The first episode of “Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy,” “act i: VISION,” was released on Netflix Feb. 16. The three-part documentary film series follows the life and career of Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, as he makes his rise to fame. Directed by filmmakers Coodie (Clarence Simmons Jr.) and Chike (Chike Ozah), the series consists almost exclusively of original footage shot by Coodie. “act i: VISION” does an excellent job of profiling the early years of both Ye’s personal and professional life — providing a deeper understanding of one of the most famous and controversial artists of our time.
In 2002, Coodie met Ye, who was then in his mid-twenties, and decided to leave behind a successful career running his TV show, Channel Zero, with hopes of eventually creating a documentary about Ye. At that time, Ye was still an up-and-coming producer and rapper in Chicago, so Coodie took a risk following and filming him. Eventually the two moved to New York, even when it was still unclear if Ye would become successful.
“There was just something different about Kanye”
The structure of the first act is chronological and natural. After showing footage for a few minutes, Coodie generally describes what was just shown. The footage is descriptive enough that Coodie’s explanations aren’t always necessary, but the narration doesn’t detract from the flow of the story.
Unwavering faith in Ye is a common theme throughout his life, primarily coming from Coodie, Ye himself and his mother, Donda. This is conveyed through Coodie’s occasional narration and intimate clips of Donda and Ye together. Seeing the support and love for Ye from those around him is infectious, making it hard not to root for him.
“There was just something different about Kanye,” Coodie says, explaining his decision to document Kanye’s career.
The film also captures seemingly mundane and humorous aspects of Ye’s life, such as him wearing a retainer in adulthood, and the fact that he only has peas in his fridge, leading his friends to conclude he’s on a diet. Coodie instigates many of these sweet moments by asking the right questions and shooting the right scenes. These shots humanize Ye in a way that has seldom been done before, and offer a refreshing contrast to the scandal and outrage that has more recently characterized his public life.
Similar to many of the themes found in Ye’s music, the film showcases an underdog overcoming obstacles through persistence. In one scene shortly after moving to New York, Ye shows up unannounced to Jay-Z’s label Roc-A-Fella, hoping to land a record deal. Ye isn’t taken very seriously, but this doesn’t discourage him. He later explains that he turns his “disadvantages into advantages.”
Hometown roots and family
The first act is also a tribute to Ye’s hometown, Chicago. Ye laments the lack of successful rappers from Chicago, vowing to be different, and expresses frustration that he must move to “one of the coasts” to advance his career. Given that Coodie is also a Chicago native, this gives viewers a better understanding for why Coodie chose to make the series.
At the end, Coodie reflects on lessons he drew from making the first part of the documentary, commenting that seeing the profound impact Donda had on Ye’s life reminded him of the importance of his own family. Moments like this, while not strictly necessary in a biographical documentary, gives the film a more personal touch.
By the end of the documentary, Ye eventually lands a record deal with Roc-A-Fella and it seems that his career is about to take off. As a result, the first act is an overwhelmingly positive and optimistic story, and it is fun to be along for the ride.
Still, many of the mental health, marital and substance abuse issues that Ye has publicly suffered with in more recent years are largely omitted from this first act except for some mild foreshadowing. Hopefully these issues will be touched upon in “act ii: PURPOSE” which was released on Feb. 23 and “act iii: AWAKENING” to be released on Mar. 3.