'Negro Terror' Film Justifies Black Anger in Hardcore Punk

Sep 10, 2019
Originally published on September 11, 2019 3:42 pm

Soon after moving to Mississippi, documentary filmmaker John Rash was looking for a way to fill his evenings. A lifelong member of the punk community, he had his eye out for show billings. One name grabbed his attention — Negro Terror. Once he heard the band's anti-fascist and Black Power politics combined seamlessly in their lyrics and followers, he knew there was a story to be explored.

Nearly a year later, Rash captured the punk musicians' perspectives on the Memphis underground scene and their sophisticated justifications for their ideology in a feature-length film, now streaming on Vimeo and Amazon. And it turns out he captured the band’s voice just in time. While touring the documentary this April, the band’s lead singer Omar Higgins passed away unexpectedly. Higgins had delayed seeking medical care because, like many other freelance musicians, he had no health insurance.

Host Frank Stasio previews the film and talks about the band’s political impact with Rash, a western North Carolina native and instructional assistant professor at the University of Mississippi, and Ra’id Omar, the band’s drummer. 

 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Ra'id Omar on the lead singer Omar Higgins' personality:

Honest, very direct, jovial, but at the same time, no B.S. ... But also very informative and also very inviting and very understanding too. [He was] definitely by nature an empath towards other people and towards other causes, basically, towards several different walks of society, which definitely made up Negro Terror’s fan base, but also it his reggae band Chinese Connection Dub Embassy’s fan base too. 

John Rash on discovering Negro Terror:

Their names stood out to me on a show bill. And seeing those two words together — Negro Terror — I didn't know what to think without seeing the guys behind that name, especially being in the Deep South and being new to that area. Also, knowing that punk rock has traditionally been a recruitment ground for neo-Nazis who see angry, disenfranchised young men looking for a way to express themselves in the world. Especially through the late ‘80s and the ‘90s, there was a huge neo-Nazi scene in the punk community. So I really didn't know what this band was going to be. And with a quick Google search, I found a video that they had put on YouTube, which was actually them playing a song from one of those neo-Nazi bands, actually the quintessential neo-Nazi band of that era. But they had cut footage over that song of police brutality, Trump rallies, Black Lives Matter protests, and it was like: Okay, these guys are not only interesting, they're clever.

 

  

Rash on Higgins' politics:

Omar [Higgins] came from that tradition of skinheads being more identified with working class politics, anti-racist politics. So there [are] still a lot of anti-racist skins that exist, especially within the underground music community today. So people from the punk rock community understand that, but our society at large doesn't, because we've been influenced by movies like “American History X” and how that was sensationalized in the ‘90s. But it goes deeper than that. You mentioned Omar was ex-military. And sometimes his politics lean more conservative or patriotic, which isn't necessarily what we associate with antifascist, which he also identifies as. So it's very confounding and complicated, but I thought that made him such a beautiful person to collaborate with on this film.

Ra'id Omar on Rash proposing the documentary:

I would definitely be honest, and saying that, one, I didn't know that this would grow into a feature length documentary, or as lengthy of a documentary as it has. And, two, I didn't [know] that this could be a good idea … I was somewhat on the fence. I didn't dismiss [Rash] or think that, you know, he had any nefarious means. But at the same time, I wasn't wholeheartedly trusting, because this is a brand new person out of nowhere. But as we continue to show camaraderie, I guess you could say, and once the material started accumulating, and now we start seeing this whole project kind of take better shape, I was like: Okay, okay, I think this will be fine.

 


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