Strummin' with the Devil

B-Sides walks a Mean Street, is saved by the Apostlez.

While planning the elaborate video, which is based on the true story of Darrell "Bossman" McGee, a St. Louis man reported to have infected more than 100 women in the St. Louis area with HIV in the mid-'90s, the directors decided the topic of AIDS and African Americans was feature-length fodder. Shooting scenes throughout the metropolitan area, they weaved together documentary footage of roundtable discussions on AIDS (some of which take place in local barbershops), experimental performance art segments featuring a suicidal Rukahs slathered in red paint, and several loosely connected narratives.

While there was a script, Falaq describes how several scenes were largely improvised. "I came from hip-hop and freestyle so I think my approach to directing is similar," he says. "I tell the actors, 'Make me believe you.' Fuck the lines. If I don't believe you, the lines don't matter."

The most prominent story line deals with McGee, renamed Day Day in the film, but the most interesting and controversial aspect of the plot is the treatment of "the down low," the taboo subject of closeted gay African-American males, paired here with strong Christian imagery.

Everybody wants some of Van Halen tribute band Mean Street.
Everybody wants some of Van Halen tribute band Mean Street.
Rukahs in his experimental phase.
Rukahs in his experimental phase.

"This film is supposed to shock and get attention and use language to get attention. We're aware of the stereotypes in the film, but it's there as a message," Falaq says, "We must not judge, we must get knowledge on this crisis."

— Keegan Hamilton

Ruzzian Roulette screens as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival, 5 p.m. Thursday, November 15. Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Boulevard, University City. 314-995-6270. $6.

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