New Neighbors (Tru Ruts) debuted at Sundance Film Festival 2017, a crowning achievement for illustrious collaborators, co-producers E.G. Bailey and Shá Cage. Founding internationally renowned Minnesota Spoken Word Association, the husband-wife team own strong individual track reputations.
Bailey broke onto the Twin Cities scene supporting Louis Alemayehu and J. Otis Powell, strengthening the seminal prose-poetry troupe Sirius B. The rookie brandished as a wordsmith image-rich immediacy, and as an actor, subtly intriguing command of the stage.
His written works are published in Solid Ground, the millennial issue of Drumvoices Revue, Warpland (Gwendolyn Brooks Center) and the anthology Blues Vision:African American Writing (Minnesota Historical Society). His latest outings include co-curating America Now! at the Tampere Short Film Festival, and of course, directing New Neighbors.
Shá Cage has emerged as one of the Twin Cities’ most powerful proponents, strengthening the image and honoring the hearts and souls of Black women. She co-founded MaMA mOsAiC, an ensemble that aims to illuminate the stories of women of color. As she has stated, she is, “[someone] who creates theatre for, by, and about women and aimed at employing women behind the scenes.”
Cage stepped on stage as a Pangea World Theater ensemble dancer and was featured in Carlo Gozzi’s The Green Bird produced by Theater De La Jeune Lune at Penumbra Theatre Company.
Her 2007 spoken word album Amber People (Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records) saw her garner acclaim in South Africa, England, France, Netherlands, Croatia, Mali and Canada.
Together and separately, the husband-wife duo brandished incomparable writing, acting and performance acumen, establishing an unprecedented, indeed firebrand artistic presence at Guthrie Theater, The Playwrights Center and Intermedia Arts, among myriad celebrated venues.
Artfully crafted, their brilliantly ingenious short film New Neighbors is an artistic social statement you never see coming. Expertly, all but seamlessly wrought, subtly powerful — the film in just under 10 minutes — hits a mark many movies spend two hours missing. Directed, written and edited by Bailey, this succinct gem cuts straight to the crux.
The premise, short and sweet, follows Faye Blackwell (Cage) dragging her practically grown boys by the proverbial ear on a walk through white-bread suburbia into which the family just moved.
Faye is on a mission. Passing out “Your New Neighbor” flyers with photographs of her sons, husband and other family, her idea is: nervous neighbors who know the Blackwell’s by sight hopefully won’t shoot first and wonder who they shot later. Hair-brained? Who can blame her? Desperate times can call for odd measures.
As you’d imagine, she is met with some perplexed responses — after all, how many suburbanites are prepared to answer the door to a Black woman (especially a sista not sporting straight hair) with young men in tow?
All Faye wants to do is safeguard her family. If this is what she must resort to, believe she’d do still more. Such a mom, she bullies her embarrassed teenaged sons with iron-willed, not so tender loving care. You stop and smile at a priceless moment when one son balks, complaining about having to hand out mug shots and, fairly wounded, she defends, “These are not mug shots, they’re lovely photos.”
The story carries on to a refreshingly, hopeful note and certainly leaves the viewer with plenty food for thought, as it sends a serious message without standing on a soapbox. Too bad Mr. Blackwell is absent. The film’s sole flaw is we don’t know why. What was he doing instead of looking after his wife and their boys as they went door to door in this new neighborhood, which, the whole point being, is potentially hostile? And a daughter would’ve added interesting dimension.
Still, New Neighbors beautifully succeeds. At the conclusion, it’s about humanity connecting — a nice touch being that women reach out to each other over a troubling issue.
Cage expands an already remarkable range, giving Faye sweet, understated strength. Shaun (Namir Fearce) and Malik (Lashon Hampton) are convincing as siblings blaming each other for Mom dragging them into this mess. Kim Bloomfield endears as the very White, pleasant lady who doesn’t get it, but welcomes the Blackwell’s just the same.
Doing what good directors do best, Bailey stays out of the way, letting the script carry the day, giving these fine actors their head.
New Neighbors has won numerous awards and has been featured at more than 20 venues internationally, including Sundance, Hollywood Black Film Festival, L.A. Film Festival, African World Festival, Montreal International Black Film Festival and British Urban Film Festival, and is presently on the festival circuit.
As of yet, the short film has no distribution, but an excerpt is online at: vimeo.com/206303211.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes readers’ responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403