Interview About Forgive Us Our Debts
Updated: Feb 16, 2021
By: Darida Rose
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): One of the striking things about this film is the use of religious imagery. Could you speak about why you chose to incorporate these images of hell from Dante?
Howard L. Mitchell (HM): Regarding the religious imagery of “Forgive Us, Our Debts,” as the author, it’s important to leave some of the interpretation for the audience to deconstruct. I will say though, that some of the religious imagery was to show the dichotomy between the sacred and profane and use it as a symbolic means to capture the young boy's struggle to correctly choose the right path or resort to our most base instincts. It’s up to the audience to determine the best choice that the young man must make.
(PJ): Trey’s father is named Dante, perhaps after the Italian poet. But Trey also sees him as a Christ-like figure when the police drag him to the ground. Could you talk more about this complex character? (HM): The name “Dante” could be both a representation and allusion to the fiery inferno of black rage. Most boys, as a child, have seen their dad as some sort of towering figure at one point in their life. I’d say most, but definitely not all. The young man In this film internalizes his dad as an example of masculinity and strength even Christlike, willing to sacrifice himself for his family. (PJ): The title is ambiguous, and this ambiguity is reflected in the ending with the grandmother asking God to forgive the officers who came to her door. What debts does the title refer to? And who should be doing the forgiving? (HM): This is probably one of the most important, central questions of this film. I can only say that when the grandmother cries out to God to forgive, she probably means “all of us.” All of us should include the U.S., the world, and you and me as individuals. I will also say that the grandmother’s willingness to forgive the “police… in correlation to the mothers with murdered sons,” and “the police at her door,” and the “lawmakers who allowed it all this to happen,” could be seen as an indictment to the system(s) at play in the United States. (i.e. The Bible says “…forgive those who have harmed you.”) (PJ): The color red is very prominent in the film, from the red phone to Trey’s China T-shirt to the images of hellfire. Could you tells us more about this? (HM): The power of cinema comes from the strength of images to express emotions without the use of words. In the West, red as a color evokes powerful, visceral emotions and is associated with not just love, but also violence and rage. It’s not a coincidence that there are fiery, flickering, flames depicted in the film (as an example of another specific, visual cue). Additionally, I believe that in China (outside of a market economy different from the United States), the color red is thought to be a color to ward off evil.
(PJ): There are some great gospel songs playing in the background. Could you tell us a bit about your choices for the soundtrack?
(HM): American black gospel is truly for the soul and from the soul.
(PJ): In your bio, you mention that in your films, you want to explore the ‘fire beneath the ice of humanity.’ Could you speak about how that applies to Forgive us our Debts?
(HM): What does it mean to find “the fire beneath the ice?” Maybe it is digging under the parts of society that are resistant to change. Where one must chisel away until striking at the truth. Strange as it seems, “truth” seems to be more often found in a work of art than from the words of say, a politician. Maybe it’s because absolute Truth is thought to be felt and not spoken. I think it takes courage to reveal the truth. One must flip over the thin veneer of “polite fiction.” If you can’t flip over this thin veneer, then you must roll up your sleeves and dig! If you can’t dig, then you must chisel or hack at it, whatever it takes to drive beneath the surface to dig the truth out. This is what it is to find the fire beneath the ice. What is the “ice?” I suggest that ice is ideology, or at worse, the status quo.