“Babylon Jones Pt. II” is a surreal, socially and politically charged film set in modern New Orleans that is a love letter to black exploitation cinema. We talked with director Dylan Mininger, who collaborated with Daniel Garrison (Babylon Jones) to bring together a poignant piece centered on both the Black man’s identity in present day America and gentrification.
How did “Babylon Jones” get brought up to you and started being developed?
DANIEL: So Dylan sorta just approached me on the side and was like, “Man I got this idea that I want you to listen to and I want your input. And I appreciate your help with it.” So I thought at first it was going to be something small. And then it changed to, “I want you to be the frontman on this, like I want you to do it.” It went from just an idea to me getting drafted to doing the entire movie with dude.
DYLAN: It was pretty much you that brought it to life for me because if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Because I wrote it for you.
Dylan said he had apprehensive thoughts about white directors telling this kind of story. What your thoughts on that?
DANIEL: So in the industry, mainstream industry, it becomes problematic because I think that a big problem with the mainstream industry is that a lot of these white directors don’t really seek the input of the black actors and black stars. I think the different with this is that when Dylan brought the project to me he brought it to me with the sole purpose of getting my input into it. I think that he acknowledged the fact that he was an outsider for the story, but he wanted to tell the story so badly that he was willing to give a significant amount of creative control to me. For me it wasn’t’ problematic that he wanted to do this at all because he came to it with the right lens of, ‘look I just want to tell the story of people who don’t often get the story told their way on the screen.’ So I don’t really have a problem with it if the director’s coming at it from the same perspective as Dylan
As a New Orleans native, how is this story of gentrification and racial relations spoken to you in this contrext right here?
DANIEL: And that’s why I was so quick to jump on this because I probably think it’s one of the most important things of our city right now. Because New Orleans, kinda like Harlem, kinda like the Bronx, kinda like Houston, and kinda like L.A. is one of the biggest cities where the battleground of gentrification is taking place. This is one of the last great African American cities left, and they want it back bad. You can see in neighborhoods I grew up in and my dad grew up in, we wouldn’t see white people in those neighborhoods at all. Now it’s a common occurrence to see white people living in those neighborhoods. So I think that the film was very timely for what’s going on in the city right now.
And what does Babylon Jones’ character represent to you as a kind of feedback or reaction and response to these type of maybe absurd characters like Dylan’s Mr. White?
DANIEL: I think Babylon Jones serves a really important role in the image of the black man in that sense that he’s a character that’s really wild and out there and is really strong and a pillar in his community, but at the same time it displays this kind of dark place where the black man is right now where we’ve kind of lost our role in American society. The whole idea of Babylon Jones being on a hiatus for a certain amount of years, for like five years, it’s parallel to this idea that the black man has been very absent in activism, very absent in education, very absent in the black community as a whole. I mean, if you look at the numbers, the black woman is leading the black community right now. They’re the most educated group in American society as a whole; they’re taking charge of households. And I think Babylon Jones represents this duality of black men being extremely strong but at the same time a lot of us being very absent from the forefront of black society.
And Dylan could you explain a little bit about how you got to the opening scene in this kind of enclosed space?
DYLAN: We called it “Babylon Jones Pt. II” because we wanted to have people sort of create their own first part to it, because that’s history right there. You can look at the history and see how we got there. And I guess putting him in this imprisonment type deal was our show of showing the black man has been imprisoned, but like now everybody wants to be black, until it’s time to be black. Now we have this big pop culture for black men. We got rappers, actors, ball players, you know. Everyone wants to be those guys. But now that’s the cool thing; that’s the hip thing.
DANIEL: I remember when Dylan first told me that the entire movie starts off with me facedown in concrete waking up. And I was like, “that’s kind of like how I feel about the current generation of black men is that we’re kind of waking up from this deficit. Think of it like a prize fight, like after you get knocked out and you’re on those last couple of seconds. And it’ like 8…9…and you’re waking up facing the pavement like, ‘alright I need to get everything together. I-I’m back. I need to be aware of what’s going on.” I think “Babylon Jones Pt. II” kind of plays a role in that in that sense that it’s a story of waking up from taking a hit like that and then redeeming one’s self.
DYLAN: Big time. Because with the first part, we were talking about how that first part could have been way back, civil rights movement type stuff. And now we’re at this new block in the road, not saying it ever went away, but we’re at this new block in the road. We’ve hit a new need for a civil rights movement, and that’s where the part two comes in. That’s where the waking up on the concrete comes in, plus I remember we were talking about that whole concrete idea. You know, everyone’s being gunned down. Last thing they see is the concrete, so we wanted to have the rebirth from that.
DANIEL: The concrete has been the ending for a lot of black men and black women around this nation. Almost like a phoenix complex, the idea that rather than tell another story where the concrete is the ending point. The concrete is the starting point of a redemption story.