In Critiques For The Culture’s latest contribution to GayRVA, Taneasha White and Brooke Taylor examine the documentary Strange Negotiations, which tells the story of singer-songwriter David Bazan’s spiritual journey.
Critiques for The Culture is a conversational podcast and radio show (on WRIR and WRWK) that focuses on the socio-political themes found within current movies, TV, and plays — covering all with humor. Hosted by two Black Queer folks of varying opinion, Critiques for The Culture aims to dissect our media, point out where we aren’t represented, and say what the rest of us are thinking. Taneasha and Brooke make up the CFC duo — a couple of Black Queer folks who love their community, and love watching TV and movies.
Critiques for The Culture is committed to uplifting the voice of the marginalized. We aim to discuss representation (or lack thereof) within present media, and invite you all to be a part of the conversation. Our critiques revolve around TV shows, movies and documentaries.
Strange Negotiations came to Richmond on June 25, when the film was screened at Grace Street Theater and accompanied by a post-film Q&A. This music-focused documentary, directed by Brandon Vedder, traversed several different themes surrounding music, discovery, and faith in the life of David Bazan, lead singer of Pedro the Lion. Scenes of Bazan traveling across the country doing shows were strung together by confessional-style interviews over a soundtrack of his music.
Many know Pedro the Lion as a Christian rock band, and many others know the Christian religion to be notoriously unforgiving. The film showcases the way Bazan struggles to reconcile these things, taking you on a journey through his musical and religious beginnings. It ends with where he is now, and how he has managed to keep most of his die-hard fans sans Christian faith.
Bazan was captured in the documentary doing a lot of wrestling with his faith, as a lot of us do, when it rubs up against something you know within your gut is true. The only explicitly political example given, however, was the 2016 presidential election.
The election of 45 proved to be a catalyst for action for a lot of folks, and a flashlight for others. The singer-songwriter had spent essentially his whole life writing songs to extrapolate upon these themes that he’d been taught, and the election of a demagogue and the subsequent violence and outright hatred likely felt opposite to what he had come to understand. As people of faith, we understand this internal struggle. How can you identify with something that so many use as reasoning for their outright hatred?
Bazan chose to step away completely, realizing he did not believe in the way he once thought and said during the after-film talkback, “Moving away from assuredness[… ]is pretty destabilizing.”
Our Critiques for The Culture rating is based on representation of marginalized folks, showcased with our Black fists. Our overall rating is the quality of the play overall, independent of the representation that may or may not be there, represented with stars.
“[…] At face value, I wonder how much minority representation will be present, as the director and subject are both straight-passing, white-passing men of Christian faith. However, Vedder said that the making of this film has made space for his “… own [Christian] identity to be questioned and poked at,” and that is the part that I’m excited about. Part of Critiques for The Culture’s mission is to get underneath what is initially seen, challenge some of these norms, and dig into what folks are often afraid to say. I’m hoping that this film does the work of challenging some of the stifling ideals that follow the louder voices we see so often in spaces […]”
Bazan was portrayed as a quiet, but emotional man, caring deeply to be involved with his family, but also to pursue what he deems as his calling. He needed time to figure out where he was supposed to be, and how he was supposed to bring this truth to the masses. There was minimal discussion about his wife and how she felt, with the primary point of negative emotion coming at the height of his alcoholism.
Though Vedder stated that his direction remained from one perspective on purpose, I wish that his wife had more of a role. I would have loved to know more about her journey, her opportunities (or lack thereof) to process her own religiosity, and how this worked in tandem with her husband.
In reference to some of the more political themes, my original hope around challenging some of the problematic ideals of the Christian far-right were only partially addressed by the film itself. Bazan spoke more candidly about white supremacy during the talkback and regularly does on his social media, but it feels as though some of these conversations were left out of the film on purpose.
The indie singer said that he wants to, “[…] stay in his own lane,” when it comes to speaking in public forums around topics like racism and sexism, because while he knows that they are the crux of what enabled 45 to gain the presidency, he feels that he doesn’t have the knowledge to illuminate others in the way he would like. Even so, there could have been more candid discussion around the -isms and the phobias that propelled this tyrant into office.
Bazan is having these culture change conversations in comfortable company; Vedder could have utilized his award-winning status to elevate these talks, utilizing the privilege that he and Bazan both have to be direct in who they are talking about and what can be done to change things in 2020. 1 Black Fist.
This film did a great job of capturing the internal struggle that Bazan went through, which highlighted the ways folks may cope in difficult situations. Throwing yourself into your work, consistently doubt yourself and those around you, engage in substance and/or alcohol abuse– all common negative ways of coping, unfortunately. I appreciated the capture of these struggles within the film, and the honesty that Bazan brought along with it. 3.5 Stars.
“[…]Who are we, really, when we rip away the veil of religion and are forced to look into the mirror for ourselves? […] A big unknown is the amount of diversity that will be seen in this film. While it is very important to produce coming-of-age stories, I wonder if we will learn about the marginalized people in David Bazan’s life, and how they impacted his journey. Will this film be a Eurocentric, narrow scoped documentary that fails to incorporate the rest of the world, or will intersectionality take a central role?”
I went into watching this film wondering if I would enjoy it, and I left surprised by the amount of engagement I felt. I greatly appreciate Bazan, as he seems like a very thoughtful man, and was willing to answer every probing question from the crowd (including those from yours truly). Though Christian Rock is not my genre of choice, the film actually made me want to listen to some of his music.
Strange Negotiations exceeded my expectations, because it speaks greatly to the questions of: Who are we and why we are here? What do we do with the beliefs and values we are given? It gave room to analyze the intersections of Christianity and whiteness in America. The film flirted with introducing other cultural perspectives, but none were focused on. While Christianity was under the microscope, the film also highlighted some white male privilege, as wanderlust is not something that we all have an opportunity to explore. 2 Black Fists.
Two primary themes arose during the film: the struggle between both religion and spirituality, and faith and indoctrination. We’re in a time where many folks (especially our younger generation) are realizing that they can be spiritual without adhering to a specific religion. To me, spirituality means that one has a connection to a divine power.
Many folks are walking away from religion (Christianity) because they’ve identified a major gap between its theory and praxis. We exist in a time when the political “Christian” right is perpetrating unimaginable human rights infractions — like keeping children in cages. A true analysis of Christianity would find that Jesus himself cared much more about individual relationships and community than adhering to a rulebook. At times, he even challenged what was written with a common-sense application of how we should treat each other as human beings.
Every person should go through the process of interrogating their beliefs, whether they are faith-based or not. I do not believe that God wants us to devote our lives to anything we haven’t fully studied or explored. There is a difference between truly believing something in your heart and just blindly following leaders and institutions. Strange Negotiations tackles this, showing us one man’s journey through his complicated labyrinth of emotions while seeking truth, finding a way outside of what he’s always been told. Bazan said, “In the end, I realized I was challenging nothing more than an institution.” Wise words. 3.5 Stars.
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