Film / TV


August 3, 2018
65 Picks

Terence Nance’s Random Acts of Flyness is literature. It bobs and weaves through themes and characters quickly, and it leaves you feeling that you would have to see it repeatedly to fully understand the work — and once more to fully feel the work. Nothing is as easy in this program, which is new for television. This is TV that wants you to work just as hard as its creators did. The results are glorious and dangerous. And literary.

“I think I’m very influenced by literature, Toni Morrison specifically. How she is able to find so many ways for a sentence to work.” Nance is sitting in a quiet office dressed casually barefoot with an afro and a bohemian dream. The office is modern with a computer in the center of the room. The juxtaposition is just another type of literary metaphor that seems to haunt Terence Nance who is the creator of  the new series Random Acts of Flyness on HBO.

Although literary, Random Acts of Flyness does not feel pretentious, but cutting-edge. It feels approachable and familiar. This may be because of Nance’s Dallas, Texas upbringing. The South tends to create environments that are more communal, with less pretense. And the institution of the church — especially the Black church — is the cornerstone of Southern culture and touches all of the artists it births. Nance is not unique in this way. “Being from a hyper-segregated place that also has a certain cultural cache and framework that is both interconnected and exclusively Black because of segregation, is different.”

This focus on community and spirituality strips many Southern artists, including Nance, away from the more egotistical and materialistic motivations to create art. We see this with the birth of the blues, that there was a yearning to create music with an emotional tenor. We again see this with the likes of Alice Walker, that there’s an obvious longing and love for language. And even in modern times, Texas-born singer and artist Solange creates work that feels motivated not just by the desire to acquire wealth and stardom, but to truly want to touch somebody, even if just herself. Terence Nance comes from this tradition. “You’re cultural coming of age [is] happening in a kind of spiritualized environment where it’s not about blowing up or whatever motivations people conjure up to make art,” he says. “It’s different.”

Blackness has a pristine pedestal that it must usually rest on in order to be seen as serious work — high art that the classicist and the curious fetishize. Random Acts of Flyness, and other recent works like Sorry To Bother You and Moonlight have transgressed this set of rules that had quietly said: In order to make credible work that will be taken seriously by important people, there’s a certain type of story and aesthetic you must reach. In this way, Random Acts of Flyness feels refreshing, radical, earnest, and irreverent all at once.

Terence Nance and Random Acts of Flyness will undoubtedly create waves in media and in public because of the show’s controversial subject matters. When I expressed concern about the premiere episode where he imaged the grim reaper as a Black woman,  although I thought it was done fantastically, and that I am fearful if the general public will understand. Terence confidently reassured me, “Toni Morrison did it first.”

Random Acts of Flyness debuts June 4 at midnight on HBO.