Terrance Daye’s short film “-Ship: A Visual Poem,” while clocking in at just under 12 minutes, explores a centuries-long struggle with identity and masculinity in the Black community.
“There are things I want to talk about with the Black community that we lack the language historically to address,” Daye, a native of Long Island, New York, said of the film, a finalist in this year’s ShortList Film Festival. “I grew up in a conservative Christian household. I identify as queer, so a lot of my childhood was making myself small. I always got this feeling that everyone always saw something I couldn’t see.
“In my household, it was quiet as it’s kept; we didn’t talk about sexuality.”
Although Daye wrote and directed “-Ship: A Visual Poem,” drawing from his own life experiences, the credits read, “A film by us,” illustrating the community it takes to begin to heal centuries of trauma.
The film centers on Jeremiah, a young Black boy learning the unwritten rules of manhood and masculinity in the Black community through his father. But while his father tries to instill in him and his older brother what it means to be a man, he’s trying to understand what it means for himself. “-Ship” takes place on the day of his cousin’s funeral. Nothing is explicitly said, but suicide is mentioned and a later reveal points to his cause of death.
The critical moment in the film comes during a game of hide-and-seek when Jeremiah’s older brother, Junior, finds him in their cousin’s old bedroom, which is meant to be off-limits. While going through his cousin’s things, Jeremiah finds a magazine with a buff, shirtless, do-rag donning Black man on the front. Jeremiah tries to make out the word “Mandingo” scrawled across its cover.
“I wanted something that showed how the world sees them. Junior is in that line of boys who are being asked to grow up too fast,” Daye said. “Junior and Jeremiah are experiencing that burden. That magazine is very much a mirror for Jeremiah — he’s trying to understand it. For Jeremiah, he’s not necessarily seeing the sex. There’s a tragedy and an innocence to that.”
When Junior finds Jeremiah and ultimately the magazine cover, he’s rapt by what he sees. Daye said he didn’t want to outright say whether Junior may or may not be coming to terms with his sexuality, but rather leave the audience with the image of the magazine cover and its effect on him.
“Is he? Who knows, but what we do know is that image holds him and he feels shame about it later,” Daye said.
Daye had a difficult relationship with the film and the ending when they finished it he said. “I didn’t think I was going to release it. I didn’t know if I was going to make films again, it was that real for me,” he said. “It’s a mixture of personal history and just what needed to be said… I want us to be able to really heal. I want us to push through the pain.”