Meet Bianka: The Director Putting Homelessness 'In Plain Sight'
We interviewed writer, actress and director Bianka Alexandria Bell to discuss her latest documentary In Plain Sight. It documents the lives of Anna, Teaya and Vincent who are homeless in San Francisco, California. Through this 12 minute film, we learn of the difficulties of the homeless trying to eat, sleep, and live in a society that treats them like they are invisible.
Javonne Crumby: What inspired you to create In Plain Sight?
Bianka Alexandria Bell: Coming from a city like New York, I assumed I was familiar with the reality of homelessness. However, when I arrived in San Francisco, I was so incredibly shocked by the frequency of it. Even more, I was disheartened by how invisible these people were to those not living under the same circumstances.
JC: Were there any assumptions you had about the homeless prior making this documentary that changed after filming?
BAB: I like to think of myself as a progressive-minded person. But I learned a lot about the reality of homelessness through the documentary process. It's definitely an issue that I've become more involved with after completing the project. A citizen's job is never really done until everyone is treated equally and fairly.
JC: Teaya and Anna talked about holding up signs that have an “honesty factor” such as: “Why lie? I need money for weed.” Why do you think people stop for signs like that as opposed to a sign asking for money to eat?
BAB: Honestly, that part really shocked me. I think there's a problematic and dangerous assumption which exists that homeless people are just going to use the money they get from spanging on drugs. Lots of times, this is the actual truth and people DO need to eat because they're literally starving.
JC: It was disturbing to see that law enforcement have their horses defecate in areas where the homeless pitch tents. Why do you think there is such a disconnect with law enforcement and the homeless?
BAB: Because the police state was an institute to keep certain communities safe and to continually oppress others: i.e; black people, poor people and mentally ill people.
JC: At one point Vincent suggests that the booming of technology and the internet has desensitized people and how they treat the homeless. Do you think that is true?
BAB: Definitely. Interpersonal interaction is at an all-time low, so I feel that people today have a general lack of understanding when it comes to communication. So, when you're in a position of a power imbalance, it can be incredibly awkward-- typically you just choose to avoid it. Hence, why most people don't make eye contact with others on the street. They don't want to engage because they don't know how to. This also applies to race relations. It's a real problematic flaw of society. How are you supposed to improve the status quo if you choose to ignore the status quo?
JC: What was the hardest part about making this documentary?
BAB: This was a tough project in that when it came to filming anyone that wasn't one of my main subjects, I had to gauge whether it was appropriate to do so. I wanted to respect everyone's space and protect their identities, while also giving the viewer a sense of the magnitude of the issue. I wish I could have used more B-Roll in the doc, but there were certain situations that became unsafe for myself or the person I was filming, so I scrapped that footage.
JC: What do you want your audience to take away from In Plain Sight?
BAB: I want my audience to think. I want them to truly take a step back after watching and put things into perspective. I want them to challenge any preconceived ideas they had about homelessness before watching the doc. And I want them to act accordingly after this, whatever that may mean for them. More than anything, I want people to stop silencing people who hardly have a voice as it is. And to sometimes give others the benefit of the doubt.
JC: What are some things we can do to change the way we interact with the homeless?
BAB: Step 1: Look Up. Step 2: Engage. Step 3: Go from there. You've likely already done more for that person than the 99 people before you.
JC: Do you have any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
BAB: I am currently working on a scripted queer comedy series entitled Blatantly Bianka. You can follow the series here.