The Saga Continues

Friday, February 8, 2019

Wu-Tang at Sundance: An American History

It’s the week of the Sundance Film Festival, and Sacha Jenkins walks into the Entertainment Studios Lounge in Park City, Utah, wearing a Goose Country leather V-Bomber. It’s the same coat made famous by the late New York drug dealer/folk hero Larry Davis. Tucked under his leather-cloaked arm is a record. It’s the first album from The 1865, an all-black rock n’ roll band singing and playing from a viewpoint of post-Civil War emancipated slaves. The album is called Don’t Tread on We. Jenkins is the lead guitarist in the band. Everything Jenkins does has a purpose, a symbol, or a worthwhile means to an end in the name of black culture and American history. Which is exactly why he was tapped as the director of Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, the new four-part episodic documentary that unfurls the (extremely personal, never-before-seen) history of a group of New York natives that redefined a genre and changed the economics of the music industry. Jenkins gets it. To him, Wu-Tang isn’t just about showing an audience the group’s untold story—it’s about understanding history.

“History is our frenemy,” Jenkins says, sitting in the sun on a deck overlooking Main Street. “People struggle with what's in front of them. But if you just look behind you and you look at the shit that happened and how it was resolved, it might give you some tools to help you deal with what's in front of you. It’s easy to think, ‘this president sucks. I'm stuck. He's racist.’ But if you look back, you'll see the same things and you will see people just like you who had to deal with it and found a way to deal with it—and you can do that, too.”

Finding a way to “deal with it” is exactly what the 10 founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan did 25 years ago, when “Protect Ya Neck” hit airwaves and Enter the Wu-Tangdropped. For the first time, a mainstream audience heard what it was like to be poor, to live under the thumb of racism, to sell drugs, to lose family and friends, to watch abuse, and to feel like nothing was going for you unless you were going for them.