One of the top two reasons I love working at NaturallyCurly is the talented, diverse group of people who I get to work and collaborate with every day. The other reason is the mission, providing visibility and a voice to people who have historically been underrepresented in the media. What's really cool is that many of us work towards this mission day in and day out at NaturallyCurly, then go home at night to create and produce awe-inspiring personal projects.
You may be familiar with our Director of Video Strategy, Evelyn from the Internets? If, like me, you've exhausted every video in her YouTube archives and every NaturallyCurly video and you need more, then you are in luck. She's co-starring in a new short film series called "We Are" that's airing on Issa Rae's YouTube channel. The series was created, directed and produced by B.B. Araya, a former NaturallyCurly team member who is doing her part to ensure that women of color are represented on screen in all of their many layers. I interviewed her after the Austin screening about how the project grew from its inception to a full anthological film series on Issa Rae's channel.
What was your vision when you initially set out on this project? And did that change or morph as you collaborated with your co-writers and producers?
My vision when I set out to make "We Are" was to bring together all of the things about Austin that I know and love, but tend to get overlooked - performers, artists, musicians, landmarks/murals - while portraying honest depictions of women of color.
For me, collaborating is building together and being open to something different, so while the foundation of the vision never changed, it sort of became realized and more fleshed out as it was written and pieced together with everyone on the team.
In filmmaking, it's also common to alter the vision to accommodate circumstance and resources, but all of those alterations were ultimately for the better.
Tell us a bit about the We Are Series, how did the stories come together?
We Are is an anthological short film series that lets you drop in on seven women of color at different moments in their lives. Performers co-wrote their episodes so that we could infuse a sense of realness to each film. We also feature a lot of visual art and music from local Austin creatives, particularly creatives of color and women.
The series came together as the first large collaboration between myself and Tamar Price, our head producer. We met at an Austin Film Society party, gravitated towards one another and hung out the whole night. We bonded over the fact that we both wanted to make movies, so we decided to do it together. I got Jessica Vasami of RoosterTeeth on board as another producer and the ball started rolling quickly thereafter.
I outlined the stories with these specific actors in mind and approached them about the project letting them know that it would involve co-writing their episode. A lot of them are already writers and some of them hadn't written narrative before. We would just get together on evenings or weekends and talk about our experiences and where we could take these characters. After everything was written, we were constantly massaging it, even on set.
You chose to work with several people on this project who had never officially produced or acted before, but you had faith in their talent and abilities. I know many of us have experienced impostor syndrome in our work before, and I'm wondering what it was like overcoming those kinds of feelings and supporting each other as you worked on this project?
It's true; prior to We Are, Tamar had never produced, Evelyn had never acted, and Tope had never done production design before, but I just knew in my heart that given the opportunities to shine, everyone would. We're not going to get these sort of opportunities unless we are giving them to each other, so I'm all for working with first-timers. Plus, they already had the skill set (Tamar works fast paced events, Evelyn is a without-a-doubt a comedian, and Tope is an art collector/has a passion for aesthetic), this project just allowed them to flex those muscles under different circumstances. Also, this was my first time directing something of this caliber, so I was essentially a newbie as well.
I like to laugh my way through imposter syndrome. There were many days on set where Tamar and I would just look at each other and laugh, like "What is happening? What are we doing?" Ultimately, the stakes are very low when making art, so I just like to constantly remind everyone that it's okay for us to fall and make mistakes. We're trying things and experimenting. It's not supposed to be perfect. We're here to make a mess and tell the truth.
You co-wrote the series with the actors in each episode; even though they had different plots, were there one or two themes that you noticed kept coming up?
Yes, episodes were outlined with the actors in mind and then co-written with them. It was a part of the experience I enjoyed so much, because we just did a lot of talking about our experiences in this world and then incorporated those things into the episodes. A theme that pops up a few times is mental health. It's not something we often to get explore on the screen with women of color, but it's something we all deal with. Fortunately, WOC are being more outspoken about our mental health which is great because it removes the stigma and makes room for healing.
Other than that, a general theme that shows up a lot is just the angst of being a human - regardless of our race or gender. I sort of wanted to explore the exhaustion that can stem from being a human and having so many feelings.
Congratulations on having your series live on Issa Rae's YouTube channel! What does that mean to you?
Having our series on Issa's channel means everything to me. When representation was really poor (right after the 90s) her channel is where I went and felt home. It's where I saw people that looked like me having regular, everyday, awkward experiences. There's no better place for the series and I'm genuinely honored that it gets to share a home with "Awkward Black Girl" and other great content. Not to mention what she's doing now with Insecure by showcasing friendships between black women and putting black people in front of and behind the camera - which is so powerful! (I am still coping with the fact that Season 2 is over).
I also think it's beautiful and necessary the way she pulls us up and gives us opportunities to shine. If we want more representation and visibility in the entertainment industry, we're going to need more people following Issa's model of uplifting and showcasing the voices without microphones/platforms. I've been a huge fan of hers for like five years now and I've enjoyed watching her climb the ladder of success and win so hard. I take her success very personally. A lot of us do.
What can we look forward to seeing from you next?
Hopefully, a feature!
You can watch the first episode here, and tune in every Sunday for more.