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 Washington, D.C.-based Charneice Fox. Read our conversation below.
Introduce yourself and your project to the world.
I am fortunate enough to be an award-winning producer, screenwriter, playwright, published poet, children’s story author and director of film and theater. In 2012, I co-directed the documentary The MLK Streets Project, which has aired on Aspire TV, has screened internationally and is an official selection of the Iowa State University’s Social Justice library. The film was produced by SNC Productions and D.C.-based nonprofit One Common Unity. I have worked with the international short film competition The 48 Hour Film Project and helped to produce the first ever High School 48 Hour Film Project in Washington, D.C. Currently, I attend Lesley University where I am pursuing an MFA in creative writing for stage and screen.
My first feature Love Dot Com: The Social Experiment is a classic boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy finds girl story. I wanted to see if I could write about food deserts, eating healthy, as well as community, family and finance, in a humorist and engaging way.
I got lucky to have the opportunity to work with a lot of amazing folks along the way! As a first-time director of a feature film, my director of photography was Hans Charles (The 13th), and I had the opportunity to work with veteran actors LisaRaye McCoy, Charles Malik Whitfield, Kym Whitley, Christopher Williams and Tobias Truvillion in this film, who all believed in the story we were telling. Musical artist Brave Williams is our leading lady, and we were also blessed to have the legendary Monty Ross (She’s Gotta Have It, Crooklyn) as a producer on the film. Executive producers B.K. Fulton and Jacquelyn Stone helped secure financing. As we began post-production, I had the opportunity to work with musical artists Raheem DeVaughn and Robbie Celeste to pull music selections for the film. Michele Lopez and my creative partner, Kimberly C. Gaines, were terrific producers on this project, as well. I’ve honestly been blessed to have such a wonderful group of people to work with on my first project.
How far are you into the process (writing, pre-production, shooting, post-?)
We are nearing the end of post-production. The film has been colored, and we are at the final stages of adding graphics (Matthew Brown) and mixing the sound. It’s been an exciting process of putting the final film together. A good friend once told me: “What you write, what you shoot, and what you edit are three different things.” My editor, Russell Santos, has been the real MVP in this entire process.
When did this specific journey begin?
I wrote this script in 2008 and then put it away. In 2016, I was hired to write a feature film for a black-owned production company, Soulidifly Productions, and they loved it; however, the script is a period piece needing a budget in the millions. While trying to raise the money for the film, they decided to fund four projects from black independent writers who had something to say. We each received money to produce our movies: Love Dot Com, 1 Angry Black Man (which had its world premiere at Black Star Film Festival this week), River Runs Red and ATONE. I am the only woman writer/director of the four films that were produced.
How many roles are you having to play beyond directing?
I am the writer and director.
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?
Right now, having the right connections for distribution and a really strong PR rep would be great. Also, having the support of a strong fan base for the film would be amazing. Just getting the word out to a broader audience that we have this great little film would be nice. I was extremely fortunate to be an award winner of the D.C. Office of Film, Television and Entertainment Rebate Fund, and that incentive to produce in D.C. was beneficial to our bottom line. I do wish that other finishing grants were more easily accessible.
What worries you most (if anything) as you embark on your first feature?
I’m my biggest critic. I wish we had a 20-day shoot instead of eleven. I like what we have, but, of course, I wish we had more. It was a micro-budget, so we managed to pull off something beautiful with very little money.
Toughest decision(s) you’ve had to make so far?
It was tough to cut scenes to make the budget and time constraints work.
Toughest challenge(s) you’ve faced so far?
My goal is to leave a legacy for my children. Figuring out how to balance long work days, long writing nights and being present in my day-to-day life can be difficult. I manage to figure it out, but my laser focus can be a challenge in my regular life some days.
How does your film primarily differentiate or distinguish itself from other work?
This love story is from the girl’s perspective. She is willing to sacrifice a “perfect” guy to see what else is out there, instead of settling for a rebound after a breakup. The film touches on how hard it is to afford to live in a city and run your small business using modern-day technology and relationships to examine these themes.
Your hopes for what kind of life you want your film to have after it’s made?
We are ready to start submitting to film festivals. Ultimately, I hope that we can distribute the film to a streaming service.
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?
I try to remind myself that there are billions of people in this world and a million people doing this work; someone will be willing to create, produce and work with all the ideas I have. Folks tell me “no” a lot, but I never give up, and so I get a few “yeses” along the way, too. I try to stay encouraged and work at being the best storyteller I can be. I also am mindful of the importance of empathy and perspective. We all come to the table with different backgrounds and different goals, and if we figure that out, we can accomplish so much together.
Do you have a support system?
I have five kids who are a great inspiration. I also have a core group of friends who work in this industry and are part of my team and help keep me grounded. I try to practice yoga daily, pray and be thankful, especially in the difficult moments. Whiskey also helps some days. I trust the process and the opportunity to learn. My family has been instrumental in making sure this crazy filmmaking dream of mine comes true.
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 or shun it?
I am active, and I do think it’s necessary, but it is hard to pay attention and do the work. I embrace the opportunity to reach an audience I would not typically have access to; I like the connection.
Are you inspired by what many are calling a “black film renaissance” (in the USA specifically)? 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.?
I have been doing this work for over ten years now, and so I feel like I watched this “renaissance” happen in real time. I love seeing all the success and black media makers winning. We have all just been telling our stories. Mainstream production companies are just now realizing that our community will support the work, and so they are starting to buy into it. I am encouraged by that fact.
Thoughts on proposed changes made by the Academy and Hollywood studios to nurture diversity and inclusion. Do you think all of this will lead to something sustained that will assist up-and-comers like yourselves? Are you encouraged by what might be a changing landscape that may be more welcoming of you and your voice?
I am encouraged, and I think it’s necessary. As you mentioned in another question, there are only so many stories that can be told, and white folks have been telling their perspective on everything forever. It’s time to get a new perspective, and I believe this tipping point is necessary, and I am happy that I get to be a part of the effort for inclusion.
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 am excited for all platforms where stories can be told. I think the challenge to big studios is the reason I was able to secure an investor for my film. While I am not targeting any specifically at the moment, I am open to the best platform for this story and moving forward with other ideas I have. I am open to the opportunity they offer for the work that I do.
Key lessons learned so far? Also, what do you know today that you wish you knew when you began your journey as a filmmaker?
The biggest takeaway I have, honestly, is how vital pre-production is. I knew that in theory, but a feature is so different than a short film or a documentary with a lot of moving parts.
What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities you look for?
I like reading scripts. It might be because of the MFA program, but, for years, I have studied scripts. I read all the ones that are blockbusters. I read the charming indie breakout film. I read the classics. I am always excited to watch characters do what only God gets to see. Quiet moments in a movie are my favorite. I love watching humans just being. A great film starts with a great script and has such a diversity of shots that the audience is just captivated. Good, strong, solid acting is also crucial.
What films and/or filmmakers have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
I love Charlie Kaufman and his ability to tell a quirky and interesting story. I also enjoy reading Paul Haggis’ scripts. I love being black, and I love telling our stories. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind could have been anyone’s story, black or white. Arthur Jafa’s camera work and lighting influence are impressive, and I loved Daughters of the Dust for this. Julie Dash is amazing and inspiring, and that film was ahead of its time.
Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? Do you feel that, as a black woman filmmaker, being a filmmaker requires that you tell a particular kind of story, or populate your film with specific kinds of characters, for example?
I have mixed feelings about this. By telling a story — sharing a perspective — I am honoring my culture. Like I said in the previous question, white folks never had to explain s**t; they can erase someone’s mind (like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) because the relationship sucked, and we go on that journey and find it surprising. Their perspective is the default, and that must change. Once I was told by a playwright that I write from a black perspective and my response was, “You write from a white perspective.” They weren’t sure how to respond, but they got the point. I write what I know. I write about my grandmother and my aunties and coal miners and old preachers and vegans chefs and poets. I want to tell black stories because that is what I know, and I want that to be OK because it’s a human story.
Paint a portrait of the kind of career you’d like to have. What does success look like for you?
My goals have shifted so much, especially since producing my first feature. I ultimately want to be in a writers room. I would like to produce another documentary focusing on the history of black coal miners (my family is from West Virginia). I would also like to direct another feature film and finish up my MFA in creative writing.
Where can we watch your past work, if available, and how can you be contacted?
Watch a trailer for Love Dot Com: The Social Experiment: