Isaac Julien’s 20-minute filmic triptych, Paradise Omeros (2002) explores the experience of creolization—the psychological and linguistic impact of colonization, immigration, and globalization. Based on Derek Walcott’s Nobel Prize-winning epic poem Omeros, Julien’s work follows a young protagonist from the rich tropics of St. Lucia to gritty urban England. In a key passage the main character is immersed and transported from the blue waters of the island to London’s inner city—suggesting his struggle for a sense of place and his feelings of fear, anxiety, love, and hate. Paradise Omeros reworks normative conceptions of identity, black (African Diaspora) experience, and sexuality through a shifting, dream-like structure that suggests the emblematic search for “new life” promised by the West.
With Baltimore (2003) Julien again uses compelling visual strategies to move forward a narrative that references high art, political history, and popular culture. Named for the city in which it was filmed, the work draws on the history of blaxploitation films of the 1970s. This 11-minute piece follows the legendary Melvin Van Peebles, one of the pioneers of the new black cinema that emerged during that decade, and a futuristic version of the foxy, gun-toting female that appeared in such films. Julien skillfully employs the three-screen format to manipulate time and perspective. The work seamlessly pivots between the characters walking through the city and into three of its museums—there encountering artifacts and objects that bring to life the past, present, and possible future of African-Americans.