Multi-hyphenate, multidisciplinary artist Saul Williams brings his unique dynamism to this Afrofuturist vision, a sci-fi punk musical that’s a visually wondrous amalgamation of themes, ideas,and songs that Williams has explored in his work, notably his 2016 album Martyr Loser King. Co-directed with the Rwandan-born artist and cinematographer Anisia Uzeyman, the film takes place in the hilltops of Burundi, where a group of escaped coltan miners form an anti-colonialist computer hacker collective.
From their camp in an otherworldly e-waste dump, they attempt a takeover of the authoritarian regime exploiting the region’s natural resources – and its people. When an intersex runaway and an escaped coltan miner find each other through cosmic forces, their connection sparks glitches within the greater divine circuitry. Set between states of being –past and present, dream and waking life, colonized and free, male and female, memory and prescience –Neptune Frost is an invigorating and empowering direct download to the cerebral cortex and a call to reclaim technology for progressive political ends.
In Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Swahili, French, and English with English Subtitles
Director’s Statement, Saul Williams:
I began working on this project in 2013 as a graphic novel and a musical. I wanted to center my writing around the social and global issues flooding my actual and virtual timelines and their countless intersections through a story, character, and project that would allow me to focus all of my observations, insights, rants, and talents under one heading: The MartyrLoserKing project, which has three albums, a graphic novel (01First Second Books), and the film: NEPTUNE FROST.
We put our energy into everything we touch, everything we focus on, and maybe even into the things we ignore, but conscious energy is an investment. It’s what some mean when they type “thoughts and prayers.” Many artists embed and charge their creations with “thoughts and prayers”, an energy you feel when it reaches you. Maybe it unlocks something. Perhaps it’s the sincerity of the artist emitting a frequency that couples with our own to heal or release the moment. Maybe the beat or melody offers something unsaid, a sensation we never knew we had or needed touched. Maybe it does nothing, just like typing “thoughts and prayers,” but that data holds space. It holds the space for us to be moved beyond convention, to experience and explore new stories, maybe even other forms of storytelling.
NEPTUNE FROST is a story that demystifies the connection, that highlights technology as awareness, that shatters convention and honors the means through which this conversation is taking place.
How many longwinded pitches would it take to convince large-scale investors that a story that takes place in a little-known country, with rebellious and anti-establishment themes, and draws inspiration from many socio-political movements happening today, should be left in the hands of a poet? A poet who isn’t interested in making films by committee, who has more critical acclaim than sales, who has never directed a film, who dreams to “spark the brain that will change the world.” A poet who thinks the formulaic aesthetic that births reality stars and super-heroes alike takes its cues from a cultural mythos that is more invested in the bottom line than illuminating the rut at the bottom, who thinks the bottom is the top, who sees each high-priced tick in the stock market in association with the African country where the commodity is sourced then marks its ranking on the list of poorest nations, who thinks: “Wait a minute. If it’s that rich in resources, then how…” But who knows the answer, who sees how power corrupts and obstructs, who isn’t interested in disaster and poverty porn, who thinks it’s a kind of colonial projection when dreams of distant galaxies are embedded with fears of being colonized by aliens, who thinks the internet, like poetry, is undefeated, who thinks the job of the poet is to decode, who calculates algorithmic swagger by those who don’t follow, who knows the connection was there before the machine, who has never truly danced in a movie theater and thinks it’s a shame, who knows each rhythm tells a story, who has a story to tell…
Writing the music has written the story. My love of music and theater are as separate as they are together, but musical theater in film and on stage has left its mark on me. I went to see Sarafina on Broadway seven times. The mix of raw politics, story-telling and music was everything, Those actors risked being exiled from their country and separated from their families for daring to perform truth to power. I was transfixed. I began writing my first musical for film when I was sixteen and living in Brazil as an exchange student. It was actually a mix-tape musical, ‘though I referred to it as a “hipopera”. Corny, I know, but I was sixteen. The MartyrLoserKing project has three albums (MartyrLoserKing : Neptune Frost : Unanimous Goldmine). Each album contains songs from and inspired by the musical. The graphic novel is from the perspective of the coltan miner, The film is from the perspective of Neptune. OK, enough already. Maya Angelou once said that anything an artist writes should be written with the urgency of what they would write if someone were holding a gun in their mouth. The state of this country and the world has my mouth propped open enough to swallow whole timelines. We need art that is unafraid to challenge the narrative structure of our programming. Computational propaganda circulates at the speed of colonial diseases through indigenous populations. Music is a time-machine.
This project wouldn’t be shit without the music. Music is the door hidden within each door. It’s how I met Stephen Hendel, producer of FELA!, with whom we’ve teamed since the beginning, soon joined by Lin Manuel Miranda amongst others and finally QUIET to make sure this film got made with an entirely Rwandan and Burundian cast and crew.
I’m excited to finally be at the point of sharing more of the story with you.
Cheryl Isheja , Elvis Ngabo “Bobo” , Diogene Ntarindwa “ Atome” , Bertrand Ninteretse “Kaya Free”
Saul Williams (Composer & Director)