The Feministing Five: Darius Clark Monroe


Darius Clark Monroe

Darius Clark Monroe is transforming the ways media portrays incarcerated young black men, starting with his own story. At the age of 16, Darius committed armed robbery, which dramatically impacted his life as well as those around him. After serving five years in a maximum security prison, Darius has since earned a MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and launched his career in documentary film.

Later this month, Darius’s film The Evolution of a Criminal will be released, and viewers across the country will be able to understand how Darius’s crime was intimately connected to his environment. While Darius is the first to take responsibility for his crime, his documentary contextualizes how his deep love for his family and desire to support his household (naively) led to his decision. The film, which is mixed with fictionalized representations of the robbery and interviews from Darius’s family, friends, and victims, shows how committing such a crime simply cannot be reduced to a “bad kid making a bad decision.” Touching on themes of economic justice and racial justice, it delivers a first-hand critique of the criminal justice system.

Darius asks forgiveness from his community, and his resulting film, executive produced by Spike Lee, complicates the traditional narratives not only of what brings people into prison but also the positive impact they can have on the world upon their release back into society. Check to see if The Evolution of Criminal is coming to a theater near you. If not, please consider donating to Darius’s Kickstarter campaign.

And now without further ado, the Feministing Five with Darius Clark Monroe!

Suzanna Bobadilla: Thank you so much for speaking with us today. Could you share with us a bit more about your project? How was it inspired and what are its goals? 

Darius Clark Monroe: Evolution of a Criminal is going to be theatrically released on October 10th here in New York City. We’ve just launched a Kickstarter campaign to take the film to theaters across the country but also to high schools, universities, prisons, district attorneys, and lawyers. We are trying to get the film beyond just a typical movie-going audience.

The film is an autobiographical documentary about myself, my immediate family, and to some extent my extended family. The film covers the ramifications and the ripple effects of the decision I made at 16, which was to rob a bank with two classmates. I really wanted to explore how can a kid just fall into the criminal justice system, and I wanted to subvert the expectation of what society believes a criminal is.

I wanted to take this boogie-man stigma and pull it all the way back where you can see humanity and how complex and difficult it is to live paycheck to paycheck in a working-class environment and in a black family. It is often common to live paycheck to pay check like this. That’s what the film is for, it is also a story about hope, redemption, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

SB: I was really intrigued to see how highly you featured your mother and grandmother’s testimony in the film. What was your experience interviewing them? 

DCM: It’s tough because these women–and it’s not being disparaging at all towards the men in my family–are our matriarchs. They are center of the family and the rocks. To interview my mom and my grandmother was very difficult because I lost a relationship with both of them. I really underestimated how much my journey had an emotional toll that reseted on their shoulders. I was thinking, “I”m going to do this and have them surviving!”

It took me a while to realize that although these women were free, they were also dealing with the time and my incarceration. Having a kid sent off to this grown-up environment in a maximum security prison in the state of Texas meant listening to my grandmother and my mother talk about how their baby son was going to be gone for a while. During my interview, it was tough. There were some moments where I couldn’t keep it together.

There was also something beautiful in being able to sit down to interview your relatives.

SB: How did it feel to go apologize to the members of your community? 

DCM: For me, I’ve always wondered who these people were. I kept wondering what did they think of me? Who did they think I was? I was pretty sure that we both had different understandings of our experiences because when I went to go apologize, I really had a lot of stuff on my heart. I wasn’t searching for a “Hey, I forgive you.” I was really searching to get this off of my chest.

What was remarkable was when I spoke to these individuals and I was able to really be in their shoes. All of that time I was walking in my own experience and after talking to the victims, I was able to see what emotional trauma looked like, what it felt like up close. There was something healing talking about it in a civilized conversation. There was something profound about it because I could tell that they were grappling with the whole process.

SB: When I speak to people about their art, I’m really curious to hear what ideal reaction they would want from their audience. When viewers leave a screening of Evolution of a Criminal, what do you hope they are discussing? 

DCM: My hope is that even though the center of this story is about a crime, I hope people are able to see the full spectrum of humanity. We are complex beings, there is no black or white. All of us live in the grey areas. There are so many people who make a mistakes–whether it is criminal or not. They make a mistake and they regret it. They hope and pray that they are not forever defined by their mistake and that they are given the opportunity to move beyond it.

I hope that people also realize that nobody is born a criminal. People aren’t just committing crimes for the sake of committing crimes. There are reasons that force people to do that. The laws that govern “normal individuals” are just not the same. Poverty and working class poverty are relevant. A lot of times when we think about poverty we are thinking about people that don’t have a home, family, friends. There are people that do have those things but they are just surviving. People need understand that we live in a society of great disparity. For so long, a lot of the black community has been trapped in this endless cycle of poverty. It’s not just a system where he’s “just a young black kid who messed up” and his story belongs to his family. Evolution of a Criminal is the story of many. I am not an anomaly. I hope people exit the theater with an open mind and a better understanding of how this world works.

SB: Our final question for you today. You are stranded on a desert island, you get to take with you one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick? 

DMC: Food, I’d take my mother’s chicken. For a drink, I’ll take a whiskey on the rocks. For a feminist, I would love to take Brittney Cooper with me.

Suzy 1 

 Suzanna Bobadilla is already starting to think about her feminist Halloween costume. She can only be Frida so many times. Suggestions are welcomed at @suzbobadilla

San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

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