Mandem provides an online space for young men of colour to express themselves creatively, exploring ideas of culture, politics and identity through writing, film and music. Though Bristol-based, Mandem aims to attract a national audience – regardless of age, ethnicity, class or gender – to explore their content and join in with key discussions surrounding race and masculinity.

Mandem aims to attract a national audience (…) to join in with key discussions surrounding race and masculinity  

As Mandem celebrate their second birthday this month, Nitelife sat down with founder Elias Williams to learn more about the fast-growing online platform. 

Equipped with a degree in film whilst currently studying for his MA in History at University of Bristol, South London-born Elias has taken his knowledge, craft and determination to build a platform to help give young men of colour a voice. Looking back to when it all started in 2017, Elias described what inspired the creation of Mandem. 

‘There was a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in the media and there was also a growing discussion surrounding toxic masculinity’ Elias explains. ‘People of colour, and particularly men of colour, felt that they hadn’t been represented in the media brilliantly over the years, even down to their portrayal in films. So it felt right to take ownership over our own media.

it felt right to take ownership over our own media

Interview with Mandem founder Elias Williams

‘Our mission statement is to change the narrative surrounding men of colour by making it more representative. Beyond that, we want to actively engage young people in politics and join in the discussion on some of the most important questions of our time.

‘People talk about young people being disillusioned or disinterested in politics, but the truth is that no one is representing them in parliament that really understands their views or opinions. Mandem is a space where we can cultivate that political voice.’

Mandem is a space where we can cultivate that political voice

Recognising the need and potential for a platform like Mandem, Elias wanted to make sure he put in the groundwork and create something that truly filled the void he, and others around him, saw.

‘The first thing I did to get Mandem off the ground was network. I spoke with City of Bristol College, people at my university, and a lot of creative people of colour living in Bristol. By doing that I was able to bounce ideas around before getting Mandem up and running.

I spoke with City of Bristol College, people at my university, and a lot of creative people of colour living in Bristol

‘As I was studying film making at the time, I created a lot of video interviews to help introduce the online platform to the world. I wanted to keep it as accessible as possible and not come across too academic for readers, that’s why I pushed for a multi-media platform using words, film and music.’

In line with their second birthday this month, Mandem has just released a new short film based on the true story of a 16th century African Samurai – written and directed by Elias. It’s the third in Mandem’s black history trilogy, following Dear Mansa Musa and Ghost of Haiti.

Whilst the Mandem platform currently predominately features short films and articles, Elias is passionate about pushing Mandem’s music content much more in the near future. 

I have a key desire to present alternative images of black musicians

‘I have a key desire to present alternative images of black musicians. I’ve interviewed quite a few musicians for Mandem too, including singer-songwriter Cosmo Pyke and rapper Kojey Radical. We’re already supporting a handful of musicians, including the super talented Bristol-based rapper Kwazi and Whizzdxm, to name a few.

‘One thing I’m hoping to do more of is seeking out those male musicians of colour who are a bit alternative and who aren’t the stereotypical rapper, so to speak. I think that is a very interesting way of breaking stereotypes.’

…seeking out those male musicians of colour who are a bit alternative and who aren’t the stereotypical rapper

Alongside Mandem’s online platform, a key facet of what they do is panel discussion events in Bristol and London. Mandem invites people from all walks of life to engage in debates surrounding race and masculinity, with sometimes uneasy, attention-catching titles, such as ‘Does Islam Like Black People?’, ‘Mandem Don’t Cry’, ‘Has Identity Politics Gone Too Far?’ and ‘Do Mandem Need Feminsm?’ – the latter being a clear example of how Mandem aims to give a voice to men of colour, as opposed to creating a space exclusively for them, or excluding anyone who falls outside this bracket.    

Mandem aims to give a voice to men of colour, as opposed to creating a space exclusively for them

Similarly, Elias has opened up the conversation online with Mandem’s new Ghostwriter section, where authors of any ethnicity, gender or background are invited to contribute.

‘‘Do Mandem Need Feminism?’ came about was because we had two events prior to that centred around masculinity and black masculinity, so it felt natural to bring feminism into the equation’ Elias explains. ‘After researching feminism for my dissertation, I realised there was a lot of work on male identity and masculinity within feminism that a lot of people don’t know about, but needs to be discussed.

‘I like to compare feminism to racism because racism is not just an issue that people of colour should care about, progress comes from when white people start to critically think about race. There’s a similar thing there with men and feminism, with men having to critically think about gender.’

racism is not just an issue that people of colour should care about

‘Moving forward, I want Mandem to become even more of a music video related hub, where we can help young aspiring musicians to promote themselves and get their names out there. We’ve got a couple of freestyle videos from MCs on our YouTube channel already, but I’d like us to push that more and continue supporting young local musicians.

‘We want to do a follow up panel discussion on the subject of identity politics in May, but the longterm goal is to start inviting more high-profile names down to discuss these topics as well. It would be great to one day host people like Akala or Lowkey, but for now you’re just going to have to watch this space.’

Photos by Martin Thompson // @thefacecollective

mandemhood.com

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