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Posted under: Television Community Submitted

What It Means To Be A Black Woman Filmmaker At This Critical Time

Love over everything

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My father was a huge Jazz fan.  One night, while missing him terribly I began to listen to some of the albums he left behind.  I started reading through the liner notes of a few of John Coltrane’s albums and I was moved to tears.  Reading Coltrane’s articulation of love, the poetic language he used, the intellectual perspective he brought, as well as the sense of wonder and spirituality he framed everything in, struck me.  Beyond being personally moved, I thought about how rarely, if ever, we get to see Black people express themselves this fully, in my chosen medium of film. 

I sat with Coltrane’s words and thought to myself that if I ever get the opportunity to realize my dream and make a feature film, I’d pay careful attention to the language.  The articulation of our feelings, intellect, and vulnerability would be essential to me.  Soon after, I embarked on what would be the longest journey of my professional career: writing, directing, producing and distributing my debut feature film entitled In The Morning.

In The Morning is a film about something universal, something we’ve all wrestled with, sometimes won and sometimes lost, this terrible/beautiful animal: love. It explores the ever-changing nature of romantic love, but it’s ultimately about the profound power of self-love, self-actualization.  Our film dives head first into the interconnected lives, loves, infidelities & friendships of a group of New Yorkers as they unfold over the course of one day.

One of the things that motivated me to make In The Morning was a desire to explore intimacy and vulnerability.  I don’t think there are enough films about Black life that explore those themes fully. Seeing ourselves in our vulnerable and intimate spaces is life-affirming and matters tremendously.  Often times films about our lives are about how we are responding to external trauma—which is real and true and ever present, but I wanted to create a film that wasn’t about that gaze.  I wanted to make a film that was very deeply and truly about us, our own very intimate/vulnerable spaces. In this increasingly vulgar climate of violence against us, telling stories that explore our humanity is not something I take for granted.  As I vowed to myself that night reading those liner notes, our film renders a portrait of Black life that is joyful, and elegant, but also complex, imperfect and nuanced, where the articulation of our feelings, intellect, and vulnerability is essential.

Above all else, I want to tell stories that help expand the lens through which we see ourselves. This is why I make films.  It has not been an easy journey to take this film from script to screen. Though we shot the film in just eight days, it’s been a five-year journey bringing In The Morning to audiences.  It's been full of challenges, but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything.  I will not reiterate the staggering statistics illustrating how dismal the landscape is in ‘Hollywood’ for Black Women Filmmakers (and yes, they are horrifying).  What I do want to say is that I belong to an ever-expanding, mighty group of independent Black Women Filmmakers who move mountains every day to make films (and yes, there are mountains to be moved); filmmakers like Garrett Bradley, Ja’Tovia Gary, Tchaiko Omawale, Roni Nicole, Frances Bodomo, Nzinga Kadalie Kemp and many others.  What keeps us going, beyond the grim statistics and the rhetoric of ‘diversity,’ beyond everything in this industry that says that our stories don’t matter, is love.  

In this critical moment in our history, when we still must assert that our lives matter, telling our stories is a revolutionary act of love and moreover, a tool of resistance.  This work is not always glamorous, but it is always glorious.  It requires tremendous grit, patience, diligence, and fortitude. On those days that I feel exhausted and defeated, and like giving up, I think about the people that I am making films for, the ones of us who may go unnoticed under another’s gaze, the ones I refuse to let be erased.

There is a scene in In The Morning in which each of our characters describes what love means to them.  This scene was very specifically inspired by my reading Coltrane’s liner notes that night.  I hope we do this extraordinary artist who articulated our lives in the form of Jazz music poetic justice.  I think now about that night and how the art that touched my father’s life would years later help to shape my own.  I think about the Black Women Filmmakers I know and all that we go through to bring our work to screen.  I think always about the love that motivates us to keep going and how with grit and grace, we do this important work and refuse to let our communities be erased.  This to me is love.

In The Morning is available worldwide via Video On Demand on Amazon, Vimeo on Demand, Xfinity Streampix and VHX.
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