Rahiem Shabazz: ‘Elementary Genocide is More Than a Documentary, It’s a Call to Action’
Stories are meant to be told, documentaries are meant to be seen. There are so many different tales that need to be acknowledged and documenting via film is one of the most effective ways to tell a story. There are many issues in the black community and this cannot be denied. Education is the key when it comes to trying to uplift your people, and what better way to do that than through film?
Rahiem Shabazz, award-winning journalist and filmmaker, has a story that needed to be told and with his cunning skills as a journalist and passion for the subject at hand, there was no way he was gonna drop the ball! The critical praise of Elementary Genocide has propelled him further in the game to a point that, although this isn’t his first film, it’s an effective start to many more to come.
The Atlanta resident spoke to The Industry Cosign about why he felt the need to film this subject matter, the marketing details, and what’s next for the camera lens.
How did you get your start in the entertainment industry, and what led you to your current role as a filmmaker?
I started out as a freelance journalist writing for just about every urban-driven entertainment magazine such as The Source, Vibe, XXL, and a few other notable publications. Not too long after, the Internet became the hot spot for journalists to publish their content. In 2005, with a $6 domain name investment, I started RashaEntertainment.com which averages 2.5 million to 3 million page views a month.
My aspiration for film always existed and became a reality when I found out that anyone with a pro-consumer camera and $500 worth of computer circuitry had the capability to make a movie. I wrote and executive produced a short film called “The Sun Will Rise,” won five awards, and got an apprenticeship with Tyler Perry’s studio. Eventually I was hired as a production assistant and continued to work on four films. It was a great learning experience to be present, witnessing firsthand during a professionally run set.
What drives you to be a part of this industry?
The depth and breadth of our human experience has yet to be fully explained in film. There are so many great and captivating stories to tell when it comes to African Americans, and my inquisitive nature propels me to want to tell it. There’s nothing like selling out a theater and moviegoers come up afterwards to explain how moved they were by your film.
Tell us what ‘Elementary Genocide’ is about and why you felt the need to do the documentary.
I like to tell people, ‘Elementary Genocide is more than a documentary, it’s a call to action.’ However, the documentary exposes the socially engineered mechanism created by our government and utilizing the public school system to label elementary aged African American males as work for hire targets within the U.S. penal system. Many refuse to believe that there is a corporate attack on the minds and productivity of black youth through intercepting their educational, economical, and social development, resulting in statistically funneling them through the revolving doors of the criminal justice system. Elementary Genocide confirms this theory and seeks to educate parents, teachers, and families so that we can reclaim our young men and ensure the future of our community.
I felt that there was a need for a documentary of this magnitude, because the issues were not being properly addressed and those who were attempting to address them did not speak the language of today’s youth. I was able to capture it in a way that resonates with today’s generation.
Outside of exposing some facts, what else are you hoping comes out of doing this film?
I’m hoping the film will be a call to action to get more parents involved in PTA meetings and to seek out other means of education besides the public school system, such as home schooling. We need to elect school board members that are reflective of our community.
If we look at the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, there are only three black police officers out of 53, and there are no black people on the school board. The education system isn’t reflective of our culture as a people and doesn’t teach the greatness of our origin. This is ‘Elementary Genocide’ on so many levels. It starts the first day a child walks in a kindergarten class and the end result is the penitentiary.
What are some of the business aspects you encountered upon completing this film?
The overall process of making any documentary must be learned and developed. I studied the success of other documentarians and, being a gifted writer, made it a natural process. I then began to study the legal aspects to make sure I covered everything from error and omission insurance, written agreements, copyright, etc.
A marketing plan was developed before the documentary was finished. We realized that the momentum must begin with small intimate screenings and panel discussions. We did that in several key markets, while using social media to spread the word. Eventually we moved on to bigger venues and theaters, once there was a demand. Most screenings were sold out and requests were coming in from all across the country. Afterwards, we were able to align ourselves with a distribution company to position us in retails throughout the country.
You stress that black people should own and operate their own businesses. How important is this, and what suggestions would you give those seeking advice about starting their own business?
It’s imperative as a black-owned business to operate in a consistent manner and to be of service to those who look like you. We have the spending power—we just need to spend it more amongst ourselves. There is a saying: “We spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need, from people we don’t like, to impress people we don’t know.”
When you have something you’d like to write or document, how do you start the process and make it happen?
The first thing you’ll want to do is research the subject matter as much as you can. Make sure it’s a unique subject that will resonate with viewers. More importantly, you must ask yourself if you’re doing it solely for money or for the underlying social message. If money is your motivation, you’re probably better off making a full-feature film as opposed to a documentary.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on another documentary titled The Board of Education vs The Board of Incarceration. Sixty minutes was not enough time to fully explore the subject matter, so we are calling this part 2.
How do you manage the creative process as well as the business aspects of your company?
The creative process may start with me, but I have a dedicated team of individuals who I confer with and we sort of bounce ideas around until we all agree. The beauty of it all is I have people around who are a whole lot smarter than I am that will probably not admit it. Overall it’s a team effort at Rasha Entertainment. On the business side of things, the Rasha brand is primarily known for its strong online viewership. We are now able to monetize our content to advertising partners. Our film division experienced a significant amount of success with our Web-series, feature films, and now the documentary. So businesswise, we are in a good place.
What achievement are you most proud of thus far, and what would be the highlight of your career if you could predict any achievement?
My proudest achievement is seeing a determined idea manifested into a finished product. If I could predict an achievement it would be an Emmy or Peabody Award.
For more information on Elementary Genocide go to the website www.ElementaryGenocide.com