#BlackWomenFilmmakersSpeak: Meet Atlanta-Based Bettina Horton, Who Wants Her Films To Positively Affect Lives

August 14 2018

Black Women Filmmakers Speak is a series curated by Shadow and Act that spotlights women visionaries in film and their inspiring body of work. For the full introduction to this series and an overview of the filmmakers featured, head here.

Hollywood's story has long been a white, heterosexual male-dominated narrative, and a key goal for #BlackWomenFilmmakersSpeak is to celebrate up-and-coming black women filmmakers who are taking the simple, seemingly radical step of telling their stories. Working across all genres, these filmmakers all share a love of cinema and an appreciation for the power it wields, engaging what the status quo might see as a kind of new cinema language to not only entertain but also enlighten.

For the series, 33 black women filmmakers from around the world completed a survey Shadow And Act issued in response to a call made earlier this year aiming to highlight black women filmmakers at some stage of development on their first feature films. We then packaged each reply into individual features highlighting these filmmakers and their feature film projects, their fears and hopes as first-time feature directors and their thoughts on a variety of topical matters. That includes what some are calling a new renaissance in black cinema today, the disruption of content production and distribution by streaming behemoths like Netflix and Amazon and more. Their survey profiles will be published daily (one per day) on Shadow and Act over the next month.

Ultimately, we hope these stories bring new awareness and admiration around these relatively unknown visionaries.

If you're just joining us, you can catch up on these previous profiles:

-- New York City-based filmmaker Cathleen Campbell

-- Los Angeles-based filmmaker Martine Jean

-- Los Angeles-based filmmaker Numa Perrier

-- London-based filmmaker Sade Adeniran

-- New York City-based filmmaker Lydia Darly

-- London-based filmmaker Sheila Nortley

-- New York City-based Dr. Gillian Scott-Ward

-- Johannesburg, South Africa-based filmmaker Zamo Mkhwanazi

-- Los Angeles-based actress, director and entrepreneur Tanya Wright

-- Gros Islet, Saint Lucia-based writer and director Davina Lee

-- Dallas, Texas-based writer and director Seckeita Lewis

-- Edinburgh, Scotland-based award-winning filmmaker Victoria Thomas

-- Brooklyn, New York-based Iquo B. Essien

-- Miami, Florida-based April Dobbins

-- Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based Aundreya Thompson

-- Los Angeles-based Daphne Gabriel

-- London-based Clare Anyiam-Osigwe

-- Washington, D.C.-based Charneice Fox

-- London, England-based Dionne Walker

-- Los Angeles-based Nia Symone

-- Lagos, Nigeria-based Ema Edosio

-- Atlanta, Georgia-based Tomeka M. Winborne

-- Los Angeles-based Thembi Banks

-- London-based (although originally from the U.S.) Tai Grace

The series continues today with Atlanta-based Bettina Horton. Read our conversation below.

Introduce yourself and your project to the world.

I was born and raised by my grandmother in the Mississippi Delta in a small town called Indianola. Unlike most children, I came out of my mother’s womb smiling instead of crying. My first acting experience was as an extra with V103’s Wanda Smith & Friends, where I played a homeless drug addict. Although I was an extra, my role proved to be vital, and I received positive praise and feedback, which brought me much excitement and exhilaration from gaining the experience to perform live. I was reborn one day when I got a phone call to work as a stand-in for Tyler Perry’s TV show, Meet The Browns. I thought to myself, this has to be a joke. But I knew that it was real, and I almost cried when I first met with Tyler, as well as David and Tamela Mann, up close and personal. Tyler’s work clearly correlates with my life as a student, wife, divorcee, single mother and a survivor of domestic violence, and after that experience as a stand-in, and seeing how Tyler operated, I knew then that I wanted to do more than just acting, and I knew I wanted be a filmmaker, as well.

I'm currently working on two feature films: Mrs. Delta and Cooper. Both films have been doing well in the short film circuit, including winning the Best Screenplay Short (Mrs. Delta) at the New York Film Awards, and now I’m adapting them into features. Mrs. Delta is a story about a neighborhood candy lady who unexpectedly reveals a deep, dark secret to one of the kids before her death, leaving the child wanting to find out if the secret is true.

Meanwhile, Cooper is a story about a 15-year-old basketball player who is never given a fair chance to play due to the politics in high school sports.

How far are you into the process (writing, pre-production, shooting, post-)?

Pre-production. In the last two or so months, I have been in the field, scouting for the right locations, while continuing to work on each script.

When did this specific journey begin?

My journey for filmmaking started in 2013 after being a stand-in/extra and watching how Tyler Perry runs his productions. I knew then that this was something I wanted to do, and after that I formed bhortonproductions.com.

How many roles are you having to play beyond directing? Are you also the writer? Producer? Editor? DP? Production Designer? Maybe even the star? And if wearing multiple hats, how are you achieving balance?

I'm currently directing, writing and producing. However, I’m considering playing a role if I can’t afford Taraji Henson or Tiffany Haddish. I have always been a multitasker and like to have a plan "C" in place, just in case.

As you work on your first feature, what would be of most help to you right now? What do you need at this moment to get over a hurdle, or to move you forward onto whatever your next step is? And how are you working to get what you need?

Honestly, working on two features has been a challenge especially in the past few months, trying to finalize each script and securing locations because it's all very demanding. I could use a hand from someone who is trustworthy, and I’m open to collaborating with a reputable production company. The only thing that has been holding my features up are my finances. When Hurricane Harvey hit in 2005 (the costliest tropical cyclone on record), I quit my job at IBM and became an independent claims adjuster, and now I have most of the money I need to complete the films.

Major fears, concerns, worries (if any) as you embark on your first feature?

My greatest fear is not knowing how to make my work impact society. However, the answer to this concern hugely relies on the amount of effort that I and my team put into bringing my films to life. I feel good about both projects because I know the themes tackled in each are universal.

Toughest decision(s) you've had to make so far?

The toughest decision I've had to make thus far is taking a job deployment that sent me to another state, which included me working 10-hour days, seven days a week, to make the money I needed to get my projects off the ground. 

Toughest challenge(s) you've faced so far?

My toughest challenge has been trying to reach the actors I want to star in the movies and being able to afford them.

When it comes to storytelling, many have said that everything's been done before, and we've seen it all. Agree/disagree?

I have yet to see the stories that I want to tell onscreen. I think my ideas are original and will hopefully bring awareness while touching some souls.

Hopes for what kind of life you want the film to have after it's made? 

I hope that my films make the world a better place in their way. I want them to positively affect lives.

Ever been discouraged (whether on this specific project, or at any other time)? How do you keep your head up when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges?

Discouragements are always there, especially in the film industry. When I get discouraged, I always look at the bigger picture, knowing that there's the possibility my films will impact community positively.

Do you have a support system? What does that system look like, and how much of a role does it play in your life as you strive for greatness (whatever "greatness" is to you)?

I have a pretty good support system. My son, my best friend and family push me. These people around me make me feel a yearning for success more than anything in this world.

How active are you with your use of social media as a tool for any part of the process? Do you think it's necessary? Do you embrace it?

Social media is one of the best ways for me to engage with the world. So far, I have received some well-wishing cards and notes from people who love the work I'm doing and who are excited for my current projects. So, yes, social media platforms have proven useful for me and my projects because I'm able to get more and instant feedback from the outside world, and this pushes me harder toward creating something that could be worth waiting.

Are you inspired by what many are calling a "black film renaissance" (in the USA specifically)? Do you buy it? Are you encouraged by the success of films like Black Panther, or the success of specifically black women filmmakers like Ava DuVernay, Dee Rees, etc.?

Black creativity has endured American culture, and black films, specifically, continue to defy the critics; just look at what Black Panther accomplished, gaining the world's attention. This and many other examples prove the film audience has evolved beyond racial lines, and as long as the project is thrilling, nothing can stop it from achieving success. Now the film industry needs to catch up with what the audience says it wants. And I think they're starting to realize that.

Thoughts on proposed changes made by the Academy and Hollywood studios to nurture diversity and inclusion? Are you encouraged by what might be a changing landscape that may be more welcoming of you and your voice?

It's all encouraging, especially in nurturing young talent like myself. I believe that this diversification of the industry will help bring back the morals and reliability that the industry has been losing over time, as well as embody the changing culture.

Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, Apple and others like them, are all now competing with the big studios and TV networks. Thoughts on the emergence of these "new media" platforms, and how (if at all) this new reality factors into the business, creative, career choices you make, or plans you have for yourself? Are you targeting any specifically?

Some of the most renowned creatives have taken their creativity to these "new media" platforms. As an industry newbie, I am also hoping that I can eventually find success with these platforms, as well, in a world where audiences can access your work via their smartphones or personal computers. But even before then, I plan to use one of these new platforms (YouTube) to promote my projects. 

Key lessons learned so far? What do you know today that you wish you knew, when you began your journey as a filmmaker?

I have learned filmmaking most definitely isn't easy. I have learned that it requires patience and focus for any filmmaker who wants to be successful.

What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities you look for?

I look for how well themes are unpacked by the writer and director, as well the performances by the actors. 

What films and/or filmmakers have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?

Dee Rees has always been inspiring, in part, because I see similarities in how we both think and see the world based on the many interviews I've watched her give. And the fact that she is a black woman just like me makes her story even more interesting and inspiring as I venture into my career.

Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? Do you feel that, as a black woman filmmaker, being a creative person requires that you "give back," or tell a particular story, or not do something specific? Why or why not?

Filmmaking has always been an art form that portrays culture from a specific geographical perspective to the outside world. Therefore, filmmakers have a responsibility to produce art keeping culture in mind.

Paint a portrait of the kind of career you'd like to have. What does success look like for you?

Success in the film industry should not be based on how much wealth an individual has amassed from his/her work, but instead on what impact his/her work has had on the movie industry and society at large. That's what I'm striving for.

Where can I (and others) watch your past work, if available, and how can you be contacted?

Since I'm still in production, I don't have anything to show yet but will in the coming weeks via my website bhortonproductions.com. I’m also on Facebook at facebook.com/thetinsta.

In conclusion, I want to thank all the people that have guided me throughout this early start of my filmmaking career, including the financial and moral support, as well as guidance throughout the ups and downs. And, most importantly, my gratitude goes to the Almighty for finally shedding light on my filmmaking aspirations.

by Tambay Obenson on August 14 2018

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