Culture Spotlight Featuring Michael Sloman
In the summer of 2014, two unlikely individuals, Michael ILLiptical Sloman (Left) and God Life Allah (Right) met at a Five Percenter rally in Albany, New York. Life, as he is righteously known by his inner circle, had just come home after serving over thirty years in prison. Michael, having begun working on Our Harlem the year before, was seeking mentorship and consultation on how to appropriately and sincerely depict the culture of the Five Percent Nation of the Gods and Earths, a historic Black group based out of Harlem, New York. As they commenced to share with each other their love for writing, little did they know they were cementing an everlasting bond that would transcend racial, experiential, and cultural barriers.
As the adage goes of art imitating life, Our Harlem has evolved over the past six years to be a true gem of a drama that also defies race, experiences, and cultures. In the wake of current events affecting the Black community, Our Harlem seeks to compel both black and white audiences to reconsider any conclusions they may have previously drawn about cultural divides, drug abuse, police brutality, gentrification, and race relations.
Our Harlem, however, is not your typical “everybody come together” didactic film. There are multiple plot twists, levels and depths to these characters that make this story so riveting. For example, on the surface level the story is about a bi-racial couple who move to Harlem and struggle to find common ground with their neighbors who are not fond of white people gentrifying their neighborhood. On a deeper level, you have a bi-racial couple, Joseph and Sarah, who are suffering from the recent trauma of Sarah’s twin brother Ben dying from an opioid overdose. Meanwhile, their new neighbors, Prince and his mother Annaherra, are struggling to put their family back together
as Prince is just coming home from serving 20 years in prison for allegedly killing a crooked cop; the same cop who murdered his younger brother beforehand. Annaherra, still bereaved after all this time, has turned to opioid abuse to cope with the insurmountable pain that comes with a mother losing her child. These two families, much like Life and Michael, have far more in common than they initially realize and it is through the journey of Our Harlem that they come to form genuine alliances and familial ties.
In the summer of 2020, a few months after the Covid Pandemic was sweeping across the globe, Life and Michael managed to produce a short film version of Our Harlem with the ambition and drive to seek financiers, investors, and producers to believe in this rich and necessary story and convert it into a full feature film, or even a series. Filmed in both Harlem (To provide authenticity) as well as Michael’s hometown of Albany, New York, Our Harlem became a family of cast members and crewmen, thus emphasizing the Our; a collective effort of people from various backgrounds who all believe in the story that is being told about Harlem.
As a side note that proves to be of significance, the Allah School in Mecca (Right) is the epicenter of the Five Percent Nation. When Michael first started writing Our Harlem back in 2013, he visited the school on a whim and met with prominent member and elder Allah B (Left of Michael and right of Life) asking for permission and consultation on portraying the Five Percenter culture. Permission was given and Michael maintained virtual contact with Allah B throughout the next several years. But it wasn’t until 7 years later on July 7th (7/7), with 7 cast and crew members total on 7th Avenue in Harlem, that they filmed the most authentic scene of the short film. In the Five Percenter teachings, as well as in other spiritual practices, the number 7 means God. So on this day, with the manifestation of all these 7’s, it seemed that the universe was confirming that Life and Michael’s quest to create this film had truly been ordained.
The vision of Our Harlem is to connect all the human families of the planet Earth. To make knowledge born to strangers of the Five Percenters’ teachings as well as to increase awareness of the detrimental effects of opioid addiction in both suburban AND urban U.S.A.
Tell us about your experience at the Hip Hop Film Festival? My experience at the Hip Hop Film Festival was truly a unique experience. Getting so much insight into the industry from veterans as well as folks from various perspectives was illuminating for me in how I can find my place in the film industry.
Why are stories from the culture important? Being that the name of my production company is called Kulture Seed Films, it is vital to me to authentically represent the lives and circumstances of the people that are being portrayed in my films. There ain’t no half-steppin to this, and it is a matter of integrity in my work to righteously and authentically bring characters’ lives and struggles to the forefront of the audience’s attention, as well as to tap into their empathy.
What projects are you working on now? As a high school English teacher in the Bronx, this year I have started teaching screenwriting to seniors, where they will have the opportunity to write their own narratives and hopefully convert them into short-films in the future.
Why do you think the Harlem Film House and Hip Hop Film Festival are important? To me, the Hip Hop Film Festival is so crucial because it provides a space for folks to showcase their authentic selves and passions for the Kulture.