Put this powerful documentary on your must-see list.
Put this powerful documentary on your must-see list. (Photo: Facebook)

"Romeo Is Bleeding" heals violence through Shakespearean tragedy

The first time Donté Clark read Shakespeare’s "Romeo & Juliet" he was in high school, and like many high schoolers, he didn’t understand it nor particularly like it. But when he read the play again a few years later, something clicked. Clark realized that the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets was similar to the struggle in his city – Richmond, Calif. – where North and Central Richmond have literally been at war for decades.

Clark – with the help of students from the RAW Talent Program where he works as artistic director – wrote a modern version of "Romeo and Juliet" and calls it "Té’s Harmony." Filmmaker Jason Zeldes learned about the project through his cousin who is also Clark’s mentor, Molly Raynor, and documented the six-month process leading up to the performance of "Té’s Harmony" which eventually became the documentary that debuted at the film festival this afternoon called "Romeo Is Bleeding."

The story unfolds through Clark’s eyes, who has lived in Richmond his entire life and has lost dozens of friends and family members to gun violence, crack cocaine and incarceration. Clark, who lives in North Richmond, grew up with the belief that people living in Central Richmond even though they were poor and black like he is, were his enemy.

As a child he dreamed of being something "really big" when he grew up, like a drug dealer. Although he started out a high school troublemaker, he wrote a poem during a workshop with Raynor and friends thought it was so good that he stole it off the Internet. This gave Clark an incredible amount of confidence and he started to spend more time writing and less time on the streets.

The deeper he went into his writing, the more he realized what was really happening in Richmond – as well as across the United States – and that the violence had little to do with drugs or money, but was rooted in anger.

"It’s about being hurt. ‘I’m hurt and so I’m going to hurt you back.’" Clark says at one point in the film.

He also realized that he truly cared about people, about human life, and that although he would never be able to stop the violence altogether, he could share the word of love, which he does through "Té’s Harmony" as well as through his poetry, music, visits to school and prisons and, soon, the school curriculum that was designed by numerous people in and involved with the film.

The documentary is beautifully shot and both hopeful as well as heartbreaking. After the screening, members of the documentary – including Clark – hosted a Q&A at The Times, during which an audience member asked what people in Milwaukee can do, really do, to end or curb gun violence in the city.

To paraphrase, Clark explained that by love he means true and sometimes uncomfortable acts of care for other human beings, as well as accepting privilege and working to understand people who are different from us or not-so-different from us.

"The answer is love," Clark said. "And not flowery love. Real love."

"Romeo is Bleeding" screens again on Saturday, Oct. 3 at 2:30 at The Oriental Theatre and Thursday, Oct. 8 at The Times Cinema at 1 p.m.

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