Superstar hip hop recording artist J. Cole is no stranger to the spotlight. But in his new documentary 4 Your Eyez Only, he redirects this attention to everyday heroes of the black community.
Crafted as a companion piece to his album of the same name, the film travels to various locations throughout the southern United States - from Jonesboro, Arkansas to Atlanta, Georgia - and offers deeply moving profiles of ordinary people who battle through their lives with great fortitude and resiliency.
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an elderly woman steps through mountains of debris in her home. It's been years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region, yet her dwelling remains in shambles. In the aftermath of the storm, the insurance companies failed to fund extensive repairs. In spite of this, she's determined to rebuild on her own - a little at a time - until her home and her life are whole again.
In Ferguson, Missouri, Cole stands on the street where Michael Brown was shot down by an officer. He speaks with Brown's cousin, and reflects on the legacy of activism that was inspired by his tragic slaying. Others soon join in on the conversation, and question why the government representatives for this majority black community are predominantly white.
In Fayetteville, North Carolina, a sluggish economy and limited job prospects have hit the community hard. We meet a property caretaker who rents rooms for $35 a night to some of the area's most impoverished residents. Although it is the lowest rate in town, it is still an exorbitant amount for most of its tenants. Many of them can only afford to stay for an occasional night or two before heading back onto the streets.
The film is essentially an on-the-road documentary mixed with a non-traditional music video. Cole's socially conscious tunes resound between each vignette. These segments illustrate how real-world elements ultimately inform his art. In between the songs, Cole stands back and allows each of his subjects to tell their story in their own unfiltered words.
Revealing and compassionate, 4 Your Eyez Only gives authoritative voice to issues of racial injustice, black history, gun violence, spirituality and family.