With all that has happened since that tragic day in May of 2020 combined with people’s generally short attention spans, it can feel like the news cycles so quickly that people may have forgotten about the struggle against police brutality and racism.
Houston artist Dende is giving the world a not so gentle reminder that there is still work to be done with the recent release of his short film, In Case You Forgot I’m Black.
Dende wrote all of the songs in the film and teamed up with director Jordan “JTek” Cardona to help create his vision. JTek had previously made Dende's video for his song "Road."
“I already had this idea to make this short film and put the music inside to push a certain narrative but I didn't get the actual funding to do it until last month,” says Dende.
The financing came in the form of a grant awarded by Dende’s place of employment, Juiceland, after the artist applied for a program within the company that offers to help employees reach their personal goals.
Dende was inspired to write the songs and make the film after joining the protests in Houston following Floyd’s death. He went to City Hall every morning and filmed protesters and police, including tense moments of arrests and clashes between the two groups.
He even took the time and effort to confront Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on the streets and during an online performance for MOVE Texas about what he saw during those protests and not surprisingly. He says he never received a real response from Acevedo.
After seeing that local news stations' footage did not always reflect what he was witnessing on the streets, he began providing them with his own footage, which never ran.
Simultaneously, an online follower reached out to him and advised him to stick to making music and quit posting about the protests.
“People want you to entertain them but when you start talking about something that you're passionate about they are like, ‘No, we just want you to entertain us.’”
In response to this attitude some fans can get Dende says bluntly, “I’m Black. I’m a musician and I'm a man but I’m also Black and this stuff affects me. Just because it doesn't affect you or you don’t think it affects you, doesn't mean I can't talk about it.”
Dende took his anger and channeled it into the track “Dance”, a funky and upbeat song with a serious message about people’s justifications for racial violence and began thinking about painting a larger picture with his songs by making a movie.
“Even if you don't like what I'm saying, you're going to like this song and by the time you realize what this song is about, you're already going to like it so it's too late,” he laughs.
“Dance” is the second track featured in the film and serves as an important transition from the more somber “Breathe” which asks the important question, how can we fix a problem when there are still people who don't accept that a problem exists?
“Even if you don't like what I'm saying, you're going to like this song and by the time you realize what this song is about, you're already going to like it so it's too late.”
In Case You Forgot I’m Black is an emotional roller coaster providing a first hand look and insider perspective on the experiences of Black Americans. The film starts out with actual footage taken here in Houston during the protests mixed with footage from the civil rights movement from the ‘60s and includes the difficult to watch footage of Floyd’s death.
Dende had not been able to stomach watching the actual footage until he viewing the first edit of his film, but he knew it was important to include, as he grew tired of hearing others discredit Floyd’s life because of past mistakes he had made.
“That was the first time I watched it and I cried. I told him to put it in there because I wanted to force people to watch it,” says Dende.
“If you can watch that and still be like, ‘I don't think they did anything wrong,’ then you need to look at yourself and be like: 'What am I doing to contribute to this culture that the police can't do any wrong?'”
The image of Floyd lying on the ground is replaced with Dende’s own face, symbolizing what Reverend Al Sharpton said at Floyd’s funeral, which was that Floyd could have been any Black American that day.
As the camera pans out to show upbeat dancers replacing the protesters, Dende continues to lie on the floor despite being out of frame acting out the distraction he saw in the streets and in the media during the protests where big name celebrities posed with local law enforcement during the day, but often were nowhere to be found at night when Dende says things got tense.
“I feel like if we had kept that momentum, it still wouldn’t have been the last one, but it would have been the last one without repercussions.”
Following “Dance” the film shows a visibly exhausted Dende explaining the fatigue experienced from protesting and putting himself on the line with others only to see Houston offer few changes and more funding for police.
He includes advice his father gave him as a younger man telling him he had to “try ten times harder to be seen half as good as people with fairer skin.”
In Case You Forgot I’m Black not only delves into the challenges of the Black community but also celebrates being Black. The track “Drkskin” is an open love letter to Black women who may have felt left behind.
“I always see Black women saying that Black men don't protect them or don't care about them and so I wanted to make a song to tell Black women that they are beautiful and powerful and that we do care about them.”
In a similar tone, the film ends with “Lil Black Boy” a song Dende wrote speaking to his younger self. As a child being raised in Katy, which at the time was predominately white, Dende sings the words of affirmation he would have benefited from hearing in hopes that someone today needs to hear it too.
“You don't have to act like somebody else, you can be yourself and it’s okay. You don't have to be callous; you don't have to be hard. You can be whatever you want to be.”
In Case You Forgot I’m Black isn’t only a varied journey through the Black experience, it also serves to show off Dende’s ability to shape shift vocally and stylistically. No matter what style Dende is singing or writing for, his sincerity and passion shine through.
When asked if he would still engage in protests despite feeling discouraged he quickly says, “Absolutely.” His film serves as a more permanent form of protest and he hopes to find a way to share it with a wider audience. Dende is willing to use his platform to build empathy and understanding, despite being told to shut up and sing.
“I tried to find another way to do it, as opposed to me just putting my body out there," he says of protesting. "People want music so I’m going to give them music but I’m also going to force them to listen because this music is enjoyable to hear, but you have to listen to what I’m saying and you have to watch what’s going on in the screen.”