What do you do when you’ve alienated your entire graduating class and have a week to pay for college? Throw the ultimate house party!
Or at least that’s the proposed solution of protagonists Alicia and Jamilah in the upcoming teen comedy, Paper Chase.
The film’s creators, Lauren Domino and Angela Tucker, both grew up on classic teen movies but never saw themselves or their peers on screen. When the two entered the film industry, their confidence in the value of their own voices and lived experiences shrank. They had stories to tell, but who would care to listen? How would they ever be heard?
Domino, a native of New Orleans, always had a strong desire to create. “I have a voice that is relevant,” she says, “I wanted to show black life that I could relate to.”
Tucker, born and raised in NYC’s East Village, took a long time to build enough courage to create films. She directed the web series Black Folk Don’t and the documentary (A)sexual, but knew she wanted to make the kind of teen movie her younger self didn’t get to enjoy. She speaks fondly of Sixteen Candles (“I really wanted a Jake Ryan in my life!”) but notes that the realities of the movie’s leads felt so far away. They had money, two-parent households and were almost all white.
Those dominating the industry and those trying to break in sometimes inhabit two very different worlds. When the pair introduced the film’s premise to other industry colleagues, they were often told that a “minor” university housing fee of $3,500 was not a big enough dilemma to drive the plot.
It takes lived experience to write about race and make it everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The film isn’t about race per se, but blackness dominates the lives of the characters. In “white” teen movies, police are comic relief or a mild obstacle. In Superbad, the white male leads actually make friends with the cops. Paper Chase is different: in a scene that is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, the police knock on the party’s door and all the black boys scatter.
There have been few Black characters in major teen movies and even fewer Black female leads.
“We want to show a non-tragic black girl story…ready for college and [the] world ahead,” says Tucker. Teen movies frequently feature female characters fighting over boys, but Paper Chase breaks away from this stereotype. The film’s female leads struggle in their friendship, but never sever ties over a romance. Combating the common one-dimensional portrayal of black women on screen, Alicia and Jamilah are complex and multifaceted, living fully realized lives.
“I feel like the place I grew up in, [NYC’s East Village], doesn’t exist. I see that in New Orleans, too.”
Paper Chase is full of dramatic angst and that overwhelming yet exciting feeling of adventure central to the teen experience. But it also touches on college affordability, race, class, and gentrification in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Though not native to New Orleans, even Tucker can see that the New Orleans she first got to know is not what she sees now. She says the city’s beauty and uniqueness make it the perfect set for an independent film with a limited budget. She appreciates the city’s sense of comradery — her neighbor checks on and locks her car after noticing she oftentimes forgets.
Domino laments the prevailing Hurricane Katrina poverty porn narrative because it doesn’t tell the whole story. Though many films are shot in the city, its true complexities are absent. Those stories aren’t told from the perspective of its natives. Paper Chase veers away from the famed French Quarter, opting instead to follow characters using public transportation to their homes in neighborhoods seldom visited by tourists.
“We need representation across the board.”
Domino and Tucker aim to tackle more beloved genres (the next being romantic comedies) but emphasize that this isn’t just about uplifting their own voices.
The two are grateful for how far they have come in their endeavors but haven’t forgotten about other creators of color who are trying to utilize the power of their own voice but aren’t getting any shine. The women hope to create a community by engaging people who want to see Paper Chase brought to life and bring forth even more diverse perspectives that are routinely ignored.
Another goal is to develop funding for creators of color who often lack the time and resources necessary to even start the journey. “It’s hard to develop ideas with no money. There is a lot of work upfront. It took two years to get to this point.”
The Paper Chase kickstarter campaign has so far reached $35,894 of the $50,000 goal. The fundraiser closes at 1:37 pm CST on December 4th. The film’s progress updates can be found on Facebook or Twitter, where they also regularly feature emerging creators of color.
As people of color, we are constantly being ostracized, demonized, and misunderstood in media. We need to hold microphones to our own voices. We need bold creators like Lauren Domino and Angela Tucker and relatable representations like Paper Chase.
And they need us.