Meet The Dancer In JAY-Z’s “4:44″ Video Reclaiming Agency Over The Black Female Body

“When I’m making work, I’m making it from a black/brown woman perspective. It’s about authorship of language of the body. Authorship of language coming out of the tongue of text. How to make something that is direct comes critically from a particular place,” said Okwui Okpokwasili, writer, performer and choreographer.

You might not know Okpokwasili by name, but perhaps by now you’ve seen her fearless performance in JAY-Z’s ambitious “4:44″ video. The 9-minute clip is a collage of images of black American life as commodified by the mainstream and consumed in popular culture. It also places Okpokwasili’s dance of contorting limbs and syncopated hips at the center, an intensely emotional scene juxtaposed with some of JAY’s most vulnerable lyrics.

“My entry into “4:44″ feels quite strange and lovely. I feel this incredible productivity and connection that’s happening across art spaces right now. I would never imagine myself in a music video, or never have, but [it happened] because Arthur Jafa and Elisa Blount-Moorehead and Malik Saeed and TNEG are traversing these lines that were left porous. For JAY-Z to entrust TNEG with his vision and make something that is absolutely not a video but some really special film. To have words colliding that you don’t think would normally collide. To make a space for many other languages and space to emerge,” she told FADER during an interview about her latest film, Bronx Gothic, where she “reclaims agency over the black body” and turns a lens on “the lack of innocence society grants black and brown girls.”

READ: Jay-Z Discusses The Hardships Of Love In ‘4:44′ Footnotes

With that in mind, Okpokwasili had to hear very little of the song to know what JAY’s intentions were. “I knew the concept. I knew that it was in some way about a kind of contrition — an apology. I was looking at some interview with the women who were behind the video,” she explained to FADER, “and they were suggesting that the apology wasn’t just an apology to Beyoncé but also to himself. He’s trying to open up a space that isn’t necessarily opened up for rappers. It’s a worthy endeavor to try and think about. What have you made up of the self? And how can you reduce all of these layers of postures?”

Read more on Okpokwasili’s brilliance, her daring work and body politic, here.