Culture, Arts, Web

Culture, Arts

How to Make a Film That Celebrates Black Joy (and Makes a Political Statement) in Four Weeks Flat

When the Shed shut down in March, it was in the middle of staging a one-woman play recounting conversations with white men. In four weeks flat, the play has become a film.

10/27/2020 3:41:00 AM

When theShedNY shut down in March, it was in the middle of staging a one-woman play recounting conversations with white men. In four weeks flat, the play has become a film.

When the Shed shut down in March, it was in the middle of staging a one-woman play recounting conversations with white men. In four weeks flat, the play has become a film.

Phillip Youmans, director ofNovember.Photo: Faith CouchLater in the week, when I speak with Youmans, he’s in the middle of shooting at a Manhattan hotel pool. He’s about to submerge a waterproofed camera and have his actor swim toward it, and he seems giddy at the prospect. These more ebullient scenes—Youmans calls them out as scenes of “Black joy”—are crucial for the director. “The heavy conversations that we’re having in the monologue portions of the film,” Youmans says, “those things don’t stop our spirit. The juxtaposition of that seriousness with the act of being joyful is fascinating to me, because it’s more akin to how life really is. We are constantly swerving in and out of heavy conversations, so we have to find the joy. It’s a hallmark of what Black people do: We find joy in everything.”

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AdvertisementTiffany Rachelle Stewart (Narrator 2) in a New York City park.Photo: Phillip YoumansThe prospect of adapting a noted scholar’s text was not an unintimidating one for Youmans, but he felt an immediate affinity for the work. “I was raised by my mother, a single Black woman,” he says, “and a lot of my work has been something of a vessel for the best qualities I saw in her: her fierce independence, her steadfastness.” His collaboration with Rankine has been a happy one: “She’s so dope. She’s funny, too.”

The potential impact of the work compelled him to leave Los Angeles, where he’s in the middle of filming his second feature, and fly to New York to take it on—despite the compressed timeline (just four weeks from start to finish) and the challenges of mounting a work during a pandemic. “This is a PSA,” he says. “It’s an artful approach to a conversation that is about creating agents of progressive change. This is a piece that allows people to come to their own conclusions and at the end of the day affirms a message of love.” There is “something bigger at stake here,” adds Poots—not just an optimistic step toward brighter days, but the chance to push forward a critical conversation at a critical moment.

Shatique Jones (a member of the cast) on a New York City basketball court. Read more: Vogue Magazine »

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