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New Ways of Seeing: Monsters and Men

From Amy Dotson, NWFC Director and PAM Curator, Film & New Media

Monsters and Men
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green
Monsters and Men is screening for free on YouTube via NEON.

The best independent films not only introduce viewers to new ways of seeing but also hold within a unique perspective and personal artistic vision unlike anything that has come before it. The Green Brothers, two talented artists who I had the pleasure of working closely with on their debut films back in New York, make complex movies just like that.  

Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Monsters & Men is being released for free this month and his work more timely than ever. Taking its inspiration from his earlier, incredible short STOP, his own life growing up on Staten Island and an unexpectedly uncomfortable conversation with a black officer about the death of Eric Garner, this triptych film interweaves the perspectives of three seemingly unrelated men: a black police officer, a young father who tapes the shooting death of an unarmed black man, and an all-star student baseball player whose life is upended by this turn of events. Each man must face the consequences of their actions and choose whether to speak up. Good Joe Bell will be his next feature, about Oregon father Joe Bell who walked across American in honor of his son, Jadin.

Rashaad Ernesto Green’s ahead of its time debut feature Gun Hill Road tells the gripping story of a father released from prison who comes home in the midst of his teenage son’s sexual transformation. His latest work, Premature, pivots to a different kind of a love story, this one set in Harlem told through the eyes of young poet Ayanna. With performances so raw, passionate, and vulnerable, viewers feel like they’re traveling through the hot New York City summer night right by her side trying to figure out what comes next.

About Monsters and Men

The aftermath of a police killing of a black man, told through the eyes of the bystander who filmed the act, an African-American police officer and a high-school baseball phenom inspired to take a stand.

So much can be revealed by just looking into another person’s eyes. That sense of compassion, complexity, and yearning to understand is at heart of the beautiful, solemn Monsters and Men, the debut feature of writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green.

Green begins his story with an event that’s all too familiar in American society: The shooting of an unarmed black man during an altercation with police officers. This act of violence, occurring on a street corner in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, is the starting point for Green’s nuanced exploration of a community in the wake of yet another controversial police intervention.

Employing a bravura storytelling technique, Green divides the narrative into three sections, each focused on a different man of color in the community: A witness to the incident who captured everything on camera (Anthony Ramos), a conflicted cop who experiences systemic racism while still defending his force (John David Washington), and a high school athlete politicized by the shooting (Kelvin Harrison Jr.).

Though the three men cross paths only briefly, it is through powerful moments of prolonged eye contact that the narrative throttle is passed from one to another. As the film changes protagonists, deeper questions are asked about truth, prejudice, justice and how to do the right thing. Easy answers aren’t offered. But Green, driven by enormous empathy for his characters, creates new opportunities to confront our own assumptions head on.

Monsters and Men is a vital cinematic attempt to reckon with one of the central challenges of our moment.

Monsters and Men
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green
2018 Sundance Film Festival Winner Outstanding First Feature
United States | 2019 | 96 min | Drama | Rated R

Watch Reinaldo Marcus Green’s short film STOP on Vimeo

“Reinaldo Marcus Green’s gripping nine-minute drama, shot in two nights on location in Red Hook, Brooklyn, centers around a student-athlete who is stopped by the police for no other reason than the color of his skin. Displaying real filmmaking finesse, ‘Stop’ is a timely tale well told.” –Kim Adelman, indieWIRE (