A Letter from the Director
For three weeks in Virginia, I was flying.
Do you know what it feels like to be in the center of God’s will? It feels like the softness of morning wind before the sun hits too hard. It feels like getting to the root of an old box-braid and finally scratching the scalp. It feels like my nappy wings brushing heaven.
And it’s new to me.
So often, I’ve read scholar Ravynn Stringfield write gracefully and insightfully about flight. It always seemed like a magic that only other Black Girls had access to. Like no matter what I did and who recognized it, I would still be on the ground. Claiming what lies beyond the sky as my own felt pompous and the openness of the air felt foreign.
So it wasn’t long after I was dapped up by the Charlottesville foliage three days before Black Enough production began that I found myself in a little panic. What the heck was I doing and why did I have the audacity to invite thirty people to join me on this path of visionary uncertainty?
Like the ending seconds of a Montell Fish song, my prayer was that God was glorified and this process. What I feared was not being able to live up to the idea that I’d been nursing for so long and not being strong enough to lead a group of artists with such intense talent. As a mad young Black woman, everything surrounding me teaches to question my freedom to chase big ideas, to be unapologetically bold, to see the world uniquely and intelligently. I have questioned my right to run a set, to command attention, to make people see me.
But after shooting Black Enough, I’ve never been so grateful for a process. For letting the Lord take me to uncharted waters and choosing not to stay on the shore.
A professor recently told me that “directing is about the violence of decision making.” I think that’s true. More broadly, directing is about picking certain shots, cutting dense dialogue, abandoning hundreds of talented actors in order to choose just one—all in an effort to uphold a standard and pursue a vision. Those things are all vital parts of filmmaking. But directing Black Enough has been and will continue to be about the violence of cutting down fear and insecurity with a decisive abrasiveness that comes from God-of-the-Angel-Armies (y’all like my Old Testament flow?).
For so many of us this process is, in the words of Amaya, “A transfiguration, rejection of the darkness that eats away at our confidence. An acceptance of the truth… A spiritual transmutation, becoming who we never knew we could.” As we enter the throes of post-production and I settle back into producer-mode, I have to decide to let God love me like he wants to and to let others see me. I have to continuously choose to not shroud vision in indecisiveness or introversion or disbelief in the piece of art that I know I’m supposed to make. Because this series isn’t about me anymore. I owe it to my team and to the audience to believe in myself.
At some point I said forget the shotlist, forget the lookbook: God, what do you want to do? and team, how are we gonna do it? As I’ve shared before, I think storytelling is about more than plot points and charts. Some might call that secret ingredient intuition. For me, storytelling at its best is about a total surrendered trust in God and the ideas He’s given. It’s an active listening to what he’s saying in the moment and a willingness to respond with eagerness and without hesitation.
Let’s be clear: independent production is hard. It’s eighteen-hour days and blistered palms. It’s locked buildings and one too many PB & J’s. A la Beyoncé in Homecoming, it’s pushing my body beyond its limits, offering sweat and tired eyes as an offering for what can only be described as glory. Maybe when I’m a more mature filmmaker, I’ll learn how to take care of myself. But for now, I’m bursting with contentment at the gift of spending away my youth on doing what my soul cannot live without: making art with my people.
I’ll spare you guys the metaphor about flocks flying, because you get the point and I don’t really mess with birds like that. But know that I wasn’t soaring alone. I couldn’t have and, after this production process, I don’t want to. As far as I’m concerned, Black Enough has set the standard for the type of community that every set I lead should foster.
What began as an artistic sharing of ideas became an intertwining of spirits; a binding of lives. A place where it’s okay to need and be needed. Anyone who was on set simply just to work would’ve missed the point. Often, we walk away from camps or isolated experience on a high. But this feels different. It feels fire-tested and unfamiliar. “It’s so unusual, it’s frightening”
After months of literal sleepless nights and awkward video calls, there was a moment when I looked up in the concrete belly of our beloved Gutter and realized that in the midst of my worrying, in the midst of of my busyness, God had done his thing (read: thangggg!). And I mean really did it. Every single person who was meant to be a part of Black Enough was here, working with complete strangers in a city that they first knew as a hashtag. And it was all so beautifully imperfect. I looked back and thought of all the moments where I tried to force what God wanted to do gently and slowly. I thought of the moments when I almost threw the whole series away because something didn’t go my way or didn’t happen according to my timing. I looked back, then looked up again and marveled at how specifically and intentionally the people who make up the Black Enough family (and I don’t use that word lightly) were placed in this creative community. It couldn’t have been any other way. As much as I’d like to take the credit, this was out of my hands. When I was crying, God was working through last minute audition videos, hesitant ventures to art shows, through shot-in-the-dark DMs—all to bring us to this moment of rekindled excitement and persistent peace.
We’re making something beautiful, y’all, and it doesn’t just live on the screen. These are the friends that pray for me, that call me to see if I’m breathing, that check me when I’m acting a fool. These are also the artists who inspire me creatively, challenge each other, and pursue their passions with relentless vigor. All in pursuit of a dream that points to the simple truth we’ve needed all along: we are enough.
Directing them has been a weighty gift. And yet I can still feel myself gliding circles in the air.
I am learning what it means to be fearless. The impetus to move forward is grabbing ahold of me, making its home in my bones. “Director” is no longer a hat I wear, but a part of my identity, grafted onto my DNA. I am discovering that I have a right to be powerful and a right to be loved…a right to dream and grace to take others with me towards that dream.
On set I saw lives colliding, destinies coiling together in a dance that “collaboration” seems like too simple a word to explain. In the midst of the frenzy, I knew a peace that felt like God himself wiping the sweat from my brow, caressing my face. Even in exhaustion, He was telling me, as He always does, that it was all gonna be okay, that when He inspires, it’s not a lie.
But this time, I believe Him.
Though I often fear my mirror, my eyes are beginning to adjust to seeing myself in a new light, that God light, that good light, that Black Enough light. And I can hear my reflection rapping back to me, over the sample of a whispered psalm: your wings look good, girl.