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The life-sized way New Orleans honors its dead

A local print shop provides a key element of NOLA's traditional celebratory jazz funerals

by Cassandra Giraldo
Mar 16 2019, 1:47pm

NEW ORLEANS — Clarence Mitchell was at someone else's "second line" parade in Central City last month when he was shot and killed by a stray bullet, leaving behind a wife and young children.

The second line, a "jazz funeral" procession with a brass band, is a longtime New Orleans tradition for honoring a lost loved one. But another, more recently popular part of NOLA memorials is the lifesize cutout of the deceased. And for that, locals know to turn to the family-owned printing shop Platinum Graphics.

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Bryan McMillian builds a “lifesize” cardboard cutout to memorialize someone who's passed away. (Cassandra Giraldo/VICE News)

Owners Bryan and Trenice McMillian have made a name for their business with the large cardboard cutouts, called “lifesizes.” They got the idea from the movie-star standees they'd seen in a Blockbuster Video store, and thought it would be fun for average people. The first one they did was for a Sweet 16 party, but now about 85-90 percent of the lifesizes they do are for memorials. "That's where the demand is," says Bryan.

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Bryce, 1, and Brean, 11, look out the window of their parents' printing shop in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. (Madeleine Peters/VICE News)

It's like having the person there to enjoy the celebration, he explains. People stand them in their living rooms for memorial gatherings, parade them in the streets for second lines, dance with them, and take selfies with them.

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Trenice McMillian, co-owner of Platinum Graphics, with her son Bryce while her husband Bryan works in their kitchen to build the lifesize cutouts. Bryan and Trenice’s shop Platinum Graphics is also their home, where they homeschool their three children. (Cassandra Giraldo/VICE News)

Following her husband’s death, Amber Oatis-Mitchell's family ordered a lifesize of Clarence to have at the private gathering and the second line to honor his memory. Amber other family members led the jazz band as Clarence’s lifesize was paraded on the streets of NOLA's Uptown neighborhood during his very own jazz funeral.

“With the lifesize, I got emotional,” Amber told VICE News. “I didn’t want to get upset in front of everybody, but it’s almost like he’s there staring at you, and it’s something you want so bad, but you know that, it will never happen again.”

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Amber Oatis-Mitchell lost her husband Clarence Mitchell on February 17, 2019 after he was shot by a stray bullet at a second line parade. Here Amber leads her husband's own second line parade, a traditional jazz funeral meant to celebrate loved ones who have passed. (Madeleine Peters/VICE News)

Cover: Family and friends of Clarence Mitchell gather for a second line parade following his repass. Mitchell was killed on February 17, 2019 after a stray bullet hit him at a second line parade. (Cassandra Giraldo/VICE News)

This segment originally aired on March 5, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.