Gun violence is one of this country’s most politically pulverizing issues, calling into question each side of the aisle’s interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution. TOO MANY BODIES is the official music video for Alex Mackey‘s Place Called Us directed by Reena Dutt, that focuses on the loss of lives due to mass shootings and the toll it takes on everyone involved; not just the victims, although the central action within the film looks directly at the lives lost and the massive void left behind by the killing of mostly young people. The team that created this video, also built a advocacy and support website, toomanybodies.org, with ” resources surrounding both necessary angles that foster change in gun violence in America“.
The film was screened at the Art of Elysium, an Los Angeles organization “to support individuals in the midst of difficult emotional life challenges like illness, hospitalization, displacement, confinement, and/or crisis. We serve medically fragile children, teens, adults, seniors, those dealing with social, emotional and mental health issues, and the homeless.” It is a place where these people can come to channel their pain, fear or rage into creating art. Young people, especially those of color, often do not have an outlet to vent or express their fear and anger, so the turn to what is so prevalent around them, more violence. Art of Elysium is a place that aspires to help break that cycle, and its walls are covered with the drawings and paintings created by such people.
The piece was conceived by Reena Dutt, as with the entire national, Dutt was strongly affected by the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She figured out that it had almost been 20 years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School and felt frustrated about how nothing had changed about gun control. Dutt wrote the piece and brought the team together, including choreographer Nancy Dobbs Owen. Owen is a prolific director/choreographer for theater, film, video and commercials, earning numerous awards for both choreography and direction. “We had been looking for something to work on together for a while, and when she approached me with the project, I agreed immediately and worked to create choreography built around her story.” Owen stated. Owen began working on a dance with former students of hers, all of whom were deeply touched by the song by Singer/Songwriter Alex Mackey called Place Called Us. Owen is a prolific director/choreographer for theater, film, video and commercials, earning numerous awards for both choreography and direction.”
When Owen heard about the video of making Too Many Bodies she offered her choreography for the video. As with any project, it often involves a host of like-minded people coming together to make it a reality. The film’s Executive Director Penelope Wong, who as Creative Director of Ogilvy & Mather Direct/West and CEO of Wong•Wong•Boyack, headed innovative, award-winning launches and campaigns for such clients as Nike, Cisco Systems, Intuit, American Express, Intel, and Charles Schwab. Reena Dutt, Director, is a member of Lincoln Center’s Directors’ Lab in New York City, and an experienced producer. Her most recent producing credits include the Sundance premiering AKICITA: The Battle of Standing Rock (2018), John Legend’s “Penthouse Floor” (over 10M views on Youtube), and a PSA in support of the #MeToo campaign (As seen on Huffpost, NowThis, and USA Today coming soon). I do not have room in this article to give these incredible professionals their full due.
As with the entire national, Dutt was strongly affected by the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She figured out that it had almost been 20 years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School and felt frustrated about how nothing had changed about gun control. Dutt wrote the piece and brought the team together. “We had been looking for something to work on together for a while, and when she approached me with the project, I agreed immediately and worked to create choreography built around her story.” Owen stated.
The showing began with a welcome and introduction by Los Angeles’ own Joanne DiVito who is a former ballet and Broadway dancer, choreographer, writer, promoter, and activist (to list just a few of her amazing talents). She explained who the sponsors for the film were, some of whom were in attendance, and then introduced the film.
The organizations of NoRA and Art Elysium came on board in support once they saw the impact this video could have.
Too Many Bodies has a running time of only approximately six minutes, but it delivers an emotional punch that left the room silent but for the sounds of a few people crying. I heard it called a music video, and indeed there is wonderful music sung by Mackey, and beautiful dancing by Owen’s former students. It is not the usual MTV pop song video, however. It is designed to (hopefully) help change minds regarding sensible gun background checks and laws to keep these weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of troubled people. Through the art of film, music and dance, the Too Many Bodies team has created a film that moves backwards in time from just after the shooting in a high school has stopped.
A young woman (Alexandra Woodley) is seen peering out of a classroom closet. She then crawls over to lean against an unoccupied desk. As the camera pans out, one sees bodies of young teenage students lying lifeless on the floor before her. She rises and as she walks past them, the teens begin to move, walk about, interact with one another and to perform Owen’s beautiful and very appropriate movement to Mackey’s Place Called Us. The young woman then moves through the high school and we see the teens acting like normal teenagers before tragedy destroyed their world and their sense of security. One of the most haunting scenes of the film, for me, is when see a young man sitting alone on a half-lit staircase. It is the shooter (Matthew Hansen); the young man who is in desperate need of help, understanding and love, and because he was not given this help or counseling, picked up an assault rifle and murdered many of his classmates, who he probably thought hated him. The sight of him sitting alone stuck in my memory for hours. He was as much a victim.
Another part of the film that chokes one up, and made me angry, was when hundreds of photos of victims of gun violence, many of them children, were flashed across the screen. Seeing this and realizing that it was but a small sample of the lives unnecessarily lost over the past decades because of the easy availability of guns.
Following the showing, DiVito led a panel discussion with Nurjahan Boulden and Ben Jackson, the co-founder of NoRA a collective designed to reduce the impact of NRA money in American politics. Boulden was a 21-year-old woman, hoping to become a professional dancer, whose life was forever altered when she became a survivor of a nightclub shooting. The man next to her was murdered and she suffered a shot to her leg. She described the shooting and how it affected everything in her life, including not being able to dance. Through therapy and hard personal work, Boulden now a teacher and works with survivors across the country as a coach and healer. She is also the mother of three young boys of color and talked about how she is trying to teach them to talk to her and to change anger into creativity. Boulden, NoRA and Art Elysium came on board in support once they saw the impact this video could have.
Ben Jackson spoke to his activism and working against the NRA. He also told the story of while participating in a war game in the service, that he suddenly understood the power that holding a fully automatic gun and killing people made one feel. There were blanks in his weapon and no one died, but he knew that killing people was nothing he wanted any part of.
During a Q&A, both panelists talked about how inspiring it was to work with the Too Many Bodies team, and how important they felt this film was. I share those feelings.
The Too Many Bodies team consists of Reena Dutt (Director), Nancy Dobbs Owen (Choreographer), Puppett (Producer), Danielle Phelan (Co-producer), Barbara Tomber (Associate Producer), Don Mathews (Associate Producer), Daphne Wu (Director of Photography), Reena Sehgal, Karen Larsen (Public Relations), Ayesha Mathews Wadhwa(Marketing and Branding Strategist) , James DiRito (Graphic Designer), Alex Mackey (Singer/Songwriter), Caitlan Williams (Website Designer), and Penelope Wong (Executive Producer).
The very talented cast of included dancers: Agnes Aurelie Anglade, Alexandria Woodley, Amir Yorke, Brooke Viselli, Chasity Ramsey, Daniel Huynh, Dayle Embleton, Eryn Orsburn, Gillian Leach, Ivy Bert, Jamal Wade, Jason Vu, Kathryn Bravo, Katie Albert , Kelly Perez, Malcolm Buchanan, Matthew Christian Hansen, Megan Merry, Mia Lind, Michele Acosta Thompson, Nate Odell, Patrick Viloria, and Thomas Nguyen. The actors: Hero, Alexandria Woodley, Michelle Acosta and Thomas Nguyen, Alex Parmentier, Alexandra Sotak, Carly Jean Paul, Christopher Hanson, Kevin Huang, Melissa Parra, Nathan Gottron, Paul Kim, Shadow LaValley, and Stephanie Rojo.
For more information about Too Many Bodies, click here.
For more information about Art Elysium, click here.
For more information about NoRA, click here.
Featured image: Alexandra Woodley in Too Many Bodies– Photo by Daphne Wu.