Private Project

thank johnson i'm woke

Part essay, part diary, part panic attack. A narrator attempts to attribute the gentrification of New Brunswick, New Jersey since the 1970s to the longtime stature of Johnson & Johnson’s world headquarters in the American city, but is possessed by the past civic-corporate figures in question through the urban space. The voice escapes from these appropriated reflections into personal anecdotes, emerging as a caricature of the white gentrifier, perpetually anxious about their useless wokeness. I aim to dwell on the impossibilities between whiteness, complicity, and a radical praxis through the unclear relationship between “the narrator” and myself as the artist.

  • Charles de Agustin
    Director, Writer, DP, Editor
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Experimental, Short, Student
  • Runtime:
    11 minutes 31 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    July 30, 2019
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    Yes - Rutgers University
  • Cinema Arts Centre – Experimental Cinema Series
    United States
    January 29, 2020
    World Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Film and Video Poetry Symposium
    Los Angeles
    United States
    Official Selection
Director Biography

Charles de Agustin is an artist working in moving image, performance, and text. He was born and raised in New Jersey (Lenape), earned a BFA from Rutgers University, and is currently based in England for an MFA at the University of Oxford.

Recent screenings and exhibitions include Brooklyn College (NY), Zuleika Gallery (UK), University of Wisconsin-Madison (WI), Industry Mag (UK), Film and Video Poetry Symposium (LA), Cinema Arts Centre (NY). Charles has participated in symposia at the Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art (DE 2020), Telluride Film Festival (US 2019), Flaherty Film Seminar (US 2019), and Santa Barbara Intl Film Festival (US 2018). His curatorial work has been mostly through the NOFLASH Video Show (US/online, co-founder).

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Part essay, part diary, part panic attack. Rooted in the history, urban planning and socioeconomic dynamics of New Brunswick, New Jersey, thank johnson i’m woke focuses on attributing the gentrification of New Brunswick since the late 70s to the longtime stature of Johnson & Johnson’s world headquarters in the city. It does not take long, however, for the film’s intense narrator to diverge from these chaotic, appropriated reflections into his own personal anecdotes, emerging as a caricature of performative wokeness. A personal reckoning between urban and mental space.
Constantly passing by J&J and the surrounding upscale area on my way to class at Rutgers University led me to this research interest. Located at the city’s center, the one-mile journey from Albany Street to French Street (the same road) is treated as the film’s fundamental visual element. The film starts at the end of Albany which is dominated by J&J, and after moving past the train station and abrasive hospital complex, a weathered yet vibrant Latinx neighborhood dominates French, where the film ends. This literal other-side-of-the-tracks phenomenon is the city’s reality, shown in the film through slow, aerial drone footage.
Drawing inspiration from Routine Pleasures (Gorin, 1986), The Image Book (Godard, 2018) and TESTER (Wilkins, 2015), the narration throughout the film is monotonous yet chaotic, edited to be strenuous at points to decipher; the noise soundtrack and zany superimposed titles exacerbate this tone. As the narrator acknowledges halfway through the film, almost all of the first half is lifted directly from ten different interviews with city/corporate leaders involved with the gentrification efforts from the 1970s through 2010s (sourced from New Brunswick, New Jersey, Listokin et al. 2016). The jarring nature of the narration alludes to the ways in which New Brunswick has spoken over, i.e. erased, its own historical sites and disadvantaged communities. I intend to make the viewer suspicious of the narrator’s authenticity and authority; in a broader sense, this uncertainty might also evoke consideration of the truth evaluability of statements (presented in media). Even though the narrator’s increasingly meandering, diaristic tone becomes genuinely autobiographical at points, the viewer will likely never be sure of when this occurs.
Near the end of the film is a chance encounter with a New Brunswick local named Carlos. I nervously respond to Carlos’ questions about my camera while walking, and afterward explain in narration my failure to followup with an interview; or, my failure to do any sort of local outreach, for that matter. This is not inherently a failure, but it is for a narrator who feels doing the “subversive interview text appropriation shit” was enough to make an impactful film on the topic. This disillusionment is what solidifies his embodiment of performative wokeness (i.e. superficial solidarity in social activism, which undermines legitimate cases). With that said, I myself become unclear at this point where the line is between the narrator’s and my actual perspective, raising the question of the extent to which this caricature applies to myself. In retrospect, being in constant mental/emotional states of fatigue with intermittent panic attacks at the time of production undoubtedly set the film’s overall pace and contributes to this uncertainty. thank johnson i'm woke is as much of an investigation into the gentrification of New Brunswick as it is into the personal and social positions from which the narrator/I have done so.