people of colour

All posts tagged people of colour

Southern Magic with Eden Royce’s Spook Lights

Published May 20, 2015 by vfdpixie

SL Cover Final

Spook Lights:  Southern Gothic Horror (135 pages, Kindle Editon, 2015)

 

As an avid horror reader, I am always open to new stories and writers, but I admit I can get bored when I read the same themes over and over again.  The Graveyardshiftsisters site features women of colour horror writers putting their own stamp on the genre, and one such author is Eden Royce, a U.K. based, African-American writer and editor who has contributed to several horror anthologies and written her own novellas.  My first introduction to her work was Containment, a unique story about a devil-human hybrid and his battle with a formidable entity which I really enjoyed, so I was happy to hear of her new collection honouring her Southern roots.

Sea sirens, enchantments and spirits from beyond take you on a mystical journey in Royce’s new anthology Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror.  Named after ghostly marsh lights and set in her home town of Charleston, South Carolina, this collection of short stories explore her heritage of root, a type of conjure magic known in the region, the supernatural and the richly diverse ancestry of the area.

From revenge to family secrets, each story is a blend of folklore and traditions.  Some reach back in time while others keep a strong foothold in modern-day horror, but they all represent facets of the Southern Gothic.  Cautionary tales like Hag Ride and Rhythm will make you more careful of what you wish for, while War Chief and Since Hatchet Was a Hammer tells of inner strength to overcome both earthly and otherworldly dangers.  My personal favorite was the bittersweet Doc Buzzard’s Coffin which hit all the marks:  suspense, the supernatural, and the charm of a child’s perspective.  Each character carries their own personal horror but there is a consistent vein throughout this mosaic of tales: the sensuality, strength and power of a woman.  Her spirit cannot be held or tamed for long; overcoming adversity by unleashing her natural powers.

There is a warmth to Royce’s writing, the dialogue rich with a Southern drawl and sensibilities that convey a strong pride for legends passed on for generations.  She evokes tangible environments to the point where you can almost feel warm breezes blow and smell the pungent scents that she describes, but Royce’s ability to incorporate these legends into horror stories is the strength of the collection; it makes the reader want to know more about these mysterious traditions.

If you’re looking to add to your summer reading list, Spook Lights is a must for those humid summer nights that keep magical secrets just beyond your reach.

 

Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror can be purchased now (for a steal I might add!) from Amazon here, and there will be a release party via Facebook on June 6th.  Check out the details here, and join in!

If you want more info on the rest of her writings check out her sites:

www.edenroyce.com

www.darkgeisha.wordpress.com

www.twitter.com/EdenRoyce

Pixie Dust Project Gets a Reboot for the Web: An Update

Published May 1, 2015 by vfdpixie

PillJarPosterPortrait (1)

 

It has been an interesting journey for Damon Colquhoun and his Pixie Dust project.

Not so long ago, I interviewed him as he started an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a fantasy film about a young girl, her mentally ill mother and a family secret.  While he didn’t make his goal, he did get accepted for a grant fellowship from NBPC 360, a funding initiative by the National Black Programming Consortium media arts organization that is committed to “educating, enlightening, empowering and engaging the American public.”  The Harlem based non-profit strives to “support diverse voices by developing, producing and distributing innovative media about the Black experience and by investing in visionary content makers.”  Since 1979, they have provided content for outlets like PBS and PBS.org among others, and invaluable mentoring for up and coming Black filmmakers.

With this opportunity presented, Colquhoun rewrote Pixie Dust as a 10-part web series including sample footage, and his treatment was the only entry with a script.  The project was almost cut due to its fantasy based subject matter since the committee focuses mainly on non-fiction.  Fortunately some well-known producers, namely Ron Simons who was behind Blue Caprice as well as Deniese Davis who produced the Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, fought to keep Pixie Dust in the running.  After passing the muster at “Pitch Black”, the final pitch session where a group of seasoned producers and executives make their final choices, and with the help of cinematographer Arthur Jafa and director Terence Nance as mentors, Colquhoun will get between 50 and 100K for his project.  He is well on his way to a promising breakthrough for programming as the industry becomes more accepting of interesting and unique content for a growing niche market.

Damon Colquhoun pitching his ideas to top industry execs.

Damon Colquhoun pitching Pixie Dust to public television industry execs on April 23rd, 2015. Photo by Lindsey Seide (NBPC)

I am excited that a great organization has recognized the need for science fiction/fantasy in their roster, as many Black and other visible minority viewers crave content including people of colour in a genre that has been lacking in visible minority representation.  Congratulations to Damon as he embarks on his new route with Pixie Dust and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final series.  Stay tuned for more info!

Pixie Dust interview with writer/director Damon Colquhoun

Check out the NBPC site for more information on the organization and one of their series based on stories from the African Diaspora called AfroPop.tv.

 

Pixie Dust: A Journey Into The Fantastic With Director Damon Colquhoun

Published December 23, 2014 by vfdpixie

PillJarPosterPortrait

There is a lot of great talent within the indie film scene, and social media is making that more than evident.  All it takes is a follow here, a tweet there, and you are exposed to writers and directors who have a unique vision.  One such person is Damon Colquhoun.  Based in Harlem, New York, this photographer, writer and filmmaker used his multi-faceted talents to create a short film which was a 2013 finalist in Ron Howard’s Project Imagint10n, based on his winning photo “Manhattan’s Many Moons”.  The film, entitled Transporter, is about a young man Darien, whose family is involve in shady, criminal activity.  Darien has a unique ability that is doomed to be exploited by them, unless he can escape.  This 10 minute film is a dark, grim tale of a young man trying to leave his harsh reality behind.  I was really intrigued by this short, which will now be a feature film, and I loved the style and tone of it, so of course when Colquhoun let me know about his next project, Pixie Dust, he got my pixie attention.

Pixie Dust is an urban fantasy about a powerful 13-year-old girl named Faye and her mentally ill mother. Faye’s mother suffers from a mental illness which sends her into violent spells. She refuses to take her medication, forcing Faye to find a way to get her back on track. Through Faye’s journey, she discovers a magical family secret which could help her save her mother, but it could also kill Faye.”   (Excerpt from http://www.damoncolquhoun.com and the Indiegogo campaign currently underway to fund the project, but more on that later…)

I wanted to find out about the mind behind these dark and fantastical stories, so I got a chance to ask him a few questions about his life as an artist, the project and his process.

 

1.  You started out with an art degree, and through your artistic journey, made a stop in the film world.  What got you interested in film?
 
I actually started as an actor. I studied at a pretty serious acting conservatory, and was in few indie films. During my training I kept getting into trouble because I had this urge to control staging, and other actors’ performances. I would get really frustrated if one of my classmates didn’t deliver what I thought they were capable of. Finally, one of my instructors told me I might want to consider directing.
 
I directed a couple of things, got fed up with the no budget process and went back to school. I studied art because I wanted a career in VFX [visual effects]. I figured, learning VFX would allow me to make films on my own, but once I got a job in the industry, the 9-5 hustle took over. Plus I really didn’t care for the tediousness of the work.
 
I went back to directing because all-in-all it’s the right place for someone like me: a jack-of-all trades who’s a control freak with stories to tell and a clear vision through which to present them. Plus, new technology allowed me to make movies the way I wanted to.
 
2.  Tell us a little about the melding of fairy and fay lore with the story of Pixie Dust.
 
I wanted to paint a picture of a modern urban fairy. Some fairy traits are incorporated in an anecdotal way to tease those who know fairy lore. At the start of the film, it’s not obvious that Faye is a fairy, but, for those in the know, there are hints. The most obvious hint is her name, then there’s the fact that Faye doesn’t care for salt. Their landlord is going to wear her sweater inside out as a way to protect herself when delivering the bad news to Faye.
 
Fairies are nature spirits, so Faye is there to restore balance within nature’s black sheep, humans, hence her ability to see people’s inner beast (a metaphor for [their] psychological issues).
 
I also wanted to subvert the popular image of pixie dust. Faye ends up finding her own kind of pixie dust in the form of her mother’s medication, but medication is a double-edged sword: they have side effects. A fairy can be both “good” and “bad,” the viewers have to ask themselves, are Faye’s actions ultimately good or bad?
 
3.  Your cast for Pixie Dust looks amazing! (Mia Guzman as Faye; Rocio Mendez as her mother; and Mary Looram from Orange Is The New Black as the Landlord) How influenced are you by diversity, and in light of the recent Chris Rock essay, how difficult is it to stay true to your community and how it is represented within the independent film world?
 
Thank you! Getting your hands on a great cast is tough. So, yeah, I got lucky.
 
In terms of diversity, it comes organically for me. Growing up in NYC’s Upper West Side means that my world was full of diversity, therefore, diversity is essential to an honest retelling of my experiences. It’s the story that dictates the specific variety of diversity. In a film like Transporter, diversity meant a cast that was African-American, Haitian, Nigerian, and Israeli.
 
Filmmakers have to be true to their stories. Color is not the important thing, ethnicity is. Americans are products of their ethnic backgrounds, which are steeped in history and culture, which create a distinct POV. But look, if you’re a filmmaker who grew up around nothing but middle-American White people, then please don’t add a token Black person to your film. Instead, make certain that you look deep enough into your world to reflect in your film the cultural isolation you were raised in and what effect that had on you and therefore your story.
 
 
4.  With your short film Transporter, your main character Darien is an introvert and lives in his head.  I wondered at times how mentally fit he was.  In Pixie Dust, the film focuses Faye and her mother’s mental illness.  I can see a thread with both films that deal with mental illness using a fantasy backdrop, making it easy to open the subject up to discussion.  Was that your intention in order to address this seemingly still taboo subject in the African-American community?
 
Believe it or not, I had no intention of focusing on the theme of mental illness in the way I have, but it’s a personal topic to me, so it happened organically.
 
I was shot when I was 8 years old. The bullet fell out of the sky, hit my leg, just missing my head, ripping a chunk out of my thigh. I didn’t tell my parents about it, just my sister, so the only treatment I got was a gauze pad and some ointment. From that point on, it felt like death could just descend upon me, seemingly out of nowhere. Many years later I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and OCD. Through therapy, I’ve learned to manage it all pretty well.
 
Once I came to understand the symptoms of anxiety-based mental illnesses, I began to see it everywhere in my Harlem neighborhood: it’s a look people have in their eyes; it’s in their breathing pattern; it’s in the way they communicate or fail to communicate. It’s wild. So yeah, I guess as a filmmaker, mental illness is my raison d’être.
 
5.  Tell us a bit about Faye’s character and where she draws her strength.
 
She’s actually modeled after my wife who is 5’, 100 lbs, but grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The schoolyard chant [in those days] went something like this:
 
Come from the Ville
Know I’m chill
Picture me runnin
Must be buggin
Walk up in your face
Beat you down and walk away
 
So yeah, Faye is a fighter. She’s uncomfortable showing emotion, but is full of love. Unfortunately, her mother’s constant need for care absorbs most of it. Faye [is also] a naturally attractive girl – the type who attracts boys without trying to, or wanting to. The boy-girl dynamic is still foreign to her – she’s got a lot on her plate. The fact that the boys like her means that a lot of girls don’t like her. Faye has to prove her toughness once every couple of school years.           
 
Faye draws her strength from her grandmother. Her grandmother was a fairy as well. There’s a confidence that comes from knowing that you have one more weapon than everybody else. For some people, it’s brains, for some it’s brawn. For Faye’s grandmother, it was brains and magical brawn – likewise for Faye.
 
6.  Do you find you have more freedom for storytelling in the fantasy genre?
I would say so. Reality is a bitch! It’s often hard to digest. So trying to get an audience to explore a difficult subject head on is often asking too much of people. The things you explore and say in a fantasy film can certainly be more overt. At the same time, it’s easier to lose the subtleties – the humanity – when you make an all out fantasy film. That’s why I prefer something closer to a hybrid, like Urban Fantasies.
 
 
7.  You mention films like Take Shelter (which I loved), and Melancholia having a similar vibe to Pixie Dust.  What are some your favorite sci-fi, fantasy or horror films?
As I mention earlier, I like hybrids. There’s nothing like watching human beings interacting without reservation. At the same time, there’s nothing like watching a human being fly!
Here is his list (which is pretty darn great!):
Sci-Fi:
La Jetée – Delicatessen – Children of Men – Battle Royal – Stalker – 12 Monkeys – Alien – Empire Strikes Back
 
Fantasy:
Tin Drum – Blade – Beasts of the Southern Wild – Pan’s Labyrinth – Brotherhood of the Wolf – TLOTR Trilogy (epic) – The Dark Knight – The Wiz
 
Horror:
Let The Right One In – The Birds – Rosemary’s Baby – The Shining – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Suicide Club – Halloween
 
  

Now that we know a little about the film and the mind behind it, I hope the insider info makes you want to see it as much as I do!  This project is in pre-production, with an Indiegogo campaign that will close on January 2, 2015.  $15,000 is needed to create Pixie Dust, with majority of the money going to actually paying cast and crew.

Let the holiday spirit inspire you!  If you can make a contribution, please do, and if you’re not sure, go to the link below where you get a chance to read his great script to help make your decision.  How unique is that?!

I think it is important that we support independent filmmakers who make genre films that defy cookie cutter cinema these days.

Make your contributions here:

http://igg.me/at/pixiedustfilm/x/3950522

and check out all the in-depth info about the production!

Thanks to Damon for taking the time to answer a few questions so candidly, and I can’t wait to see the finished film.

Good luck!

Oh Canada. A Woman Of Colour and Her Perspective On Horror In The Great White North

Published December 4, 2014 by vfdpixie

I am a fan of many things.  At the top of my list is the horror genre.  From the first scary story my late mother told me when I was a kid to the last horror film festival I attended, I’m all in.  I am also a fan of my country.  I love Canada.  Being born in the States and relocating here at an early age, I consider myself a bred Canadian.  I love our way of living here, the at times maddening weather, and our culture of easy-going politeness, tolerance and multiculturalism that is world-renowned.  When the two combine, however, I am sorely disappointed because the obvious mixture of culture that we experience day in and day out is lacking in the indie horror film industry here.

Last year, my best friend and I went to a screening of The Dirties.  Heavily endorsed by indie giant Kevin Smith, this Canadian independent film documents 2 high school students as they make a film about killing their bullies which becomes a deadly obsession for one of them.  I was an outsider as a child, with very strict parents and not a lot of money.  I had a small group of nerdy friends and we were all tormented by bullies at some point, so I was really interested in the subject matter.  Both my friend and I were enjoying the dark, quirky humour until one scene in particular. The boys recreate a scene from Pulp Fiction, and one of them is in blackface as he portrays Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules Winnfield.  I’m not sure if this was intended to show how much of an idiot the main character Matt was, as his friend let him know that his characterization was inappropriate, but I was let down.  Let down because the significance of that historical offence was somehow beyond the filmmaker’s radar.  Let down because that historical offence was made light of.  After the film, my friend also pointed out that even though the cast was diverse, the bullies were people of colour.  The filmmaker failed on two points.  He not only stereotyped the Black bully, but himself as White and ignorant of other cultures.  We approached another movie-goer after the film, another Black woman, who also notice the scene and was also disappointed.  Having discussed it at length with my friend, I let it sit with the other things in my mental file called “Really People?!!”, but stayed silent, like a good Canadian.

Just recently I attended a horror film festival featuring only Canadian horror.  I  really love this festival, and enjoy all the chatty fans and great independent films made right here on my doorstep.  Many of the films were great, and I don’t take issue with the festival itself, but there were two movies that really stuck in my craw, and overwhelmed by disappointment as a rabid horror fan, I can stay silent no longer.

The first was Bloody Knuckles.  It was getting quite a lot of buzz as being offensive but really funny, and had a premise similar to Idle Hands.  The creator of an offensive comic, Travis, angers a local Asian mob boss and is punished by losing his hand.  The dismembered hand is reanimated and wreaks havoc in Travis’ life and aims to get revenge.  One of the programmers of the event forewarned the audience that the movie was offensive.  Note taken.  The comic book covers depicting the Asian mob boss in an act of sodomy and an African military officer as a cannibal were vulgar and ignorant, yes, but it illustrated the character’s mindset.  What I couldn’t understand was why Travis says the “N” word to show that he has no boundaries when he is questioned about the inappropriateness of his work.  It was just unnecessary, since the point was already proven:  the character was obnoxious and had no filters.  There was no need to utter that word, which unfortunately carries so much weight to this very day, and immediately alienated me as an audience member.  Yes, I have been called the “N” word, and yes, it stings regardless of the context.  Apparently, the director did the film to, among other things, speak out against censorship, but when that word comes out of any mouth, White or otherwise, it is never appropriate.  And the portrayal of a gay character, the Asian thugs and mob boss were no better.  Aside from the great special effects of the reanimated hand, there was no real redemption here.  Travis didn’t seem to learn any real lessons about his character, so this film was a cultural fail.  To my surprise, it won as best film in the festival.  I am disturbed by this because it makes me wonder if I saw the same film as the festival jury, and it makes me wonder why something so blatantly offensive would charm an audience.

The icing on the alienation cake was the film Kingdom Come.  Nine strangers wake up in an abandoned hospital with no memory of how they got there and no way of getting out.  They must work together to escape and deal with demons, both in their hearts and in the halls of the hospital.  This film had so much potential with its large ensemble cast and interesting premise, but I was underwhelmed by the glaring racial stereotypes presented.  A character named Roger was a rapist.  He just happened to be Black, aggressive, and loud.  Then there was a Middle Eastern or South Asian man, Nadir, who was portrayed as weasely and hated Blacks, especially Roger.  Nadir accidentally kills his daughter when he finds out she had been dating a Black man, who is framed for her death.  She comes back to haunt her father, and in her rage, and to shame him, uses the “N” word.  Yet again, it rears its ugly head.  It made me wonder what the motivation for the actors who took these roles was, because I am still baffled.  The only redeeming factors for this film?  The production value including the great opening credits, the hospital setting which was really effective, and the stand-out performance by Jason Martorino as Daniel, whom I wished I had seen in something other than this film.

A note to Canadian writers and directors:  DO NOT USE THE “N” WORD. EVER.  It is vulgar and ugly and lazy.  Even if it comes out of a visible minority’s mouth.  Another note:  STOP USING ONE-DIMENSIONAL RACIAL STEREOTYPES.  I wonder if these images and roles are perpetuated because the White majority is tired of being politically correct and is just angry that they have to be sensitive to “The Other”; that we are here and no longer want to be silenced or parodied.  Or maybe in order to be provocative, minorities become casualties at the expense of the majority’s creative process, if we are considered for roles at all.  Please realize that horror has nothing to do with race.  It is an entertaining genre that many are drawn to because we love to be scared, and you will find a scary story in every culture, so when these very images, these words, these slurs for any cultural group are uttered or perpetuated, they are hurtful and immediately excludes and divides us.  I am by no means asking for a gag order, but rather to open your eyes to fans who are outside of your 14-30 year old White male demographic and get creative instead of regurgitating racial tropes from bygone eras that offend, alienate and disappoint.

I am a horror fan through and through.  And I am a woman of colour, a Canadian woman of colour, and I no longer want to feel invisible.  I am surrounded by diversity, which is what I think this country excels at in real life, but on the indie screen, it lacks in representation and scope.  Step outside your door, and you will see teachers, artists, writers, doctors and business owners of many hues.  The black rapists, racist minorities and stereotypes are not our absolutes.  Go to comic and horror conventions and you will see racially diverse horror fans with dollars that support your craft, not to mention the huge amount of women, and women of colour, who live for the genre, but that is another post altogether.  I therefore challenge all independent horror film makers out there, indeed any film maker, to think outside of the box, because you are Canadian, you can do better, and I expect more from you.

See Canada for what it is in 2014: cast some people of colour in roles because they can act or represent the character fully, not because of your laziness and what old school racial rules dictate.  They don’t apply anymore.  Network television is beating you by leaps and bounds with shows like Sleepy Hollow, Falling Skies, and Grimm with their racially diverse casts.  Take a cue from your crew, because when I read the credits to your films, I see a lot of diversity there.  Give me an Asian final girl, a Black hero/heroine outside of “the ‘hood”, a South Asian family that battles a creature, or, and stay with me here, Native-Canadian cast members. Why?  Because when you finally take your blinders off, you’ll see we’ve been here all along, supporting you.

 

 

 

 

 

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