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:
The series continues today with Dallas, Texas-based Tasha Edinbyrd. Read our conversation below.
Introduce yourself and your project to the world.
My name is Tasha E., and I am one of the producers at GraysonVisuals, LLC. This is my first time coming on as a producer for a full-length film project. In this capacity, I consider myself a filmmaker.
The film is called Take Back The Crown where we explore the natural hair industry told through the eyes of the clients, stylists, business entrepreneurs and social media influencers who dominate the space. We look at the struggles, emotional impact and business opportunities that have generated a new renaissance of “hair empowerment.”
I started a natural hair journey in 2016. I decided to do the big chop. From there, it prompted questions regarding this new world I was experiencing. I decided to pursue this path to bring my ideas to life. Film seemed the best way to tell this story. This is my first full-length film.
How far are you into the process (writing, pre-production, shooting, post-)?
We are shooting interviews right now. We are still in production.
When did this specific journey begin?
I started this film journey back in 2016.
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 the writer, producer and production designer. I am not the director. I balance everything by delegating jobs that are not my specialty or strength.
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?
I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day, but since that’s not the case, my team and I are keeping focused on producing a great product. Right now, we are not battling any major issues other than time and drumming up awareness of the project. The natural hair community has been very open to us in sharing their stories.
Major fears, concerns, worries (if any) as you embark on your first feature?
Not meeting the timeline that I have set for myself and the team. Of course, the project has taken more time than we initially thought it would.
Toughest decision(s) you’ve had to make so far?
Giving up control and asking for help and delegating.
Toughest challenge(s) you’ve faced so far?
Scheduling interviews and travel. Budgeting! We have crisscrossed the country interviewing different people, from CEOs to social media influencers, to attending trade shows and events all over.
When it comes to storytelling, many have said that everything’s been done before, and we’ve seen it all. Agree/disagree?
My film is a niche project, targeted to a specific community, and no one can tell my story better than I can. It’s a story told primarily by black women from a woman’s standpoint. It’s a combination of different forms of media within a narrative/docudrama.
Hopes for what kind of life you want the film to have after it’s made?
I hope that the film will educate and create awareness of the subject matter. We would like to see theater/public space screenings, video on demand and academic opportunities after the initial launch. We believe the information the film presents is vital for the current and next generation of black women and entrepreneurs.
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?
Yes, at times I felt overwhelmed and was not sure about the timeline for the project. I have a passion for my story, and I need to tell it. My motivation is the need to share the stories of the women with whom who we’ve spoken.
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)?
Yes, friends, family and sometimes, the occasional glass of wine or margarita. Maybe a shot of Tequila, if it’s really one of those days. I have a supportive partner in life and business, great kids and amazing friends. They give me an opportunity to pursue this dream and make adjustments for myself as needed.
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?
I’m very active on social media. I do think it’s necessary for success. Social media has led me to the brands, influencers and others who have played a tremendous part in how I tell my story.
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.?
Yes. I am totally inspired, and I buy it. I am encouraged because women filmmakers are getting recognized for their craft and for producing wonderful projects in film and TV. With that, comes accolades and respect. We are now at a time when our hard work, ideas, skills and dedication are being recognized. Even with the current environment being more accepting, we still have a long way to go. Shadow and Act plays a big part in that, and we thank you guys for all you do!
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?
I really hope it will lead to something, but honestly, we can’t really wait on that. We have to create films we want to see NOW! I’m encouraged because of some recent successes, as Hollywood now seems to be more open to hearing what we have to say and seeing what we would like to share.
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?
I believe it’s great that these platforms give us an opportunity for more films to be seen. Previously, as an indie, you couldn’t really pitch to a big studio. The documentary space is also gaining more traction because of Netflix and other streaming platforms. With our film, we’re targeting black women generally and the natural hair community specifically.
Key lessons learned so far? What do you know today that you wish you knew when you began your journey as a filmmaker?
I learned that it takes a team to produce a great project. Also learning to say “no” and realizing that not all of my ideas will work for the project. Preparing a more detailed budget and providing for cancellations, changes in plans and human nature, in general, are other lessons. But it’s all a learning process, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow.
What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities you look for?
Story, story, story… theme, pacing and great performances. I also look for an emotional connection and an overall message.
What films or filmmakers have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
Ava DuVernay. She pours her spirit into her films, and I feel that emotional connection/message that I was referring to earlier.
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?
I wouldn’t say we have a responsibility, but it’s hard to tell a story about the culture without being responsible to the culture because the culture is who you are; it’s you. As black women filmmakers, we have to give back. We all tell a particular story, and, more than likely, it’s a story that we have experienced or want to experience, so we end up giving back in that way. We let others dream through our films. That’s the great thing about being a filmmaker; you can tell any kind of story that you like from any perspective, and you control the narrative.
Paint a portrait of the kind of career you’d like to have. What does success look like for you?
Be recognized for the work, letting the work speak for itself and being able to create opportunities for those who are working with me. Also being proud to tell the stories that I really want to tell, where funding, support and creativeness are encouraged and supported.
Where can I (and others) watch your past work, if available, and how can you be contacted?
Below you can watch clips from the feature documentary I’m producing now.
Anything else you’d like to say that I didn’t ask? You have the floor, so feel free to dig in here.
My blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights have gone into this film. I really want this film to resonate with people. Making it has allowed me to be free in ways I could only imagine. I’m so glad my support system had my back and has allowed me to put my dreams, thoughts and vision into action.