Uber producer, rapper, and fashionisto Kanye West recently released his highly anticipated short film, Runaway:
In the 35-minute long production, Kanye speaks of rebirth and redemption, challenging ideas of ‘normalcy’ and urging everyone to question what they hear, see, and believe. At the base of his tale is a Phoenix, played by Selita Ebanks, who comes to earth in a blaze of fire and crashes into Kanye’s Murcielago. Kanye emerges from the crash unscathed, (a nod to his almost fatal 2002 car crash that became the inspiration for his first single “Through the Wire“) and carries the Phoenix back into his world of well manicured lawns and fancy dinners.
A Phoenix is a mythical bird found in Persian, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Chinese culture that typically has a 500 to 1000 year lifespan. Near the end of its life the Phoenix builds a nest, then self ignites; a new Phoenix is born out of the old ashes. The Phoenix’s ability to be reborn out of its old self implies that it is immortal.
In an MTV interview, Kanye admitted the Phoenix represented every significant woman in his life, including his mother and recent girlfriends. I’d hypothesize as well that it represents his career: from his beginnings (as a solo artist) with College Dropout, his meteoric rise, his ‘fall’ with the Taylor Swift incident, and his rise again.
The film was beautiful, thought provoking, and inspiring.
Take a look at a few items inspired by the short film.
And just for fun, a few things that stuck out to me in the film:
The Ballet Scene:
Only Kanye would conceive of classically trained ballerinas dancing to hip hop. The black clad dancers in frothy yet severe tutus went from teetering on pointe shoes to moving their hips seductively. I especially loved the solos at the end, which showed that one can exude sensuality even as a prima ballerina.
Kanye (Griffin) and Selita (Phoenix) attend a dinner where blacks are dressed in white, being served by white servants. He turns typical tropes of blacks subservancy on its head, but then shows that even with the role reversal, blacks are not all accepting. They look uncomfortable and whisper about Kanye’s Phoenix girlfriend, who seemed reminiscent of Amber Rose at this point. One dinner guest asked, “Your girlfriend is very beautiful. Did you know she’s a bird?” Many people probably asked Kanye, “Did you know she’s a stripper?” when talking about Amber. He knew, but still accepted her. Even a stripper can be beautiful. One more obvservation: The Phoenix cries at the dinner when she’s served a bird; a Phoenix cry is supposed to be that of a beautiful song. Still, the dinner guests run away and cover their ears.
The “Turn on the Lights” Parade
Griffin shows Phoenix his world, which includes a firework filled parade featuring a Michael Jackson float, and men in Klan hats and band gear. Kanye said in an interview that he included Michael Jackson because he was, “The greatest biggest pop cultural figure of all time…[he was] arguably bigger than Jesus Christ.” I was a little confused by the red clan hats; a quick search found that the cone hats were first seen in the Spanish Roman Catholic “Nazareno” tradition, and were traditionally used in festivities such as Holy Week. These references point to Kanye’s questioning of modern religion and also his research of the origins of contemporary symbols.
The Last Song
My favorite song of the movie might have to be the final “Lost in the World,” which quotes Gil Scott Heron’s “Who Will Survive in America.” Read the lyrics of Gil Scott’s spoken word here.
See Kanye’s explanation of a few key scenes in this interview with Sway of MTV. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
What stuck out to you? Did you like the film?