By Nadine Matthews, Special to the AFRO
The promotional material for HBO’s “Random Acts of Flyness” says it is “a mix of verité documentary, musical performances, surrealist melodrama and humorous animation where themes as ancestral trauma, history, death, the singularity, romance and more are woven together creating a television show like nothing seen before.”
The late night series, which runs through September 7, is definitely all of the above. “Random Acts of Flyness” is evocative of pleasantly surprising experimental programming that only seems to come once in generation. For those who became fans of the show’s creator Terence Nance through his equally unique, surrealist opus on romance, obsession, and relationships, “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” it will delight.
“Random Acts of Flyness” also centers Blackness on TV in a way that it ironically hasn’t been seen since the dawn of the hop-hop era. In one segment there was footage of the late Fred Hampton’s girlfriend, present at the time of his murder. Though not the most well-known footage, it is presented without benefit of explanatory lower third information. You must be familiar with the history. One segment, called “Black Thoughts” poses the question of when restrooms will start carrying shea butter lotion.There are afros, braids, dreads, and knots in abundance. The animations are an impasto of rich browns.
The format of “Random Acts of Flyness” defies any common categorization. It looks like what a Sun-Ra composition sounds like. To Dallas, Texas born and raised Nance, the show is an, “Amalgamation of concepts and feelings and tones and rhythms that are in the show and as opposed to post formulaic TV experience at the intersections of a lot of cultural idioms that are in the zeitgeist. That could be sexuality or White supremacy, etc.”
The show’s premiere last week featured Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) and Lakeith Stanfield (“Atlanta,” “Sorry To Bother You”). Future guests include Dominique Fishback (“The Deuce,” “Night Comes On”), Whoopi Goldberg (“Sister Act”), Natalie Paul (“The Sinner”) among others. If the first episode is any indication, there may or may not be a couch for them to sit on and be interviewed. Like Stanfield and Hamm, they may be cast as characters in one of the wacky yet cerebral segments of the show.
Nance, who films much of the show out of his studio in Brooklyn, has been compared to the likes of actor, director Donald Glover. “It’s an honor to just be making art right now in this sort of generation with all my peers, Donald included because it’s so impactful what he’s doing aesthetically and politically. It’s an honor to be mentioned with him and people like Issa Rae and Justin Simien,” he tells the AFRO.
A Guggenheim fellow who professes strong admiration for filmmakers such as Wes Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron and Satyajit Ray, Nance’s film sensibilities were formed spending time at the movies with his family growing up. “My parents would always take us to see really good stuff,” he remembers. “Movies like “Daughters of the Dust,” “Sankofa,” Spike Lee’s films, independent films that you couldn’t really find. I think that laid the foundation.”
Still Nance considered himself more of a visual artist and was majoring in Visual Art at NYU when he made “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty” which received overwhelming positive reception at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Nance thought of it as more of an art piece than film per se, as he was making it. “I never thought of it as being in theaters or anything. I didn’t have that awareness when I was making it. So when it was actually out and people were seeing it as more like a movie where you go to the theater and watch, it taught me how expansive the idea of a movie is.”
Creativity was the order of the day in Nance’s household. His mother is an actress and relatives included musicians and photographers. He says, “It was a really profound privileged to be born into the family I was born into because it wasn’t strange for art to be like the center of my life. It was the center of everybody’s life around me. Making art was not exceptional.”
“Random Acts of Flyness” is a family affair. “I have three brothers and sister and I still get a lot of inspiration from them. They all work on the show. My mother does too. It’s like my first band, you know what I mean? It’s just a great environment.”