Another installment for the What's Your Story? series I started a few months ago; another brave filmmaker steps up and lets us in; this time it's writer/director Chinonye Chukwu, whose feature film debut, Alaskaland, has gotten some coverage on S&A.
A quick recap… Alaskaland is a drama centers on estranged Nigerian-American siblings (brother and sister) who reunite in their hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska.
Here's what Chinonye shared today:
“When you walk up to that arena and you put your hand on the door and you think I’m going in and I’m gonna try this, shame is the [thing] that says ‘uh uh, you’re not good enough, [you won’t get it, everyone is laughing at you]’…and if we can quiet it down and walk in and say ‘I’m gonna do this [anyway]’, we look up and the critic we see pointing and laughing, 99.9 percent of the time, is us.” – Brene Brown
I had planned on writing a completely different blog post, a blog post that celebrated the fact that my film, ALASKALAND, was going to premier at a top tier film festival. It’s a lot easier to be reflective and public with your thoughts when you’ve just accomplished a fantastic success. But then I got an email last Saturday that my film was not, in fact, selected into that festival.
The feelings I had at that particular moment were different than when I had received my Sundance festival rejection in November. At that time, I was initially saddened by not getting into that specific festival; but when I got the email last week, I wasn’t necessarily upset about not getting into that one festival, I was ashamed and embarrassed about not premiering my film at any festival, thus far. My thoughts were deeply nestled inside my own pride and ego, and my perceived sense of public failure: I’ve always believed my film was good, but will people think my film isn’t good enough because it hasn’t premiered at a festival yet? Will my film lose its relevancy to the public? All of these immediate thoughts I had were rooted in shame.
Shame, for me, is about the illusion of public failure; it’s about the embarrassment of not reaching expectations I’ve created for myself and that I think others have of me as well. But the thing about shame, as Ms. Brown said in her talk, is that the public failure and critique that we are so ashamed of and embarrassed by is usually self conceived. The world is not laughing at me or judging me about not having premiered at a festival yet, an epic failure has not been made. My thoughts and feelings were extreme, but they were very real and what I think a lot of us experience, in some shape or form. When there actually is external critique about anything that I do or don’t do, I’m sure I will also feel shame and embarrassment; but my experience last week helped me to recognize it and put it into perspective.
I’m not going to shy away or try to suppress my feelings of shame or embarrassment; rather I’m going to confront it head-on, allow myself to feel it, but still keep moving forward. It’s not about being tough all the time or being impervious to insecurity and self-doubt; but it’s about what you do in the midst of those feelings, at some point in time.
After I read the email from the festival last Saturday and texted my friends the news, I laid in my bed for about an hour, disappointed, ashamed, embarrassed, frustrated. But then I got out of my bed, got on my knees and gave thanks. I thanked God for the rejection; I thanked God for my film, for the people who have helped me to create it, for my community of friends and family that show me unconditional love and support; I thanked God for my journey, thus far, and the journey ahead. What I learned from my Sundance rejection is to genuinely remain thankful for all of your successes and failures, for they are all part of your journey and development.
I wasn’t going to write this blog post, because I was too ashamed and embarrassed. But then I felt that by owning up to my own shame, it’d loosen its grasp on my life and, possibly, others.
Check out Professor Brene Brown’s entire Ted Talk, “Listening to Shame”:
Writer and Director, ALASKALAND