Franchesca Ramsey is returning to her roots. The ever-poised and polished YouTuber is dressed in bright colors and sports and a bold lip in the midst of the grey and white background of Sundance Film Festival. The comedian, YouTuber, journalist, actress and producer has returned to the film festival for the second year in a row with her new comedy docuseries, aptly titled Franchesca (at least for now.) This isn’t the pilot Ramsey recently sold to Comedy Central, Franchesca is something else entirely. A short form series which premiered under Sundance's inaugural Indie Episodic section, Franchesca combines beauty and culture in the brilliant candid way Ramsey has mastered.
Sitting with director Kaitlin Fontana, the women speak enthusiastically about the origins of the series. “It was really collaborative," Ramsey explained. “My manager introduced me to Kaitlin. They worked on a project together. I had a development deal with Topic to create something. We just weren't really sure what we wanted to do, but we knew we wanted it to be very different from anything else we'd seen. I loved the idea of exploring beauty and culture because that was how I got my start on YouTube. I started making videos in my bathroom, and it really came out of the fact that there weren't any natural hair videos. I needed help styling my hair and I didn't know how. I was just very fortunate that I built an audience because there wasn't anyone else doing it. Even though I wasn't an authority, I think people connected with my passion and my honesty.”
Fontana was also interested in making sure the series stretched and expanded further than beauty and culture -- examining some of the things Ramsey deals with on a daily basis as a Black woman in the public sphere. “I think that that's an interesting and important part about the pilot," she expressed. “Online abuse is something that Franchesca absolutely deals with. One of the first things she said in the pilot is, 'No I'm not going to deal with this today. I'm hanging out with my friend today.' I think that's such a part of women's lives. To compartmentalize so much of what we're doing.”
Intrigued by the idea of showing a slice of her life, Ramsey jumped on board immediately, “This is an opportunity for people to see me in a different light, and see a more comedic side of me, see a more actressy side of me," she explained. “What's the funny way out of this world interpretation of this beauty thing that I'm interested in? I really connected with that. I thought that that was funny and silly. Just adding another layer, a comedic layer, to a conversation that is different. Most people think of beauty as self-indulgent. A luxury. And it is, but it can also just be a great time to spend time with your friends and take some time and chill.
When Ramsey started her YouTube channel back in 2006, seeing a natural, brown-skinned woman on the video-sharing site was almost unheard of. “You know it's really cool because I did not have the foresight to realize that just by being my natural, authentic self, that I was inspiring other Black women," Ramsey revealed. “It's just really incredible that visibility is not necessarily like we need to stick a Black woman in this situation, she needs to be a doctor, and she needs to be this. Just seeing a Black woman who had natural hair, who is sometimes insecure, who is sometimes afraid or tries something and it doesn't work out. Just doing all of those things very publicly and in a way that's very accessible can really inspire people. While this show is not specifically about race, it is about culture. It is about seeing somebody that looks like you or seeing somebody that you've never seen on television before.”
The reason why we’ve never seen anything like Franchesca before is because Ramsey and Fontana refused to wait for someone to hand them a script. “That's the whole thing," Fontana explained. “You can't wait for anyone to give you permission because they won't. Obviously, right now is such an amazing and important time. The conversation is shifting. It's still happening. Earlier today, I was waiting to get my pictures taken with the other directors, the other people in reception. There was a moment of organization, and someone said, 'Where's the other director?'And I was like, 'Right here; it's me.'"
It’s been quite a journey since Ramsey’s early days auditioning for small roles and being subjected to calls for the sassy Black friend. “I remember the first speaking role my (freelance agent) sent me out on was one line and I was dropping the n-word,” Ramsey recalls. “It was just so stereotypical and not well-rounded or thought out. It was so obviously written by a white person, that, I just was like, I don't even want to do this. That really frustrated me. I wanted to write my own stuff. I was doing stand up, and I was like, I can do this. I can write. I can create characters and parodies and all this stuff. Kaitlin is coming from a sketch background, where women have to write sketches for themselves."
Ramsey and Fontana’s desire to make sure women have a platform has extended onto the set of Franchesca. “This whole thing only works if we keep lifting each other up. And getting out of each other's way," Fontana says. “It's not my job to talk about Francesca's experience. That's why it's great, too. I'm here to capture it and maybe ask a question or push in a direction to see if it needs to be explored further. That's what excites me about this; it's a space for Black women to talk to each other."
Calling the shots means that Ramsey and Fontana are in the best possible positions that they can be in, and it also means that Franchesca will have room to flourish -- exploring even more topics. "I'm excited to be in a space where I can hire my friends, " Ramsey says. "I can say, hey, Michelle (Buteau), can you come be in a thing that I'm doing because I love you and you are one of the funniest people I know. You should be doing everything and you should be everywhere. Let's go, let's do this.”
Franchesca premiered at Sundance Film Festival on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami