Smuggler director Andre Muir on how his video for Mick Jenkins tells a story of toxic masculinity

With every still feeling like its own painting, Smoke Break-Dance depicts how escapism can make us spiral.

1 August 2023


Trigger warning: this article contains references to violence, suicide and substance abuse.

A man sits in a car drinking his sorrows away. Two middle-school aged boys fight ritualistically with an onlooking crowd. A group of teenagers take out their phones to record their friend as he suffocates himself. In the new music video for Mick Jenkins’ Smoke Break-Dance, Smuggler director Andre Muir creates a series of characters to explore the familiar state of escapism and distraction. Throughout the video, parallel narratives meet to show us how these vices often make a situation worse, as the distractions that initially serve as a minor diversion become the sum of our world. “I looked at all that is around me, my past, and my friends to try and come up with an idea of what these distractions might be,” he tells us. “There’s smoking, drinking, drugs and partying, but I wanted to take it further to explore general ideas of thrill-seeking and bravado,” he adds.

Throughout Smoke Break-Dance, it becomes clear that Andre is in the business of subverting the norm. “I like taking something that has been normalised, placing it in a comfortable place and then beating the viewer over the head with it until they realise how abnormal it really is,” he tells us.

Born and raised in Chicago to Jamaican parents, and now living in Brooklyn, New York, he chose not to pursue a degree in film and instead studied law and journalism – crediting it as having “a profound impact on how I tell stories”. Much of his work takes on a naturalistic approach through re-contextualising that which already exists and alarming us with his fresh perspective. In the making of the film, Andre and his director of photography, Brandon Hoeg, came to the decision that each frame would be like a painting, which makes for an intrepid display of the character’s journeys. “It’s been hard, it’s even been painful trying to turn my right brain into a left brain, but I’ve loved the challenge,” he adds.


Andre Muir: Smoke Break-Dance (Copyright © Andre Muir and Smuggler, 2023)

One of the most salient vignettes throughout the video is in the opening. Mick Jenkins is on a smoke break, sitting by abandoned cars and reading an article on a new dance craze while he completely ignores his surroundings on fire. Throughout this narrative, Andre approaches the scene in such a way, that the artist becomes a character and his lyrics become a clear testimony to the pain that causes one to seek such escapism.

“As I dug deeper I realised we’re all trying to cover up symptoms of the same old disease. That disease is the patriarchy,” Andre tells us. The final scenes in the video are separated by a bell hooks quote – “The first act of violence that the patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.” This shows us the depths of Andre’s vision within the music video, where he brings bolder and broader visuals to the music. “Working with Mick is always awesome. We’re not working off of a brief, it’s way more collaborative. Sometimes he likes my ideas, sometimes he doesn’t, but he cares about the art, not just cool visuals for cool visuals sake.”

Exploring the cyclical nature of patriarchal violence is not an easy feat, but Andre shows us the beauty of working from a place of care as he devotes himself to pulling us out of desensitisation. He may not have gone to film school and he’s still working on his filmmaker’s instinct, but he is certainly sure about his subject matter and how it should be treated. “Are you showing these images because you’re trying to portray true reality, or are you recreating brutal imagery?”

GalleryAndre Muir: Smoke Break-Dance (Copyright © Andre Muir and Smuggler, 2023)

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Andre Muir: Smoke Break-Dance (Copyright © Andre Muir and Smuggler, 2023)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) was previously a staff writer at It’s Nice That. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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