By Addie Morfoot
Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah spent 22 years chronicling the life and career of rapper Kanye West. In October 2019, Coodie, a former stand-up comedian turned music video and documentary director, and his longtime creative partner and co-director, Ozah, successfully pitched the project to Time Studios. Over the last three years they have worked on taking 330 hours of footage and editing it down to three feature-length documentaries, titled “Jeen-Yuhs.” The project, which Netflix acquired last fall, premieres at Sundance Jan. 23. On Jan. 21, West posted on Instagram his argument for final cut approval of the documentary. Simmons and Ozah told Variety that that rapper had relinquished those rights.
“I’m going to say this kindly for the last time. I must get final edit and approval on this doc before it releases on Netflix,” West wrote in a statement on Instagram. “Open the edit room immediately so I can be in charge of my own image. Thank you in advance.”
In an interview with Variety published earlier this week, directors Simmons and Ozah revealed they had final cut over the “Jeen-Yuhs” documentaries. The news was surprising as West is known to be meticulous about his image and incredibly controlling.
“I said, ‘Dude, you have to trust me.’ And he did, 100%,” Simmons said about getting final cut. “Mind you, when his team and the business-people have gotten involved, they’re of course going to have their say. But I needed to tell this story. It’s not about making Kanye likable or not. The footage doesn’t lie. What makes the film special is that it’s not something definitive; it’s his journey through my vision.”
How did you decide to make three feature-length documentaries as opposed to a one-off doc?
Ozah: It was really all about serving the project. What was best for the project. And so, making three films made sense. Time and Netflix were not about making it fit into a format that didn’t make sense for what we had created.
Simmons: Our first assembly was eight hours long and then we cut all the movies down to two hours each. Then when we got with Netflix, they worked with us to cut each movie down to 90 minutes.
How would you describe the documentary? Is it a music doc? A bio doc?
Ozah: I definitely would not describe it as a music doc. It’s really a faith-based journey broken up into three acts: vision, purpose and awakening. We called it “Jeen-Yuhs” not because we are saying that Coodie’s a genius or Kanye’s a genius specifically. We are just championing the concept that everybody has a genius inside of them. We say it’s faith-based because we truly believe that God has planted that genius within us.
Simmons: We don’t even want to call it a documentary to tell you the truth. We want to call it a film. I’m narrating the whole film, so there’s no interviews. It’s all cinéma vérité footage. It’s almost like God wrote this story.
Did West have final cut?
Simmons: No. When it came down to making this movie, I just let him know that he had to trust me. In terms of licensing the music and all of that we got other people involved with that.
Ozah: We followed the protocols that every documentary does.
Did West produce the project?
Ozah: No. He has no control over it. He trusts us. We’re not making a biased film. We’re not trying to make a commercial for Kanye. It is not meant to skew you in one direction or not.
Has he seen the films?
Simmons: No. There’s a lot that happens [in the films] both good and bad that he had to come to terms with and it’s going be powerful when he finally sees the films.
Ozah: There are going to be clips that he definitely won’t remember filming.
Do you think these films will make people who aren’t West fans into fans?
Ozah: We are not trying to change anybody’s mind. It’s not a commercial to promote Kanye, but we do contextualize [him]. So, it will bring some context behind some of the decisions that people who are sitting on the other side of the Kanye fence have made about him.
Matt Donnelly contributed to this report