Young black man rides his bike alongside a 1990s car
Filmmaker Feature

Filmmaker Interview: 'Young Kings' short aims to inspire empathy, understanding of Black culture

Jun 15, 2023 by Heather Leighton

From pulling clutches to pushing pedals, poppin' wheelies through the concrete jungle is an authentic, unapologetic form of Black expression in the heart of Atlanta. It is art and culture. It is freedom and escape. But in the news and in certain neighborhoods, bike life is criminalized. Our latest Reel South Short, "Young Kings," explores the deeper meaning of Black cycle culture in Atlanta as these cyclists ride for dignity.

Before the Reel South premiere, RS digital producer Heather Nunerley connected with "Young Kings" filmmaker Jonathan Banks to get insight to the creation of the film, how to get connected to the community, and what he hopes inspires those who watch the film. Read his filmmaker interview below.

Watch "Young Kings" on PBS now. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Heather: The opening of your film is very poetic and welcoming. What inspired that style? Also, what inspired the black-and-white style?

Jonathan: The opening drone shots are rooted in the ethos of the culture. The city streets and the beltline are the subjects' pathways to mental and emotional freedom/escape. Atlanta’s West End is also where I took the photo which inspired the film. I graded it in black-and-white because of how well it illustrates contrast and dynamic range. Those visual elements metaphorically represent the contrasting opinions often heard about Bike Life culture and the dynamic range of the people who participate in it.

Heather: What do you hope the Reel South audience gets out of your short film? 

Jonathan: The purpose of the film is to give those who are unfamiliar with Bike Life culture a closer look at it. It’s meant to inspire dialogue and a greater sense of understanding. It’s ultimately an invitation to have empathy. 

Heather: How can people learn more about the Bike Life community in Atlanta? Is there a way to support the community from afar?

Jonathan: Building holistic support for the culture is a work in progress. Community leaders like Chilly-O, zahra alabanza, and Kenneth Oladpo are the boots on the ground serving daily. Reaching out to them would be the most effective way to find out how to support the community from afar. Visit to link to their social media pages. 

Heather: From a filmmaker's perspective, what advice would you have for other filmmakers just getting started? What helped you in your start?

​​​​​​​Jonathan: My advice would be to believe in your vision and not be afraid to fail. Failure has actually helped me most in my start. It’s taught me how to plan smarter, communicate better, and take even bigger risks. Remain resilient. 

Heather: What else do you have planned? Any new projects to share? 

​​​​​​​Jonathan: I recently wrote and directed a very short narrative film about the journey from self-sabotage to self-actualization. I’m also working on another short documentary about the impact art has on Southern recidivism rates. I plan to have it completed by November 2023. 


Documentary Filmmaking