In exposing one of the world’s most complicated artists, FADER aims to advocate for mental health awareness and domestic violence assistance.
On Thursday, Look at Me: XXXTentacion, FADER Films’ acclaimed documentary, made its long-awaited Hulu debut after private screenings across the country.
Earlier this month, Boardroom was in attendance for a viewing session in New York City following the film’s premiere at SXSW. The opportunity allowed attendees to hear inside insight from the parties behind the unflinching presentation on the life and death of controversial artist XXXTentacion, who was shot and killed in Florida at just 20 years old in June 2018.
In turn, it was revealed that those close to the artist and the project held their own hesitations and hopes when creating this documentary.
“When I began the process of making this film and putting all the pieces together, there were three major factors I needed,” FADER co-founder Rob Stone told Boardroom. “One was to maintain the journalistic integrity that we have always protected at The FADER with every story we tell. Two, I needed this to be inclusive of the family, especially [X’s mother] Cleopatra. It had to be deeply personal. I needed to have [X’s ex-girlfriend] Geneva speak and tell her story. And lastly, I needed to land a director who understood the magnitude of what we were trying to accomplish as well as understand the nuances of this story.”
After interviewing 11 possible directors, Stone met with Sabaah Folayan, a pre-med student at the time. She was chosen to take lead on the project. Folayan had caught Stone’s attention thanks to Whose Streets?, her debut.
Directed, produced and written by Folayan, the 2017 documentary allowed activists and residents in Ferguson, Mo., to tell the story of Mike Brown’s murder while addressing longstanding tension with local police.
Needless to say, to tell the tale of X was another heavy lift in regard to loss and subject matter. Topics such as mental health, homelessness, and domestic violence are tough to type — let alone talk about. The aptly titled Look at Me brings attention to all those issues and more with the same sense of rawness and empathy that FADER has long captured in editorial.
“Mental health is ubiquitous,” Folayan recently told FADER. “Even if you’re not talking about it specifically, you’re talking about it.”
FADER interviewed X upon his 2017 release from prison, but the footage was not made public until Look At Me. The doc also uses interviews with those closest to him. Together, insider insight is merged with in-the-moment captures from X’s diverse spectrum of social media moments. It all makes for a complicated collage constructed by those X both hurt and inspired.
Geneva Ayala, the ex-girlfriend whose involvement Stone considered necessary, was at the center of domestic abuse allegations against X, born Jahseh Onfroy, which he reportedly privately confessed to in a recording obtained by Pitchfork after he was murdered in 2018.
“Our agreed goal among [X’s manager] Solomon, Cleo and myself was that we would create a film that openly and honestly revealed the good, the bad, and the ugly of his life,” says Stone, officially credited as an executive producer on the doc. “The damage he did, and the light that he shined so bright to his fans.”
Look at Me elicits emotion in the way X’s music did. As a viewer, you feel the anger towards X because of his violent actions. You feel the need to console those traumatized as they recount their grief and horror. Minutes later, you feel the distorted bass that turned clubs, cars, and concerts into mosh pits. You feel the hurt of a fan base going through grief, and a troubled 20-year-old trying to turn his own message and life around.
If uncomfortable conversations are what’s needed to cause change, Look at Me manages to take X’s internal conflicts and present them at face value from all angles. Preconceived ideas about cancel culture, social media, and mental health are challenged to the tune of SoundCloud’s most-streamed artist of all time.
“Jahseh’s core mission was actually to reach and touch people on an emotional level and create some kind of transformation and some kind of change in terms of the way that mental health, isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts often don’t get the support or the treatment that they need,” Folayan told FADER.
That is exactly why artists ranging from Joe Budden to J. Cole praised his work. It’s why Kanye and Kendrick considered him an inspiration. It’s why Drake found ferocity in his flow, and why Erykah Badu became an ambassador in eulogizing him. If the phrase “hurt people hurt people” ever needed illustration, such is seen in X. His hurt erupted in brutal outbursts that are still unsettling today, while it also allowed others to heal or find refuge through his work.
Through the documentary, X’s family and the FADER team hope to provide real commentary and real resources to help those dealing with the same issues the artist, his fan base, and so many others still struggle with.
“I remember telling Cleo that through all the chaos, it would be a defining mark if in his passing he brought us all together to make a film that could shine a light on very difficult issues as so many kids today need help and understanding,” Stone closes. “I think this film accomplished that.”