A Black person wearing a bikini top reclines in a hot tub, headphones on, looking relaxed and unbothered.

Issue 003 Fall 2021 Profiles

ZONEZ

In Full Reflection

by Suzi Analogue

ZONEZ v. 4. Photo by Dana Lauren Goldstein. Still courtesy of Suzi Analogue.


From 2016 to 2019, I created an audio-visual collection named ZONEZ. This four-volume series features video art made from my everyday surroundings and is scored to instrumental beats I’ve composed. These audio visual mood boards are a preservational matrix assembled within a dazed world, where the axis of systemic oppressions routinely mutes young, not-rich Black femme voices.


The term ZONEZ itself is a reflection of sorts: a word spelled to reflect the beginning Z as the ending Z, with ONE standing alone between it all—between progress that feels like change is near and history that signals this change is necessary. I likened myself to that ONE when conceptualizing this series living in the middle of a horrible election, great recession, and constant injustices against my bloodline. Up against the weight of this world, I lost all desire to be filmed for other people’s work anymore. I didn’t want to read lines of script and rehearse anything. When I recorded myself for ZONEZ, it was so I could be witnessed existing in the world, not simply surveilled by others.

Through these recordings that make up ZONEZ, my Black femme rawness is on display, showing that I exist in a world that tries to destroy my spirit, my identity. ZONEZ grants permission to view me gloriously out of the box, against any expectations that I should suffer and smile while carrying the weight of the world on my back as a Black femme. ZONEZ captures moments of surreality, inspired by my real-life awakenings. I have the autonomy to film myself living as freely as possible anywhere—I can eat flowers, or I can float free in the ocean, or I can dry my tears using the air from speakers, or I can dance within the glow of art that stirs my soul. I can film myself as I am.


A Black person is filmed from behind, holding their hair in both their hands.
ZONEZ v. 3. Photo by Yaemi Matias. Still courtesy of Suzi Analogue.

We, as Black femmes, are systematically excluded from access to our rawest selves. I knew this in my twenties when I searched for moving images of Black femme existence without the posturing of Hollywood-inspired implications. A decade later, mainstream media’s presentations of Black femmes haven’t changed much. My friends and I consume these harmful messages, and it often leaves us wondering if we should aspire to the media characterizations or create our own types of personhood. Did our desire to see ourselves as we truly are draw us to the strong Black femme characters on reality TV? Even when we see characterizations of Black femmes in film and television saving the world that mistreats us, we are not allowed to show our feelings. We do not see who we are in reality, free of Hollywood’s skewed versions of us. I felt this disconnect with mass media’s version of me soul-deep. This disconnection led me to create ZONEZ and my images of Black femme rawness.

My introduction to cinéma vérité opened up the possibility of film depicting Black femmes existing as we are. This was a European cinema movement popularized by white males, but I was inspired to recontextualize it through my own means with ZONEZ. This style of filmmaking is designed to uncover truths by acknowledging that the camera is actually there, differing from the filmmaking style we were raised watching, presented with the notion that there is no camera at all, just a narrative unfolding. But whose narrative? Who shared it, and what was their gain in sharing? 

When considering who would shoot ZONEZ, I wanted people who shared my perspective, who rarely saw themselves reflected in media, and wanted to shoot in cinéma vérité. I followed the concept of cinéma vérité when hiring and didn’t require professional filmmaking background for  ZONEZ’s camera operators and directors. How could I insist on “professional experience” given the inequalities femmes face in technical media industries? Collaborating with visual storytellers outside the film world opened portals of possibility for all of us and encouraged a spirit of discovery when filming ZONEZ. 

ZONEZ was shot in the wild in New York City and Miami without a budget. The visuals from these shoots resulted in the twenty-one videos used in volumes 2, 3, and 4 of ZONEZ. To date, these volumes, along with the audio-only volume 1, make up the audio-visual series. All the ZONEZ videos were set to the frequencies of beats, tones, and rhythms flowing through my mind, edited into thirty-second clip form. 


ZONEZ v. 4. Photo by Helen Peña. Still courtesy of Suzi Analogue.

ZONEZ V. 2: the Speakers Push Air & My Tears Dry 

When I wrapped the music for ZONEZ V. 2, my niece, Adia Brinson, was just out of high school. She used to share with me that she wanted to shoot music videos. Being an auntie is an important part of my identity, so I saw this as a sign from the universe and invited Adia to shoot the inaugural ZONEZ visuals as director. Who better to share my vision than a Black femme I knew from birth, one who just needed an entry point into filmmaking?

Natalia Arias edited ZONEZ. She is an artist of Belizean and Cuban descent who was an intern for my Never Normal Records label. With Adia and Natalia on board, the seed was sown: making ZONEZ would prioritize uplifting the experience of Black and Brown femmes through its creation and visuals.

For an entire weekend, we traversed the corners of New York City with a MiniDV camera shooting these improvised ZONEZ “moods.” The treatments for each ZONEZ visual were prompted by what was at hand and what I could do to convey my lived experience as a Black femme standing in between it all. Inspiration came from flowers at the bodega, a basement-level Chinese takeout restaurant, picking up gold braiding hair from the beauty supply store, or renting roller skates from a tourist trap on the beach. The prompts for these treatments were simple—for example, “a Black woman enjoys eating ice cream while standing outside the Lincoln Jazz Center”—but shared the everyday moments of joy in the lives of Black femmes.

Hollywood is big, though, and I ask Maxy where he’d hope to land. “I love the Safdie brothers and could see myself sitting in the world that they’re in,” he says. “I don’t know what world that is, but if that’s Hollywood . . .” It’s an apt identification, not only because the Safdies spent a lot of time making short films before their early features, but also because their own complex, dynamic, and provocative work elicits that classic “what the fuck” reaction from those who simply can’t get on their level.

Maxy is still working to fund Watertight, but despite the seemingly never-ending search for film financing, he’s finally feeling confident in his work and in himself. “Now I know that people will watch my stuff and not cringe. Or maybe they do, but they’re still watching it,” Maxy tells me. “It’s just a cool, powerful feeling, knowing that I can make films and people will watch them.


ZONEZ v. 3. Photo by Yaemi Matias. Still courtesy of Suzi Analogue.

ZONEZ V. 3: the World Unwinds but the Sound Holds Me Tight 

A cold winter followed ZONEZ V. 2. After instructing a beat-making workshop in Kampala, Uganda, a yearning for warmer climates led me to Miami. Relocating there set a new stage for the ZONEZ visuals. Through guerilla filmmaking, I established a sense of space for myself in new surroundings. Following the blueprint of ZONEZ V. 2, I collaborated with Yaemi Matias, formerly known as Souldreamin, who was an emerging visual storyteller. While shooting ZONEZ in Miami, we maneuvered through public beaches, architectural landmarks such as Herzog and de Meuron’s 1111 building, and even dived deep to find an old-school Cadillac owned by a family friend to use for the visuals of “Game/Change” on this volume. We shot the car scene on a hot day. We traveled so far to get to the car that we nearly missed the sun. That shoot was just visuals of four femmes in a parked sea-green Cadillac classic convertible, as the owner looked on a bit perplexed.


ZONEZ v. 4. Photo by Yaemi Matias. Still courtesy of Suzi Analogue.

ZONEZ V. 4: Love Me Louder

ZONEZ V. 4 was my most ambitious volume of ZONEZ; it was filmed entirely during short breaks in Miami from touring my music. This volume also had the highest number of directors—true to the ZONEZ process, they were all new to filmmaking. This femme-identifying lineup of directors all came from Miami’s creative communities; it included Helen Peña, Kristabel Delgado, Dana Goldstein, and once again, Matias. We shot in parking lots, dressing rooms, art exhibits, and each other’s homes, creating sets with found objects. We used our imagination when shooting in public spaces to make them feel private. One of the highlights was a re-creation of Carrie Mae Weems’s The Kitchen Table Series. I was excited to shoot this scene from the day I moved into my Miami home and noted the resemblance of my dining area to the one in Weems’s photos. I loved this series since seeing it at the Guggenheim. Her photo has such acute composition, and it was a challenge to convey as a moving image.

Shooting ZONEZ’s cinéma vérité visuals, in a guerilla-style, on the go with no formal sets, relied on a high level of patience. In parking lots or on the streets, we were prepared for interruptions or abrupt stops. With no assistants, we carried everything in big bags, resting them where we could, defining our own filming locations as we went along. We deal with street harassment daily as femmes, so we prayed to be left unbothered at each shooting location. Each moment and space we shot in was filled with our own agency, and our visuals record this energy and claiming of space. It reminds us, We did that.


ZONEZ continues to live on past these audio visual mood boards—the moving images from ZONEZ V. 4 were composed into a live show for my last ZONEZ World Tour in North America, the European Union, Africa, and Asia. It was the first time shooting film-based concepts for many of the creators I worked with on ZONEZ. Several have since gone on to study film and create short films. I do not take sole credit that so many of my collaborators are now pursuing filmmaking “professionally,” but I know the ZONEZ experience propelled us all forward in our practices. 

There’s a phrase in hip hop that goes, “They industry; we in the streets.” We know there’s so much more behind the curtain of media hype than the corporate systems in control. We were in the streets creating a video collection to share the experience of empowered femme identities—mind, body, and soul. It was powerful to have this opportunity, to be honest about how we, the Black and Brown femme-identifying creators of ZONEZ, choose to engage with our cameras, our communities, and our visions of femme rawness. ZONEZ is a reflection of the community that knitted it together.