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video premiere: watch the durimel brothers’ evocative new video about homosexuality in the caribbean

Jalan and Jibril team up with indie-folk singer Mereba to present a message of acceptance.

by Zio Baritaux
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06 September 2016, 11:47pm

For their latest video project, Bet, mega-stylish twin brothers and photographers Jalan and Jibril Durimel teamed up with Ethiopian-American indie folk singer Mereba. In the video's hazy visuals — shot on a vintage Bolex H16 — a young man wrestles with his sexuality, toeing the line between social acceptance and self-acceptance. But before he can make the decision for himself, another man outs him, and then brutally beats him. The punches are interspersed with exploding fireworks, and the blood is represented as shimmering red-and-gold glitter. "Recently, we've been loving the quote, 'Out of darkness, comes light,'" Jalan explains, "so we try to implement that in our work regularly, whether it be story-wise or through colour and lights." Though the video is about how homosexuality is viewed in the Caribbean (where the L.A.-based Durimel brothers went to high school), the song's message of acceptance is intended for all people. "It's an ode to the black man who has been misunderstood by America," Mereba relates. "People need to still have faith and love and hope in the black man." The video is premiering here on i-D, but will also be shown at The Underground Museum, a gallery that presents museum-quality art — Kara Walker, Kerry James Marshall and Henry Taylor, for example — in a low-income neighbourhood in L.A. "A big part of what we want to do is just present something and say that this lifestyle, these choices, this perspective, exists," Jibril says. "It doesn't need to be radically political. If people see that something exists, then they can slowly learn to accept it." In the following conversation, Jalan, Jibril, and Mereba discuss their creative collaboration, relationship, themes and dreams.

Mereba: We met at a Halloween party at a house. There was a music studio inside. Everybody else left the music studio part to chill, smoke, whatever, and we stayed. I was in front of the piano. Did you guys ask me to play?

Jalan: I asked you if you could play a melody on the guitar, because I never learned how to play an instrument, but I was always coming up with melodies in my head. I asked her if she could play a melody, and then she did. I was blown away, like, "That's insane." After that, she went to the piano and then sung us a song of hers. Then we told her, "That song is really good." When we went home, we researched her music and we really liked it. We asked to work with her on visuals.

Jibril: We were inspired by Mereba. We also started hanging out a lot. We became friends. It wasn't just business focused. It was like, "Let's just start creating these things." The first visual we worked on was the cover of her next project. We drove up to Seattle because she took a picture with her niece one time on Instagram. It was a selfie. We loved how her afro was touching her niece's afro. It looked like one big piece of hair. It was a strong image of black peace and innocence. We were like, "Oh, we should recreate that, Where does your niece live?" She said she lives in Seattle. We got in the car. We all drove to Seattle.

Jalan: That was our first time working together. We just kept talking about ideas, and then we had this idea and figured we should make this video.

Mereba: I play them a lot of my songs as I'm making them. I don't do that for a lot of people because I don't really like hearing people's opinions before songs are decided on. I don't remember playing this particular song. We had already talked about making a video. We hadn't really decided on the song we were going to use, but it actually ended up being a perfect marriage between the vision that they had in mind for the video, and what my song's about.

The song, it's called "Bet." The theme is basically the chance you're willing to take on somebody despite what other people might say about them or what mistakes they've made in the past. Definitely within the past year or so, with everything that's going on in the world, especially in America, I feel like the song morphed into an ode to the black man who has been misunderstood by America. It's telling a story from the perspective of a black woman who is still willing to love that man despite how he's been villainised.

Every time somebody else would get killed and there would be an uproar in the country, I would think, "Man, people need this." People need to still have faith and love and hope in the black man.

Jibril: So we were like, OK, let's take that song, about loving a black man, and apply it to this video. The main idea in the video is referencing ideas from the Caribbean and how they view homosexuality. Being gay and black is not something you can open up about in the Caribbean. I've never heard about any family that somebody just opened up about it and it was OK.

Jalan: Our job is to open the door and be like, "This is OK." If our gay friends in the Caribbean were to see this video, we'd want them to think and consider the idea. "This could be OK. I mean, the guy in the video has a wig on and he's putting on lipstick. I just want to tell my parents. That's a lot less to deal with."

Jibril: It doesn't need to be radically political. A big part of what we want to do is just present something and say that this lifestyle, these choices, this perspective, exists. If people see that something exists, then they can slowly learn to accept it. Honestly, this video is just a step in the direction of what we want to do. But that's our job, basically, to keep taking all these steps and presenting these ideas to people who don't know anything about it.

Jalan: To bridge the gap of communication between those people and us.

Jibril: And beauty is practical. When you see something beautiful, you're like, "I want that. I like that. It makes me feel comfortable."Regardless of you not liking the aspects of what it might mean, at the end of the day, it's beautiful and it's comfortable. In the video, there's a point where this guy beats up the kid, and after, you can see he has glitter on his hands. Being around homophobic people, we've heard ignorant jokes, like, "Oh, I don't even want to touch that kid because he's going to rub the gay on me." We took that negative idea and we made it into something beautiful.

And we chose to show the video here, at the Underground Museum, because it's in a community that's diverse. People of our color are actually going to see it. That's a big thing. The art world is really predominately white, the critics, and the people who see it. Now, we will be showing our work to the people who might need it the most.

Jalan: We'd like to share it at our old school in the Caribbean too, but if they knew what it was about, they probably wouldn't allow it. The Caribbean is a tricky place. It's dark in its ways. Coming to L.A., I realised how weird it is. There's so many things that people are in denial about, that are under are the surface.

Jibril: I really wish all these kids could come out. Or just one of them. You could speak for so many people. You could inspire so many kids. You could be like, "I live in the Caribbean. I go to church with my parents every Sunday. Everyone knows my parents at the church. But this is who I am and it's OK." And this is why we made this video — I think it's the job of anyone who's not oppressed to fight for the oppressed. Frank Ocean just said this beautiful line in a video. He says it takes a conscience to feel ashamed. I was like, "Man, that's great right there." We all have consciences. We can all be ashamed. I feel like the more I'm ashamed the more I'll change.

Mereba: I've definitely taken away that message from the protests recently. Seeing people of all races coming together. At one of the protests that I went to, a lot of white people were getting up and speaking. Some of them were crying, and basically saying that they had reached a breaking point of being ashamed, like, "I've just been sitting at my desk at work ashamed for so long. Now I feel like I actually have to do something because I'm the one that has a stronger voice, in certain ways, than you guys."

Jibril: But at the end of the day, I think the biggest change can happen if you start with yourself. You accept who you are and say, "I'm OK with that." That's the beginning, because then other people can see that you have accepted yourself, and maybe they will accept themselves too. Then it expands from there.

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Text Zio Baritaux