“Blue Eyes” A film exploring colonialism, Blackness and generational resolve

WordsNicolas-Tyrell Scott

In 2023, Vic Mensa released the visual for his song “Blue Eyes,” directed by Andre Muir. Both the song and the video explore the ways colonialism—and in turn religion—has created a culture of self-hatred in so many places in the world, with people going to extraordinary lengths to adhere to western-centric beauty standards as a result. Muir’s more recent director’s cut delves deeper into the themes at play in the original—the legacies of colonialism, diasporic Blackness and generational resolve. Muir tells Nicolas-Tyrell Scott about the painful history that’s led to this film being made, and how they believe it could still send a message of hope.

Home to a densely Protestant and wider Christian-serving populace, Jamaica possesses the record for the most churches per square mile globally. From Kingston to Mandeville, the legacies of the religion and its symbolism are felt across most of the island. Christianity was a major influence for SMUGGLER filmmaker Andre Muir in his director’s cut of “Blue Eyes,” which initially served as a music video for one of the singles on Vic Mensa’s sophomore album “Victor.” “I think that Christianity especially was a tool utilized by Europeans to colonize the world,” he shares. “It was one of their most prominent tools.” Despite being religious himself, Muir is intrigued and skeptical about religion more broadly, and its prominence in the most distraught and colonized regions worldwide. “I do think that’s a very closely correlated relationship,” he explains.

A still from the film "Blue Eyes" by Andre Muir, showing a group of kids sat in the back of a Toyota truck, posing towards the camera.

“Blue Eyes” unites the once adolescent enemies Muir and Mensa, both absorbed by themes of colonialism, enlightenment and intergenerational conference. After spending his youth in opposing groups to Mensa, Muir eventually grew to appreciate the rapper’s art, with the pair becoming close collaborators and real life friends as their careers progressed. “I actually consider him to be one of my best friends now,” Muir laughs. First working together on the “Kids These Days” single “My Days,” the pair eventually collaborated on Mensa’s solo works more consistently, specifically aligning again on the supporting project visual for the 2020 release “V TAPE.”

Featuring broad displays of Jamaicans, both intergenerationally and across complexions, “Blue Eyes” contains an abundance of references to the cross, articulating Muir’s aforementioned questions and assertions on the topic. Mensa battles internalized self-hatred while submerged underwater. The idea of self-hatred on a communal level is also nested in poignant and compelling imagery of kids, parents and other citizens who seemingly fall victim to the global legacies of imperialism, Western ideology and anti-Blackness. Mensa is eventually rebirthed, shedding his former demons amongst representations of diasporic ancestors.

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In an introductory utterance to the film, we hear the words: “Beauty makes us do to ourselves so. Scar up ourselves so.” The voice is that of the daughter of a Maroon elder, one of the most resilient communities on the island across the 17th century, in constant contentment of British colonialism. Described as integral to the journey towards Jamaican independence, Maroons from West Africa were forcibly brought to the island by the British to work across the sugarcane fields from the 15th century. Following various Maroon wars, they received autonomy and self-governance away from slavery until it was eventually abolished via British peace treaties in 1739.

“My grandma is a Maroon,” Muir reveals. “[Mensa] has always been interested in their story. We really wanted to get their perspective. Skin bleaching is common on the island. In contrast the Maroons are really appreciative of their skin. That duality is something we wanted to portray.”

As a practice amongst enclaves of Jamaicans, a 2017 report revealed that at least 11 percent of the region partake in skin bleaching in an attempt to lighten their skin and appeal to Western-centric beauty ideals. Stewards of Jamaican culture such as dancehall artist Spice have spoken provocatively on the lifestyle choice too, illuminating the issue to the masses beyond the island. Mensa’s late aunt died as a result of skin cancer and fought an intense, lifelong battle with bleaching. The decision to film in Jamaica was made because both creators had connections with the legacy of skin bleaching—Muir coming from an island now renowned for it, and Mensa holding a familial connection to the practice.

Also woven into the film are components of color theory: the blue that taints Mensa’s scleras signifies an aspiration for more Eurocentric-founded perceptions of beauty, since the wider community of blue-eyed inhabitants were skin bleachers. Whereas red, used across much of the film, signifies those in extreme delusion—kids unaware that they are entrapped for instance. “They are living under this influence that they can’t even see,” Muir puts it. “Their hell is following this colonial legacy.” 

An ancestral embrace finally consoles the brutal confrontations that “Blue Eyes” addresses, via the film’s protagonist, Mensa. Through a blend of inherited and local forms of dancing, he interrogates his delusions with flawed, Eurocentric forms of idealism, eventually turning into a source of light as a new child, indicating Mensa’s consciousness is born. The beauty and perseverance of Black people are shown—there’s a sense of evolution, of the breaking of generational curses. “There’s that famous [Kendrick Lamar] saying ‘we multiply’,” Muir concludes. “That’s something beautiful I wanted to portray in these scenes. Black people, we will always persevere, we’ll always pass down, we’ll always keep moving on from generation to generation.”