Not much has changed in America’s narrative when it comes to survival and success. In
1775, Patrick Henry coined the phrase “give me liberty or give me death.” Fast forward to
2003, 50 Cent vowed to “Get Rich or Die Trying.” Now in 2015, the narrative is much more
bare bones, it’s simply about “Money and Violence.” Many reviews and critiques of “Money
and Violence” peg it as a story misguided ambition and American capitalism misconstrued.
They couldn’t be more off the mark with these ideologies. “Money and Violence” is a story of
survival embedded, with level of consciousness and strategy only people whom called an
urban jungle home could understand.
Conceptually, “Money and Violence” embodies philosophies that would be a product of a
brain trust consisting of Sun Tzu, Robert Green and Iceberg Slim. But in reality it’s from the
mind of Moise Vernau a.k.a Moe, a Brooklyn native, who is a self-taught filmmaker. I had the opportunity to speak with Moe and found that he is much more than a filmmaker, he may be
one of our brightest young black minds.
A lot of people compare the Money and Violence to “The Wire.” In a previous interview
you said in “The Wire” the character’s quest seem to be more about power, where as in
Money and Violence it’s more about survival. Some people would argue that it takes a
certain level of power to survive and navigate your way through a street environment.
With that being said how do you draw the distinction between power & survival?
Where the distinction lies is, if you pay attention to the season one storyline and the entire
series itself and the characters within it, all of the characters that are involved in the streets
are miserable. The only guy that seems to have any joy on the show is the character Joe who
works 9 to 5, just got a promotion and he just bought a new car. Whereas with the wire it
was different, Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell they were fine with what they were doing but
the characters on Money and violence are more conflicted. There was a conversation
between Rafe and Mitch one time where Rafe said to Mitch “you know you’re doing what
you’re good at but what you’re good at isn’t necessarily good for you.” On the wire they took
pride, like “yo I moved 20 kilos I moved 30 kilos” they took pride in it whereas in MAV it’s more
like I’m doing this because this is what I gotta do.
I think that’s something that’s important about the show as well because with a lot of
the hood shows and DVDs, you don’t see people in the grind working a job and still
having to do what they gotta do in the streets. I think that adds a whole other element
to the show. Why do you think no show prior to MVA has tapped into that?
I tell people that my advantage as a writer is that, people that have been in this life are not
creative enough to do a project like this, and most of the people that are creative enough
never lived this life. I think that is my advantage, I can stand on a corner with jeans Tims and
a t-shirt and kick it with my homies but I can also sit in a boardroom with a suit on and
communicate well enough to get through to these suits. I can sit through an interview and
explain myself intelligently, I think that’s what it is when it comes to the urban genre you have
people that are either on the left side of the fence or the right side of the fence but with this
project MVA straddles both sides of the fence. You have an urban genre about the things that
people do to eat live and breathe but on the other end of the fence there is great dialogue as
far as the storyline is concerned. I remember when we first began to shoot I remember some
of the characters would say “why do we have to speak so intelligently” and I used to tell them
we not all are ignorant and fucking dumb because we in the hood. We know how to adjust
ourselves. When we around our boys we may speak slang and this and that but when we get
to the workplace or we get around certain people we speak more intelligently. Aside from that
I told them that I want this to stretch beyond the hood. The truth is the people I’m trying to
reach out to are those who are apart of the younger generation who’s in the struggle. But I
also want the rest of the world to take a more intimate look at us and to get to know us a little
more and if the dialogue is something they can’t understand that can’t happen.
It sounds like what you’re describing a little bit is the prison of the mind so to speak.
Where people put themselves in this mental prison, that you can’t be more than what
you are or can’t present yourself as more than what you are. When I see you guys in
interviews you guys come off as very smart and articulate and you always say you’re
strategic in the things you do. With that do you believe that what you’re doing on the
business side has just as much impact as MVA itself?
Definitely and the reason I say that is because we have to set the example and people learn
by results. It’s one of two things you can’t just talk to people as far as what they should or
need to do you have to lead by example. People believe in results and a lot of times, if people
haven’t seen something occur right there in front of their face they don’t believe it’s accessible
or achievable. I believe any move I make will be worth it and we set a tone where people can
say OK, these guys made their own web series and with all the attention that they got this is
how far they made it. Very few people are independent thinkers enough to realize that where
we reached is not the end all be all and for this reason we need to make sure we get as far as
possible. We aim to be an example to people to let them know, what they are capable of and
what the possibilities are.
I’m sure when you have meetings with “the suits” and you walk into the boardroom,
they treat you certain way because of where you’re from. How do you break down that
barrier and let them know, I’m intelligent and I belong in this room with you?
The great thing is that I actually love it. The reason I love it is, I don’t know if you ever read
Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” but one of the great strategies is “let people think you’re weak when
you’re strong.” I did a four man panel discussion with “Lisa Evers Street Soldiers” on Hot 97
and on the panel there was a woman who was a doctor, one was a professor and all of these
people who came there to tell me I was glorifying violence with this project. The second I
opened my mouth they were basically thrown off and they didn’t know how to come at me
because I gave them nothing to attack me with. So I actually love so when I walk into these
conference rooms and open my mouth and totally throw them off their entire plan because
they realize, wow they not dealing with what they thought they were. On top of that,
understand I don’t go into these conference rooms looking for a deal because that’s not what
I’m looking for. I’m more than willing to do this on my own and I’m not afraid to, so when
people ask me what would be my perfect deal I say I don’t have one. I’m just here because
only a fool turns down a conversation and it doesn’t take anything away or cost me to hear a
man out. If the right deal comes along then great, if it doesn’t, I continue my planned course
of action because my plan was to take this for the long haul my way.
A few years ago when Dave Chappelle was hot and on top of the world one of the
things that drove him to his breaking point is that with his show people got the joke but
they didn’t get the message with the joke. Do you have that fear with MAV?
There is never a time that you put a message out there and it is received 100% of the way
that it is intended. The messages and comments that I receive via social media, let me know
that there are people out there getting the messages. People have reached out to me and told
me that the series has changed their lives. That lets me know messages that we are putting
out there are penetrating some people. But I’m sure there are a percentage of viewers that the
messages may go over their head or they just gravitate towards the violence.
A major issue out there in the world is this police tension with the community definitely with the African-American community. With you guys literally in the streets making this series have you guys felt and tension from NYPD while filming due to the content of the show?
You know what’s crazy, we’ve actually have had so much cooperation from NYPD. A few days
ago I was walking down Flatbush Ave and a cop pulls up to me and says “can you come here
for a second.” I’m thinking its going to be some bullshit and he was like “yo, I just wanted to
shake your hand, I love the show all cops aren’t bad.” Even when we were shooting we shot
without permits or anything. We were shooting scenes with shoot-outs we would have prop
guns and the D’s were driving by and they drove by. I gave them my business card and I had
a camera around my neck and I just told them we were shooting a web series and they were
like cool. This is before MVA had any notoriety and they were like you guys do what you gotta
do we’ll put it out on the walkie-talkie that you guys are filming over here they haven’t
bothered us at all.
To create MVA you taught yourself the technical skill, like filming and editing. With that are you teaching younger people around you the same skills so they can live out their dreams as well?
We’ve been doing a lot of community outreach. We speak at a lot of group homes, we speak
at a lot of community centers and go into a lot of high schools. There is actually a school in
Bushwick that I visited 3 weeks ago, where they actually have a class on MAV. Where they
use the show as part of the curriculum to teach boys about manhood.
It’s amazing, also something I’m proud of is the Tribeca Film Festival also recognized MAV.
They honored me by putting me on the NOW panel in this years festival, which is amazing
and I love it. That shows that they recognize this project as art. I remember when I first started
MAV I was talking to my boy and I told him I wanted this to be more than entertainment. It’s
an opportunity for us to help the world understand, why we live the way we live. With that
being understood, it feels amazing to me there is nothing more gratifying than making that
point to someone and having it understood.
– Terrence Nelson. Follow him on Twitter @TM_Nelson
PHOTO CREDIT: SainCity Productions
“Money & Violence” … And Views – An Interview With Filmmaker Moise Vernau was originally published on globalgrind.com