Director André Robert Lee on Why He’s Making Virtually Free
By André Robert Lee
I do this work for selfish reasons. I do it so I can sleep better at night. In these terrible times, I must fight for justice with my art. This Virtually Free project will do just that.
When I first got the call about this project I was a “yes” as soon as I heard that we could help incarcerated teens. Being a black man in America, I statistically know and am related to people that have been or are in jail. I entered this project thinking I understood the prison pipeline story. I read The New Jim Crow. I talked to people. I was informed. After many months working with and getting to know incarcerated youth in Richmond, VA I figured out how little I really knew.
Let me make this clear. I will refer to these teens as boys. They are not young men that need grit to get by and make it. They are boys that have been dealt a bad hand and need our help. They are between the ages of 13 and 16.
The boys I met this summer are brilliant. On the first day, one of them talked about the 4 quadrants of the brain and how each functioned. All I could think was “why is this boy in prison?” The system that has these boys in and out of prison is not broken. It works very well for those that benefit from it – – and that is not the boys or the community. It is our job to take care of them. We need to love them, support them and help them help themselves.
I have committed my life to making art that fights for equity and justice. Learning about the industrial prison complex and youth incarceration has been an intense experience already. The boys we spent time with came in the room with a very hard exterior that was influenced by some terrible experiences I cannot begin to comprehend. When we spent time with them and witnessed their talking, bonding, writing and making art, we saw the youth that was hidden under the thick skin they have had to develop. Their eyes lit up, and they betrayed the persona they have had to construct to survive their existence on this earth. I want the world to see the results of the school-to-prison pipeline and the honest results of systemic racism.
We need your support. People are often asking “What Can I do? Well this is a chance to do something. Help us make this film so we can share this story and fight for justice.
About Director André Robert Lee
André’s resume includes, New York City Public Schools, The Ford Foundation, Miramax Films, Urbanworld, Film Movement, Diana Ross, BET, Universal, HBO, Picturehouse, and Dreamworks. André directed and produced The Prep School Negro. He has visited hundreds of high schools, colleges, universities and conferences with the workshop and is booked through 2019. André also served as producer on the documentary I’m Not Racist…Am I? He received a Fellowship in 2013 from Colorlines.com, a division of Race Forward, and was tasked with Directing and Producing the 12-month series Life Cycles of Inequity: A Colorlines Series on Black Men. André also directed an episode of the Webby-nominated digital series “The Election Effect” with Shine Global for Paramount Network. He is currently in development for a narrative feature film about the life of Bayard Rustin. André also teaches Filmmaking at the Germantown Friends School where he is working to develop a film program for Middle and Upper School.