Tag Archives: story

26Oct/19

Exclusive: Harriet director, Kasi Lemmons, Discusses Film, Eve’s Bayou, Candy Man

Harriet director Kasi Lemmons and actress Cynthia Erivo (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

This year, director and writer, Kasi Lemmons, will bring one of the most heroic and inspiring Black woman figures to the screen, Harriet Tubman.  The film, Harriet, stars Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr,. and Jonelle Monae. It is a biopic about the life of Harriet Tubman from her first escape to freedom to being the conductor of the Underground Railroad. The film premiere was held on Oct. 22, 2019 in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian African American Musem. Taji Mag was able to speak with the director, Kasi Lemmons, about her creative process and development of the film. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What was the importance of making this film and will this film impact the future of storytelling from the perspective of Black people? 

Kasi Lemmons ( KL): As filmmakers, we always ask ourselves, what are the great characters? I write from the characters all the time. Harriet Tubman was one of the greatest figures who has lived. So for me, the fact that no feature film has ever been made about Harriet and she is just such an important person for Americans, especially African American women… This hero needs to be brought to the world, a hero to me on the level of Mother Teresa and Gandhi. She’s a real superhero.

In terms of our future as storytellers, the more we can tell compelling stories that people relate to, the better. There are so many women directors right now and there are so many stories to tell, it’s always been a matter of is the industry ready to accept these stories. Now we are in a period where we can have a Black person as the lead and hero in a movie and bring characters like Harriet to the screen.   

(Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): What makes this film different from the other films that are about Black slavery? 

(KL): Harriet, to me, has always been a story about freedom. If I were to ask you to tell me the story of Harriet Tubman, you would say that she escaped from slavery and then she went back to liberate others. To me, those were like the verbs, that is the Harriet Tubman story. 

(DDF): What was your reaction when you found out that you were doing this film? 

(KL): My heart started racing, they just kind of sprung it on me and I didn’t have time to think about it, which was good in a way because I went to a meeting and the producer said it in the room. They surprised me because I thought I was just going to a general meeting. I was able to check my pulse to measure my own reaction and, as I am experiencing it, I am thinking, “your heart is really racing, I think you are very interested in this!” 

(DDF): You have mentioned in one of your articles that this feeling of excitement is like falling in love. Can you explain?

(KL): Find a good film to work on is always like falling in love to me. There’s always a process of courtship; you’re getting to be friends and then all a sudden you fall in love. With this film, I was really intrigued by it from the very beginning. The love started in my research; she is an incredible presence in my life. 

Lemmons with her husband Vondie Curtis Hall and son. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): What was your approach to creating the premonition scenes that Harriet experienced? 

(KL): I went through a lot of stages with it, then boiled it down to its most simple form, because I felt like they were like flashes of inspiration. They took many different forms, she had dreams, trances, sometimes just flashes of premonitions, and seizures. So I started to think about what seizures felt like and tried to make a shocking type of image. 

(DDF): You did some very creative things to create the premonition scene with the various colors used. How did that come about? 

(KL): When I looked up seizures and really tried to read people’s experiences of what seizures looked like to them, I would find the word monochromatic over and over again. I thought that is what I was trying to make it look like. 

(DDF): “What is a man to with a woman touched by God” is a line in the script that stood out to me. How did you come up with it? 

(KL): It’s interesting, that is a scene that I wrote the night before we shot it. The producers and executive producers at Focus Features, wanted me to try and describe what it felt like to Harriet after her husband re-married. So we imagined a scene with Marie where she would tell her what it felt like to her. I put off writing it because it was a hurdle to me – how do you write what God feels like? Then I started to explore what it would it feel like to Harriet, I wrote it the night before the shoot and they (Cynthia Erivo and Janelle Monáe) did it in two takes. 

Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): In the film, we see the evolution of the heroic woman icon, how did you go about the character development from Minty to Harriet? 

(KS): There is a huge arc that we felt in her character, she almost becomes different people. From an ordinary woman into this almost mythic side of herself, she names herself and she is apart of that. So we named them, Minty, Harriet, and Moses. Everybody participated in the character development; Me, Cynthia, and costume designer, Paul Tazewell.  We created her and it was a group effort to give you that arc. From Minty and her dress to when she becomes Harriet in her mission costume, it’s a big arc. 

(DDF): What advice would you give to your younger self at the time you made Eve’s Bayou? 

(KL): In some ways, I don’t know if I would give myself any advice. Now, where I am in life, I like the way that things unfolded. Take for instance, after I made Eve’s Bayou, I didn’t know if I was going to make another movie but that was a wonderful thing to think at that moment because I was going for broke. So I put everything into it. I’ve had ups and downs in my career. If I could talk myself through those, I would tell myself that you are going to have ups and downs but if you keep going, you get to travel the world, you’ll meet extraordinary people, you’ll work with some of the most talented people and you’ll have a great time. 

(DDF): You are also doing a CJ Madam Walker series, what brought you to do that project? 

(KL): I have been infatuated with Madam CJ Walker for 20 years. Literally 20 years ago, I was thinking, “You know, it would be dope if we did something about Madam CJ Walker!” So when that came about, I was super excited about being involved in it. Then, Octavia Spencer, she’s perfect for the role. It’s a story that has been interesting for a long time, she is the first self-made Black woman millionaire and you know hair is so special to us black women, we’ve got our own thing. I had a really good time working it. 

Kasi Lemmons on set. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): Do you hope to bring more important black women figures to film or tv? Any ideas? 

(KL): Oh, I am sure I will do more films about important Black women figures. Do I have any in mind…maybe? (laughs) 

(DDF): You were in the horror films Candyman and Silence of the Lambs.  Have you had any input or help in the development of the new Candyman film? 

(KL): I have contributed to Candyman already in that I mentor the director for the film, Nia DaCosta, since her first Sundance film. She’s great!   

(DDF):  Will you make your own horror film?

(KL): There is something that I have in mind but I have to be careful because I am extremely sensitive. I have to protect my energy a lot and be careful of what I bring into my life. When I bring in truth, beauty, and righteousness, it’s a good feeling, so I am afraid and that’s the truth. 

The film Harriet was a great film with a lot of exploration of the characters’ bravery, selflessness, spiritually, and intelligence. It stands out as a story about the perseverance of the human spirit against discrimination. Creatively, it is a departure from the usual ‘slave cry’ moments that have become rhetoric in most of the blockbuster slave themed movies and I am thankful for that. Go see Harriet November 1st. 

Harriet

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., and Janelle Monae.

 

20Jun/15
Waiting to Exhale

Waiting to Exhale: The Top 3 Things Black People Must NOT Do

Waiting to Exhale: The Top 3 Things Black People Must NOT Do

Waiting to Exhale: If you want to end police brutality…

There are way too many people suggesting that we sign kumbaya with our oppressor and not enough folks offering practical solutions that will keep my son from being a target. Let’s get into the three things we must NOT do.

1. We must NOT appeal to the oppressor’s sense of morality.

Racism works to their favor. Dismantling white supremacy has no net benefit for those in power. Your Black life has no chance of keeping them in their homes and safely segregated away from us ‘thugs’. White people, even “hip” ones, will never be able to effectively empathize as a collective to a degree that will end racism. After a while, most of them get tired of hearing about race/racism. Getting the oppressor to acknowledge and confront their privilege is an uphill battle with concrete boots. I am often reminded of a quote from Dr. Cobbs and Dr. Grier from the book Black Rage: “slavery was never undone for either the slave or the slave master”. No matter how tempting, DO NOT attempt to appeal to white folk’s morality. STOP replying on white folks to save us.

2. We must NOT get caught up in a “who’s the better revolutionary” situation.

It won’t end well and nothing meaningful will get accomplished. Many Black nationalist movements are limited by their exclusively intellectual or political nature. So-called experts sit in their offices deciding policies and plans for people who they have never been with or around. Revolutionaries can be guilty of that too. The reason DC’s “Mayor for life” Marion Berry got so much love was that he was among and about the people. He did not have to prove that. It was evident. Similarly, Muhammad Ali was the people’s champ because he sacrificed a great deal with no guarantee of a decent return on investment. He approached people in a manner that did not demean, disregard, or insult them. Unfortunately, there are some folks in the movement who will dismiss your entire existence if you admit to shopping at a big brand store. The head shaking irony to this, however, is blanket condemnation and revolutionary snobbery. STOP looking down on your own people.

3. We must NOT assume that we are doing more for the movement just because you tweet, post, and show up to protests.

Remember, the Montgomery bus boycott lasted over a year and in order to be sustainable, it required the attention and participation of all Blacks. Commitment to real action is key. I know single parents who not only show up to demonstrate, but also make good for protesters and bring blankets and give more than they have physically, spiritually, and financially to end the assault of Black people. It is about more than photo ops. STOP your t-shirt revolutionary brigade. We are more powerful than we realize. In little pockets all over this stolen country, there are high concentrations of Black businesses with strong products and services. There are predominantly non-white neighborhoods where the dollar circulates multiple times. These businesses create jobs, teach people about political/economic power, and strengthen our communities. It is imperative that we learn about and support them (us). Think of how much you spend each week and where those dollars go. Write or type a list of where you spend your money. How many of those places are Black-owned or give something back to the community? For at least one week in the new year, try shopping with Black owned businesses for at least half of your purchases. It is easier than you may think.

But wait, this article is supposed to be about ending police brutality. How is capitalism going to solve that issue? If we can sustain our own communities economically, politically, and every other way, then we will not need their police to ‘protect and serve’. Instead, we can prevent these murders by developing our own financial strongholds. Economic freedom is a big part of being free from police brutality. The police are not killing white soccer moms en masse. This is a critical time where we can truly rise up and make solid demands. In my hometown, they shut down the mall and multiple intersections. We can demand small business grants, tax breaks, land ownership, secession, resources, or whatever else we collectively decide. I am tired of worrying about whether my son will survive his Blackness. I am ready to build with anyone who is serious about stopping these murderers.

Waiting to Exhale