Living While Black, In Japan : The Picture Show Filmmakers Keith Bedford and Shiho Fukada hope their film will contribute to building a society in both Japan and U.S. that is more accepting and welcoming of 'the other' than they are today.

This Is A Film About What It's Like Living While Black, In Japan

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In two decades as a photojournalist, Keith Bedford has covered multiple killings of Black people by police in the U.S.

KEITH BEDFORD: I go all the way back to Amadou Diallo. I mean, from there, it was Eric Garner or Sean Bell or Philando Castile or Alton Sterling or Mike Brown or Walter Scott or Freddie Gray.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Keith is also Black, and he says the video of George Floyd's murder last summer affected him differently.

BEDFORD: Watching that video and watching the officer's face - I mean, for him, it seemed like a mundane moment, as like casual as crossing the street. And that was probably the most horrifying thing.

CHANG: It was different because he wasn't covering it. He moved from the U.S. to Japan three years ago with his wife.

SHIHO FUKADA: My name is Shiho Fukada. I'm a photojournalist and filmmaker.

KELLY: Their experience watching the George Floyd video while also raising their son in two countries sparked an idea for a documentary.

BEDFORD: It was this gut punch still. And I started wondering if, like, other expats, other Black Americans living abroad felt the same way that I did.

CHANG: So they made a short film for NPR called Living While Black, In Japan. We invited them to tell us more about it.

FUKADA: So I'm originally from Japan, and I moved to New York after college. And then, you know, I started missing home, I started missing my family, and our son was born, so I wanted to teach him Japanese culture. So I persuaded Keith to move to Japan with me.

BEDFORD: I like living in Japan, but it's also always the sense of being an outsider or a sense of being the other. But, I mean, in a lot of ways, that's what Shiho went through living in America.

FUKADA: But then, we were talking about, oh, maybe we should go back to America. Then George Floyd killing took place. I was really worried something like that could happen to my husband, Keith, or my son, and I wanted to learn how the other Black American families experience here in Japan. How are they feeling about it?

BEDFORD: This film is about what it's like living abroad as a Black American and experiencing that kind of trauma.

FUKADA: Yeah. We interviewed three women, three men living in Japan and ask, you know, how their encounters with police and the racism in the U.S. played into the decision to live abroad.

BEDFORD: I think, for me, the anecdote that really resonated with me were the story of the old woman in the park.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "LIVING WHILE BLACK, IN JAPAN")

TAMRU GRANT: It's a little park near my house.

BEDFORD: Tamru Grant is a barber from Brooklyn originally. And, you know, Tamru's sitting on a bench.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "LIVING WHILE BLACK, IN JAPAN")

GRANT: And then, it was a little old lady, bent over, coming down the block.

BEDFORD: She frightens him a little bit. It's dark. He doesn't see who it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "LIVING WHILE BLACK, IN JAPAN")

GRANT: And I said, konbanwa. And she looked up. And she said, konbanwa. And she put her head down and kept it moving. She didn't turn around to see if I was behind her.

BEDFORD: And it just sort of reminded me of like other times, where it's like, you know, someone's walked across the street when they see you, or like, you know, there's this perception of you because you're a tall, Black man.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "LIVING WHILE BLACK, IN JAPAN")

GRANT: Because we've been trained that people are afraid of us.

BEDFORD: It seems absurd, but like, you know, he could have that sigh of relief, like having a meaningless moment is a gift.

FUKADA: So the anecdote that stuck with me is LaTanya's.

BEDFORD: Yeah, LaTanya Whitaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "LIVING WHILE BLACK, IN JAPAN")

LATANYA WHITAKER: I own a restaurant with my husband.

FUKADA: And one of the question was, do you ever consider going back to America?

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "LIVING WHILE BLACK, IN JAPAN")

WHITAKER: (Laughter).

FUKADA: When we asked the question to her, she laughed, and she said no. You know, she was thinking about it, and then her son was born.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "LIVING WHILE BLACK, IN JAPAN")

WHITAKER: And of course, you had Trayvon Martin, you had just so many different things happening.

FUKADA: I feel like, you know, I was in exactly kind of the same space.

BEDFORD: You know, I'm conflicted with the idea of returning to the States like one of the people in the film, Henry Moreland Seals.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "LIVING WHILE BLACK, IN JAPAN")

HENRY MORELAND SEALS: So America is, I guess, my home, but doesn't feel like home. I can't - I'm not relaxed when I'm there, for the most part. Sad, but true.

FUKADA: And of course, there's racism in Japan as well. I just don't know what my son prefers to deal with, and ideally, you know, when he grows up, hopefully, there's no ignorance. There's no racism. That's the world I hope for for him, and I hope this film would contribute to build a society towards that direction.

KELLY: Filmmaker Shiho Fukada and Keith Bedford. You can watch their film, "Living While Black, In Japan," at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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