship winner. Her work has taken her to Benin, Mail, South Africa, India and Brasil.

Additional Credits:

Camera Operator: Mike TynerMake-up & Hair: Myrian ToumaStylist: Michelle WooPhotographers: Matt Weiss, Sona Z, Michelle WooSound: Darren Golda, Harlo HolmesSong: Taiyo Na ( & Jewelry: Artist’s & Stylist’s Own, MADE Jewelry

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