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 Lagos, Nigeria-based Ema Edosio. Read our conversation below.
Introduce yourself and your project.
I stumbled into filmmaking. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Most Nigerian parents dictate what profession their children should go into; mine wanted me to be a nurse or computer scientist, and I choose computer science only to get very far away from my parents.
During my final year in the university, we were allowed to dedicate some of the time working for companies that utilized computer scientists, and I choose a music video production studio because I was fascinated by the music videos that were being shown on television.
After college, I worked as a production intern watching video editors and camera operators. I couldn’t afford film school, so I spent long hours in the studio asking a lot of questions and practicing with the studio equipment when most of the crew had left. I started using the skills I learned to make wedding videos until I won a scholarship to study digital filmmaking at the New York Film Academy. Afterward, I saved enough money to study motion picture production at The Motion Picture Institute of Michigan.
I initially didn’t know what I wanted to do in the film industry; I was just fascinated by all that was going on around me. I worked in almost all departments until I discovered my strengths and became sure that I wanted to be a filmmaker.
I currently work as a video journalist with BBC Africa.
My feature film is called Kasala! (in English, Trouble!). It follows a man named Tunji and his friends, who take Tunji's much-beloved car for a joyride (while he's away, and unbeknownst to him) and gets into an accident, crashing the car. They know they’d better get the car fixed before Tunji returns. And when they turn to famous Lagos street hustles and get-cash quick schemes, things start to get crazy.
The film's tagline reads "Four friends and six hours in Lagos. Anything can happen. In a mad-capped and hilarious romp through dangerous Lagos streets, the boys also find a hidden humanity."
One of the reasons that I made this film is to build my voice as a filmmaker and perfect my craft as a cinematographer and director. So instead of waiting for someone to hand me $50 million to make a studio film, I'm using the skills I have and the things that are readily available to me to tell my stories.
How far are you into the process (writing, pre-production, shooting, post-)?
The film is currently in post-production. The colourist is currently working on the film.
When did this specific journey begin?
The idea for Kasala! came in 2016. I raised enough money to shoot it in November 2018.
How many roles did you have to play beyond directing? And if you wore multiple hats, how did you achieve balance?
I am the producer, director, cinematographer and editor on the film. The way I was able to achieve balance was to work with a very small crew. We planned every single detail before production started.
As you worked on your first feature, where did you need help the most?
Funding would be most helpful to me right now! I currently have to bully my sister for money and use the salary from my day job to make this film. This makes the process feel so long and hard.
Major fears, concerns, worries (if any) you had as you embarked on making your first feature?
I really have no worries about this film. I am very happy about how it is coming to life. I have realized the amazing things I can do with a limited budget.
I made this to start to build my voice as an African filmmaker, and this process has made me understand, in some ways, the kind of stories I would like to tell. It’s not very clear yet, but a pattern is beginning to crystallize, and I am very happy.
Toughest decision(s) you had to make?
The toughest decision I have had to make is the decision to make the film; to beg and sell almost everything I owned to bring this film to life. Sometimes I think I am crazy. The film is a constant reminder to me of all the fancy things that I could've spent the money on instead. But I just tell myself that what I'm doing is to build something great.
Toughest challenge(s) you've faced so far?
One of the toughest challenges has been raising money to make this film.
When it comes to storytelling, many have said that everything's been done before, and we've seen it all. Agree/disagree? How does your film primarily differentiate or distinguish itself from other work?
I disagree. We are experiencing exciting times in Nollywood (the Nigerian film industry, although not the sum-total of filmmaking in the entire country). In the past, the focus was on quantity over quality. But, over time, the Nigerian audience has evolved regarding its expectations for what Nigerian cinema should be (beyond the usual slapstick or romantic comedies), and there is a growing demand for well-told stories with high production values, and I firmly believe my film could make a significant impact.
There are amazing stories that need to be told, and I am excited to be one of the filmmakers making relevant films with narratives and themes that Nigerians can relate to.
Hopes for what kind of life you want the film to have?
I hope that my film will make loads of money, because, gosh, I need to pay bills! I hope that the film becomes a huge success locally and internationally and that it would force theater chains in Nigeria to stop dictating the kind of films that Nigerians make.
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?
In Nigeria, you don’t have the luxury to stay discouraged. Significant hurdles are working against you as a filmmaker. It is a constant fight. And as a woman, you have to be 10 times better than your male counterparts to be taken seriously. I don’t want people to say, "She got to the top because she is a woman; let’s just give her a seat at the table." My drive is to be as good as the best filmmakers in the world. The only way to keep going on is never keeping one's self down. When faced with adversity, no matter what, dust yourself up very fast and move on! The way I encourage myself is to be better. My mum used to say success has many brothers and sister, and you can’t be successful without hard work.
Do you have a support system? Family, friends, fellow filmmakers... alcohol (#Jokes... kind of)? 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)?
Initially, my family didn’t understand what I was doing. The idea of being a filmmaker was very foreign to them. It was an abomination to my mother when I chose to abandon computer science at university - after six years of study - to become a “cameraman,” as she called it.
My family is less concerned now, mainly because I got a "big" job with the BBC. My father is now so proud to tell his friends that his daughter is an international journalist.
Aside from all that, being a filmmaker can be a really lonely journey. It is a lot of work, and you just have to suck it up! It’s the path that I have chosen. I live for the intense high that comes from watching a character that you dreamt up come to life.
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?
Lately, I have come to understand the power of social media as a tool to help showcase my work. I am trying to get myself into the habit and more tactically. It can be a lot of work. I have this huge project, looking for funds, working a 9-5; it takes a lot of discipline to be consistent.
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.?
Hmmm… I would speak as an African. Growing up, I was never worried about black representation on television. I was just excited about good films. Chuck Norris was the bomb to me! I loved Jackie Chan movies; I was jumping off tables and almost killing myself with my mum’s wrapper tied around my neck like I was Superman. This is how I have come to view cinema; just give me good stories. I don’t care if you are black, purple, white. I would like my audience to love my film not because I am black, but because I make compelling films that are able to impact everyone, regardless of race, gender, tribe or religion.
If you're not in the USA, describe what the film and TV environment is like in the city/country where you live and work. How do the trials (and triumphs) of black women filmmakers where you are, differ from those in the USA, if at all? Any desire to move to the USA to pursue your filmmaker dreams?
Nollywood is very female-driven. The highest grossing films over the years have been made by women. As a female filmmaker in Nigeria, it is mostly a level playing field, mainly because we are in a growing industry, and we (men and women) all face the same problems with funding, lack of skilled labor, poor infrastructure and more. The attitude here is may the best man win, whether that "best man" is male or female.
From my experience working in Nigeria, the major problem - as it is for filmmakers in all other countries - is access to funding. If you want to make a film, you have to raise the money from scratch. Also, there's the issue of not always having full creative control over your project after you've been able to raise financing: from how to tell the story to what actors to cast in the film to get distribution.
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 really excited about these platforms, especially being African. It just opens new doors for filmmakers. Most Nigerian filmmakers who do not want to be put in a box are beginning to make films that matter, knowing there are other platforms out there they can market their content to. It brings so much hope to know that I can actually make a living as a filmmaker.
Right now, this is the strategy that a couple of filmmakers used, and I intend to bypass Nigerian distributors and get international recognition by submitting Kasala! to film festivals around the world and then market to international platforms.
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 to appreciate where I am at the moment. To live in the present, one step at a time. All the challenges I have faced have built strength and resilience in me. I will not give up. I look forward to the future. I have no regrets.
What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities you look for?
A great film is one that I can connect with; where I can not only see our present reality but also have a sense of the future through its story. A great film lets me lose myself in it. It is subtle and enduring and has the ability to engage my curiosity and transport me to another world.
What films and/or filmmakers have been the most inspiring or influential to you?
-- P.T. Anderson's The Phantom Thread.
-- Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman.
-- Sam Esmail's Comet.
-- Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream.
-- Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.
-- Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
-- Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz.
-- Guy Ritchie's Snatch.
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 believe that filmmakers are artists, and every movie made is a reflection of who the filmmaker is. I think that we bring parts of our lives into the stories and characters that we create. I don’t think that I have to give back or tell a particular story. I am driven to create characters that are very personal to me, to share parts of my life with the audience through my stories. I believe there is no unique experience. All humans experience joy, sadness, anger in different forms, and, as an African filmmaker, I tell my version of what joy is, for example, through my characters and stories.
Paint a portrait of the kind of career you'd like to have. What does success look like for you?
The first things I would draw are 22 Arri Alexa cameras and 64 Cooke Prime lenses, 106 RED Weapon 8K cameras, and a blank check… sigh…
But, seriously, my perfect career would be to constantly work with a professional crew and not have to focus on any other thing except directing. It would be the kind of career where I would not have to worry about funding to create.
I envision a future where my films would inspire not just Africans, but people all around the world. I also aim to be one of the greatest filmmakers to come from the African continent.
And finally, I would want to use my films to inspire, teach and build my continent.
Where can I (and others) watch your past work, if available and how can you be reached?
You can find me on Instagram and Twitter via the handle @emaedosio. And on Facebook, I'm Ema Edosio.
Anything else you'd like to say that I didn't ask? You have the floor, so feel free to dig in here.
This fun quote explains my drive as a Nigerian filmmaker: "He who runs around looking for scissors to cut a sachet of noodles is not yet hungry."
Watch the trailer for Kasala! below.