Lately I’ve been hungering for language that accumulates, builds, and doesn’t mind the work of staying still in ways. Language that lends itself toward feeling and affect for experiences that are difficult to put into words. I’ve been turning to Lovers Rock, the third film in Steve McQueen’s 2020 anthology series, Small Axe, for solace. In one scene, there’s a dance party where partygoers hang and dance to “Silly Games” by Janet Kay. McQueen lingers for eleven minutes between the chests, body sways, and stares of dancing couples. By lingering, this slowing down of time, McQueen builds the emotional space of the party, and facial expressions and hand placements elicit intimacy and desire across the scene.
This happens again, most notably in his 2013 award-winning film, 12 Years a Slave, in which for a full four minutes, the camera stays fixed on the near lynching of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character Solomon Northup as he’s suspended from the branch of a tree by rope and only his toes feel the soft, wet, mud beneath him. Life on the plantation goes on around him. Overseers oversee. Women carry water and continue to work. Children play. One woman sneaks him a sip of water, then scurries off. Watching McQueen’s work has energized my need for language to slow time, to allow it to build the intensity for what the moment or emotion is calling.
—A. H. Jerriod Avant, author of Muscadine (Four Way Books, 2023)