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The journey to good health and wellness can be a treacherous battle for people of color. Back in 1999 during his legendary HBO special “Bigger & Blacker,” Chris Rock once said, “Ain’t no money in the cure, the money is in the medicine. That’s how you get paid, on the comeback. That’s all the government is, a bunch of motherf**king drug dealers on the comeback.” Over 20 years later, the sentiments are painfully the same. Obesity rates have surged across America, specifically with African-Americans. The trajectory has opened the floodgates for more ailments and damaging effects in the Black community, but producer and director John Lewis plans to break the chains with They’re Trying To Kill Us, a revealing documentary about the intersections of food injustice, nutritional and environmental racism with a telling twist.
Working alongside Keegan Kuhn, of the award-winning documentary What The Health, Lewis welcomes a plethora of Black and Brown artists, athletes and lawmakers to discuss the domino effect of racial disparities in the healthcare industry as well as the haunting effects behind the food implemented into poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Figures like Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, actress Kimberly Elise, Juices For Life owners Angela Yee and Styles P, in addition to John Salley, Mya, Raury and Ne-Yo are just a few featured in an effort to flip the documentary format on its head. “A community is everybody, not just one demographic,” Lewis tells REVOLT. “You can’t have men speaking up for women, you can’t have white guys in lab coats telling Black people how they should live. It has to be the community itself.”
With hip hop and Black culture the driving force, Lewis hopes the storytelling format will not only teach the audience, but inspire them to move beyond performative activism. “We’ve interviewed over 125 people so it’s very inclusive, very diverse just to make sure everyone makes sure they’re heard,” he explains about the project that took four years to create. “Somebody may not like what someone says, but will gravitate towards another figure and follow that person. One thing is for sure, you can’t be woke eating Big Macs.”
Kuhn also tells REVOLT that They’re Trying To Kill Us goes further than most food documentaries due to the real-life intersections of health, crime and education within Black and Brown spaces. “When John and I realized that Americans of color were dying at disproportionately higher rates of chronic disease than white Americans, we knew there was a bigger story that wasn’t being told,” he said. “Our aim for this film is to pull back the curtain on the deep rooted racism that plagues every facet of this society and expose those who are profiting from it.”
By using the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, Lewis and Kuhn secured funding for the documentary and plan to complete They’re Trying To Kill Us by the end of the year. Ironically, Lewis says elements of today’s pandemic are included in the film by way of agriculture-based viruses like bird and swine flu. He also says the documentary is solution-based and isn’t just a callout of big pharma or the government. A branch of solutions also comes through Raury with his In The Woods initiative. The artist, who recently released the poetic single “Take Back The Power,” is currently partnering with Black-owned companies to introduce a new way of life to the youth and beyond.
“Power comes from the foundation, meaning connection to family, food and water,” the Atlanta native tells REVOLT. “My organization is about autonomy, and as I get funds and investments, we want to create farms, tiny neighborhoods and music venues. With that whole vibe, it’s about adding to a power. You can’t do anything until you know how to raise yourself, and raise your children and cover all bases on what you need as humans. Take back the power, I know what they took from us and we’re coming for it.”
Check out the rest of the interview below where Lewis shares the inspiration for They’re Trying To Kill Us and more.
What inspired you both to be a part of They’re Trying To Kill Us?
John Lewis: Keegan and I have been friends for a long time so when asked if we could work together on a project to reach people of color, the first thing that came to mind was hip hop.
It influences sports, it influences the way people dress, the way people travel, the way people do everything. You see all these stars going to these restaurants, but when they get sick, what do they do? They cut all [that] out and go on a plant-based diet. We really started diving into it by speaking with doctors, economists, and we started seeing the bigger picture. The government allows dangerous foods to be sold to people of color even though they know people of color are in danger by eating this way.
Raury: My history. My involvement has been fighting the good fight to a point where John and Keegan both saw what I was doing with In The Woods, so they just reached out to me. It was a no brainer. My thoughts were, “This is the new vanguard” when it comes to battling the system. You won’t be able to win with weapons and fighting. In this new age, you will win with the hearts of the people and through information. I’m glad that they think that my voice can add to this.
When was the moment your relationship with food changed for the better?
Lewis: We all have that uncle, that aunt or cousin who died in their 30s/40s/50s and it wasn’t because of violence. It was literally because of what they’re eating. We say, “They had a long life,” but they didn’t. I’m 43 right now and you’re telling me 50 is a long life. We’ve got a problem.
I’ve been vegan myself for 14 years. I’ve always studied plant-based nutrition. My actual major when I go back for my PhD will be epidemiology since I’ve always studied diseases. I promised after this film I would go back and do it. While a lot of documentaries talk about the cancers, the strokes, hypertension and the lists goes on into eating animal protein, a lot of times we don’t talk about the social justice impact, the way these workers are treated when they are cutting and killing these animals. People wouldn’t eat these animals if they were killing it themselves. No one talks about the pandemic side of it, the COVID-19s, the swine flu, the bird flu. All these things originated from animal agriculture. Between the corrupt government, police brutality, we talk about this whole system to not make us succeed.
Raury: When I was 14, my aunt Faye passed away from a heart attack at 50 years old. I was always told that heart problems run in my family. Everybody, for whatever reason, was dying of heart attacks before they were 60. At 14, I decided I’m going vegetarian because I don’t believe it runs in my family. I believe it runs in our habits, it runs in our programming. Now that I’m older, I believe it runs in the city-planning (laughs). It runs in the food, it runs in the way we’ve been programmed to see and understand what food is. I just changed my programming because that’s what it all is. When I did it, my eyesight got better, I just felt better. Life just felt better, so I just stuck with it.
How does They’re Trying To Kill Us intersect with the cultural divide of the pandemic and ongoing social injustice towards people of color?
Raury: It’s all the same Leviathan, the undersea beast with many tentacles. It’s the same monster via the music, entertainment, education industries. All the wrong people are in these roles, these people are trying to kill us. We need to take swift action to fix this or nothing is going to change.
There’s a lot of haunting information presented in the trailer. What solutions are presented in the documentary?
Lewis: That was one of the biggest things Keegan and I talked about while making this. I wanted to make sure it was solution-based. I didn’t want to just show everyone this big problem with no resolution. Everyone is ready for a revolution, but it’s like, what good is it to win the revolution when you’re going to die of a heart attack a few months later? Or if you have heart disease, you won’t be around for your kids to celebrate the revolution. While they have created this system for us not to survive, they left a loophole. They’re not eating these things to survive. Our solution is to show people of color that they have the power. Let’s be honest, we all know rice and beans are cheap as hell. But, our problem in America is that because of the industrialization of the world, we’ve gotten spoiled and now we think we need variety. Currently, we’re looking into programs that deliver meals at an affordable cost.
Raury: There’s a lot of meetings without a step one, it’s just intellectual masturbation. My organization In The Woods was always a part of my goal as an artist. I wanted to be an artist that truly brings in and ushers in the new revolution, and liberates the people from this twisted system that we keep making songs about, we keep making movies about. When it came down to me working with my old team, they weren’t about that action. I couldn’t do it with them.
When I left the industry in 2017, I rented a house in Georgia and started the blueprint. I wanted to help usher in a new way of living just like how Kanye [West] ushered in skinny jeans. Or how he ushered in backpack rap to where the toxicity of gangsta rap wasn’t really hip no more. I figured out how I can be in the woods and create a whole new touring paradigm and how to overthrow the entertainment industry to where we are teaching kids what they need to be paying attention to instead of just giving them candy. That’s once again, a part of a certain agenda to make sure we waste our energy growing up. It’s almost cool to be wasted youth, it’s cool to f**k off. But, it needs to be cool to know how to survive, know how to grow your own food. It needs to be cool to know how to stand on your own two feet to say, “I don’t need the government for nothing.” At this point, I’m in contact with the Moon Jug water company, master farmers who can work 11 acres by themselves, and more farmers from Atlanta to New Hampshire to New Mexico by traveling with my dog and connecting with the right people.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people of color have about veganism/vegetarianism?
Raury: That there’s no protein or that protein is the most important thing in the diet anyway. Your body needs water, so when it comes to digesting food, it’s like a car. Depending on the type of gas you put in it, your car is going to use the gasoline to move. But, when it uses the gasoline, it starts to build debris from the gasoline it’s using. Let’s just say you eat food, the leftover excess leads to waste or the weight that remains in you. The body needs more water to digest the animals you’re eating and a lot of people are unaware of this. You can get enough protein from hemp seeds per ounce than you can from steak.
There’s also the thought that it’s rabbit food and there’s nothing interesting about when I’ve had some of the most creative and flavorful dishes from my vegan diet. Vegans can also think they can make other people vegan by arguing with them and that’s not the case. You can only do it through osmosis — just be. Answer questions when asked because you’re just putting it on to people. You’re just pushing people away.
Lewis: I’ve heard that men’s members don’t function anymore and that’s not the case (laughs). Your libido actually increases, there are people who have suffered from erectile dysfunction and they’ve gone vegan, and they didn’t need to take a blue pill. They’re good.
Another assumption is that it’s expensive but this is what I tell people: Veganism isn’t expensive. The expense comes from when you’re dealing with buying products that people make instead of plant-based options.
Tell what went into the title. It’s very defiant.
Lewis: We had a running title that was called Hungry for Justice and that was the nice title. When you’re talking to agents, it’s kinda hard to get their talent to get into a doc called They’re Trying To Kill Us. At the end of our interviews, we would tell the participants the actual title and 99 percent of them had the same reaction, “F**k yeah, they’re trying to kill us.” It was the title from day one because it’s true. Not necessarily kill us, but keep us sick so we’re stuck in the system. Dead bodies don’t make money. Sick bodies make money.
Learn more about They’re Trying To Kill Us here.