Dreaming Whilst Black is bringing the story of the creative’s journey to the forefront.
The series, which is headed to Showtime from A24 and Big Deal Films, follows one man’s journey from depressed corporate worker to thriving filmmaker and the bumps along the road in between. Director Koby Adom, executive producer Dhanny Joshi and producer Nicola Gregory spoke to Shadow and Act about what it’s been like to bring the web series to the television screen.
Director Koby Adom said that he was drawn to the series because of his personal connection to the series creator and star Adjani Salmon. Salmon plays Kwabena, a creative who decides to throw caution to the wind, leave his steady but soul-draining corporate job and dive headfirst into bringing his film dreams to life.
“Adjani is one of my best friends. I was the DOP [director of photography] on his grad film in 2015, and he was my script supervisor on my breakthrough short in 2018. We’ve always sort of stuck with each other in some capacity. So when I got the phone call to do this, honestly, it was decided on that phone call that I’m gonna do it,” said Adom. “But also, I’m a Black filmmaker in the UK so this is my story as well as other [Black and ethnic] filmmakers who have sort of got into a certain space where they then have to prove themselves or try and fit in, in some way, shape or form. I can confidently say I didn’t bother trying to fit in, but it’s still my story because the need was there. So yeah, that’s my connection to it.”
Gregory said that she loved how “well-written” Dreaming Whilst Black was and she loved “the journey from the web series to the pilot and [to] the series itself and just how authentic the story is and how true it is to us being Black creatives and what we do have to go through.”
“And they do say we have imposter syndrome and faking it until you make it or the struggle, you know, struggling to do day jobs to follow our dreams and what we need to do,” she continued. “And I think that it’s very steeped in authenticity. And not just with Kwabs, his journey, but the characters around him as well–the family and [Kwabena’s friend] Amy’s [Dani Moseley] storyline as well. And just that really hit home for me.”
Joshi said his production company’s unique position within the UK industry comes from its championing of marginalized stories. Dreaming Whilst Black stands among those stories.
“We’re known for being champions of underrepresented voices and stories and being probably one of the go-to companies that would, you know, do whatever we can to amplify these stories and make sure that they’re seen, make sure that they’re heard and make sure that these voices are listened to,” said Joshi. “So…when we were aware of [Dreaming Whilst Black], for us, it was a no-brainer. We identified with the character, with the story. Everyone from all backgrounds can identify with having a dream and having obstacles in the way. And as people of color, you know, I kind of felt that we were living Kwabs’s, journey very early on in our process and setting up a company in a very white-dominated industry. So just through relating to it and it just being an authentic voice and a lovable character. It made it very easy for us to want to work with [the series].”
For the trio behind the series, they said that Dreaming Whilst Black reflected their experiences with dealing with microaggressions and other forms of racism in their careers and throughout their lives.
“Me personally, I think that’s a lived experience. It’s a lived experience of mine. I’m not saying this in a malicious fashion, but I must admit [that] when I’m in a space dominated by white people, I’m aware of it, do you get what I mean? I’m aware of what I say and do what it might translate…I feel like I’m not the way I would be like I am with my boos and in the hood, do you know what I mean?” said Adom, who also said that he was one of about 10 Black students in his class at the London Film School. “Or, you know, if I go to the barbershop or go to church…I won’t be the same person in that space. Having said that, you know, working with people like I actually, for once I could be myself at work while making this stuff…it’s a very funny juxtaposition that the team actually making this are people who actually went through this.”
“[W]e go through these things sometimes and think that we’re losing our minds that it didn’t actually happen,” said Gregory regarding the effect microaggressions have on everyday life. “We kind of think, ‘Did they actually say [that]? No, maybe I’m being, you know, over-sensitive about things,’ or you kind of shrink in the room so that your presence isn’t really known or there.”
“I think what makes Dreaming Whilst Black so important as a story to tell and to show on screen is to kind of let people know that, no, this happens. And to also shine a spotlight onto those who are the microaggressors, to point out what, yeah, what they’re doing [is real] and to also just to mainly to just let people know that, yeah, this is a lived experience. And as much as this is 2023, it still goes on. We can say microaggressions all we want, but it is a form of racism and we’re putting that out there, but we’re doing it in a way where we’re not being preachy about it, but it’s important to showcase.”
“I think sometimes what you’ll see in the show is a case of what to do and what not to do. And I remember in the early days of starting the company and my issues were with the TV networks because they were the gatekeepers for a production company, right?,” added Joshi. “And what I’d find myself doing is often just othering myself actually and doing it before they did it to me. So I would make jokes to the fact that I’m the Indian guy and I would. Always just do jokes. And I’d other myself first, just because the setting that I would often be in wasn’t, didn’t ever feel like a safe one where you could just be yourself and be, be seen as an equal.
“I think through Kwabs, his journey, you’ll [see] we’re all conflicted and we’re, we’re growing as he grows as well. And it’s okay that he fumbles at times as well, because he’s human. And I think that’s his, his learning, watching his learning is our privilege. Actually.”
The series also hits on another experience many creatives had–trying to balance securing your life financially while taking that leap of faith. While some creatives hold down jobs while pursuing their dreams, others, like Salmon and Adom, jumped all the way out there and left the corporate life in order to figure it out from there.
Adom talked about how the series addresses the conundrum of wanting financial security while working on the “things you want to manifest from your spirit.”
“I think this story in Dreaming Whilst Black which really relates to me is about [how] there’s different ways of doing that because I know the creatives who [established themselves first]. There’s a podcaster, a writer in the UK called Tolani [Shoneye] who has The Receipts podcast, a very popular podcast. She went down the route of establishing herself financially and making sure she’s not suffering, you know what I mean, before her [creative] baby becomes what it is and manifests it. But…it might take a bit longer or that has its own kind of obstacles,” he said. “But then there’s this very specific story of these crazy people that just jump off the ledge and say, ‘You know what? I just suffer,’ you know what I mean? And that is me, and that is Adjani, and that is a couple of our friends who just thought, ‘You know what? we’re just simply not going to accept this other thing,’ you know what I mean? Which is crazy, don’t get me wrong.”
“There’s the part where everyone’s saying, ‘Mate, your mental health is going to be affected by this decision,’ but you know this is [a story of] that guy that just jumped off the ledge and then the rest of the show from Episode Two onwards is how he gets out of that hole. So actually this is quite a very traditional story archetype, which is a man in the hole,” he continued. “He kind of just jumped off the ledge, jumped in the hole and then [must find] his way back out…I love how my personal journey…of just taking that jump kind of connects to the story archetype in a way and I think that’s the massive reason as to why the result is actually so funny and so realistic and so…dramatic, you know. All of it kind of just pieced together really well.”
Joshi said that his connection to the series’ message about going for your dreams dates back to five years before the series came out, when Dreaming Whilst Black was a web series.
“[T]here was no TV involvement at the time and being completely real, we thought, ‘Okay, this feels like a hit, we can see it.’ We went into it naively. We went to the TV networks, we went to be big streamers. I’ll leave them unnamed.”
Joshi said that a lot of the places he went to to shop the series didn’t get it or understand the scope of the project.
“[T]here was a lot of knockbacks along the way. And you’ve got pressure from all sides. We took it to the BBC, they bought into it [as a pilot], but we still have more to [show]. You know, it was always proving to everyone what this show could be and then still preparing it for a TV space, giving it the space to give creatives the time to be creative and not rushing their process because that’s important,” said Joshi. “You only get this once-in-a-lifetime type of show to make, so you can’t rush that creative process…So I think for us, it was very much a case of showing, improving, showing, improving. When Koby came on board, we were doing the readthrough and he directed that. We got to the pilot, COVID happens and that delays our process…It took five years for us to start working with Adjani on Dreaming to get to this position now, almost to the day when I first met Adjani. So there will be knockbacks, but…everyday is a new day.”
Gregory also talked about how the series is relatable, adding that she relates a lot to Amy’s story as a person working in their dream industry, but trying to rise up the ranks to a position of power.
“[A] lot just being in those in those jobs where you’re in the corporate world and you’re working with people and your boss, and you know more than they do. And I think it’s about believing in yourself or finding people who believe in your skill and your ability,” said Gregory. “And all it takes is a yes. I do believe in putting in the work….[The] 10, 000 hours that to be skilled at whatever that is…I do believe in that. And that is important. But there’s a moment in time where you have to take the risk, you know, as creatives, we take risks. And so it is about believing in yourself and finding like-minded people who believe in you as well. And just jumping in, jumping off the ledge and going into the deep end and just making it happen and believe that you have every right to be in that room and sitting at that table and just wear it on your chest.”
Adom, Gregory and Joshi said that they hope the series brings people closer to marginalized communities and their experiences. Adom also said specifically that he wants to give an international platform to Black British culture.
“I feel like Black British culture isn’t really prominent. Do you know what I mean? On a global scale, global platform. And I think apart from everything else we’ve already discussed…I think one thing I haven’t mentioned is that because I’m a Black Brit of African descent,’ he said. ‘…I’m happy that myself and my community and Nicola’s community and Dhanny’s community…has been presented so well. And you know, the different market in the States and actually in Africa and other regions where this is airing are getting accustomed to this culture. It’s a very specific culture, so that’s my hope, that [it’s] digested well.”
“I think for me, it’s mainly about…the discussions around the themes of the show and really wanting viewers to engage with that,” added Gregory, adding that she wants people to “get a look into Black British life and the similarities of Black Britain as well and just how it’s all relatable. And the fact that even though you know we’re [focusing on] the Black British experience, it’s very similar to that in the US. For me, growing up in Canada, very much the same. And just that we as Black people or people of color know that we can witness and embrace the shared experience, the experiences and idiosyncrasies that constitute and makeup Black culture around the globe.”
Dreaming Whilst Black will come to Paramount+ with Showtime Sept. 8, and will later premiere on Showtime Sept. 10 at 10/9c.