Kiss the Ground Film Review
Note: I worked for the non-profit Kiss the Ground from February 2019 to August 2020 as a contractor. I left the organization for some of the same reasons I outline in the review below. The Kiss the Ground film was in part produced and promoted by the non-profit organization.
“There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
This quote from Rumi provides the namesake for the Kiss the Ground film. Unfortunately, the film chooses to ignore 999 of those ways and almost everyone who looks like Rumi, the Persian poet.
For any person of color watching this film, its most glaring fault is its utter lack of representation. The film, which presents regenerative agriculture as the solution to climate change, features a series of celebrities and experts showing how this type of farming can sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Of those, only three experts are people of color, and their speaking time in the film lasts for less than 5 minutes of the 84 minute runtime.
After the last POC presenter speakers, the audience is then treated to a vomit-inducing scene of white saviorism as white celebrities Courtney and David Arquette teach Black people in Haiti how to compost their own poop. Scenes of the satisfied white lady with smiling Black children abound. Perfect.
And that’s just the surface. The racism of this film actually runs much deeper—to its foundational concepts and presentations.
Let’s start with the basics: What is the cause of Climate Change? The film tells us that it’s carbon in the atmosphere, and if we would just change the way we farm (subtext: don’t change anything else), we could reverse it. Problem solved.
But is carbon really the cause of climate change, as this film (and much of our broader society, including most environmental groups) would like us to believe? Or is carbon in the atmosphere, and climate change more broadly, a symptom of a global colonial culture that treats Earth and people of color as resources to be mined?
If carbon is the cause of Climate Change, then yes, we can just change the way we farm. Along with that, we can accept much else of our current situation. We can accept that white people own 98% of rural land in America and are the rightful caretakers of that land. We can accept that we live in a country created from the systematic genocide of its Indigenous caretakers. And we can also accept that predominantly white male farmers will be our saviors in the “fight” against climate change, as the film quietly asks us to do.
How can we, as people of color and urban dwellers, participate in this idyllic future? What is our role? Just like Giselle and Tom Brady, we can feed our family pasture-raised meat for $35 a pound while we sip our green juice poolside at our Malibu beach house. Just buy enough expensive meat from white farmers, and it’ll all be okay.
Carbon is not the cause of climate change (I’ve written about this before). It is just another symptom of a culture, a society, an economic system, and a political system with racism, rape, and plunder at its core. Yes, our farming practices need to change, but only as a result of much deeper systemic changes.
Taking care of the earth we often walk on and grow our food from is tremendously important. We can’t, however, stop there and ignore Earth in her other forms: as farm workers who continue to work in inhumane and often slavelike conditions; as urban people of color who continually experience trauma and often lack access to the healing gardens and forests where we could release this trauma; and as Indigenous peoples who have been robbed of their homelands, forced to forget their languages and cultural traditions, and are now told, “Hey, science (read: white people) has now validated what you’ve been doing for millenia; no you’re still not getting your land back.”
And can we really have a conversation about “regenerative” agriculture without talking about: moving from private property to communal land management; reparations for Indigenous and Black communities whose bodies were literally raped and pillaged as “funding” for capitalism; the dismantling of our current economic system which places no value on functioning forests, running rivers, or healthy people? At the very least, when making a documentary about land and people, can we feature for more than fleeting seconds Indigenous, Black and Brown led food and land sovereignty movements that “discovered” we shouldn’t rape the soil long before Gabe Brown?
If you’ve gotten this far in my review, you can probably read how fucking angry I am with this film. My hand is shaking and my blood pressure is rising as I write this. I really don’t understand how such a ridiculously ignorant film could be funded for millions of dollars and be released today.
I am also shocked that the production team could be so absent-minded after all that has happened this year, that the film's launch team and the non-profit Kiss the Ground made no effort to address the lack of diversity in the film, issue an apology, or highlight people and organizations that should have been the featured characters of the film.
If there is one true message in the film, it’s that there is genuine hope for our future as this Planet, and not because some white farmers are going to save us (sidenote: can we please stop talking about saving things?). I have hope because I found her in the garden of this Earth. I see, in this garden, her ability to heal, and I understand that I have that same ability because I am her. We all are. And this understanding is at the heart of every Indigenous culture.
If you haven’t watched Kiss the Ground yet, don’t bother. Watch Gather instead. And if you’re looking for hope, for understanding, for clarity, start gardening.