“I am making this film to give young black girls a protagonist they can finally relate to, while reminding everyone else, that we are NOT our hair.”
At our Black History Month Reel Girl Talk screening of Dear White People, we had the extreme privilege of hearing from two talented women during our post-film discussion: Great Black North co-host Devon M.D. Jones and filmmaker Alicia Harris. Harris spoke about Pick, a short film she was beginning production on and we thought it would be the perfect project to feature for our next MUFFPick! The fact that we can say Pick is a MUFFPick — hehe — had nothing to do with it, honest. We simply think Harris is a damn fine filmmaker and we want Pick to get made with as much financial support as it deserves!
Read our interview with Alicia Harris below and get inspired by her awesomeness. The team is accepting donations via e-transfer and PayPal, so there isn’t the usual crowdfunding deadline, but the film is in pre-production now and can use your timely help!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with filmmaking.
AH: When I was in high school, my twin sister Venessa and I also used to make videos together—everything from SNL recreations, to elaborate tributes for our friend’s birthdays, to our own original sketches. I’m not saying we were celebrities… but the first episode of our sketch comedy show was soooo hyped; every time we tried to come up with ideas to top it, we couldn’t. So… we never made a second episode. There’s still time though. Twin Time forever!
Even though I always made videos, film was initially a backup career, after I decided I wasn’t good enough to be a musician. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Tell us about this project! Where did the idea come from?
AH: Pick is a short, fictional drama about a young girl who wears her afro to school on picture day, and has to deal with microaggressions and racism.
To black women, historically, “good hair” meant straight hair. This idea dates back to slavery. Those who were enslaved often associated straight hair with freedom, as most black people who were free straightened their hair to assimilate. Now, “good hair” still means straight hair, and this idea is consistently reinforced by the media, workplaces, schools and several other institutions, like the military and the justice system. The mainstream media fails to celebrate the beauty of black women, who make up only 11% of film characters.
Most of the events in the script are inspired by microaggressions and racism I’ve personally dealt with. When I was 11, I had my afro chemically and permanently straightened. After 12 years of straightening and manipulation, my hair is now weak, damaged, and constantly breaking, but I am none of those things. I am making this film to give young black girls a protagonist they can finally relate to, while reminding everyone else, that we are NOT our hair.
What excites you about using crowdfunding?
AH: I like crowdfunding because it gives filmmakers the chance to have full creative freedom of our work. It is validating to know that people are confident in you, and believe in your project enough to invest in you. I crowdfunded for my last film, Love Stinks, and we were able to raise $7000, with over 100 backers. Having their support allowed the film to reach it’s full potential, but most importantly, boosted our confidence. Even though we are telling stories that the industry has been overlooking, the support from private investors reminds us that our work is innovative, important, and relatable.
If you were reincarnated as an ice cream flavour, what would it be?
Tell us about some/all of the other amazing women who worked on this film!
AH: My team is made up of many amazing, talented women! I could write essays on each of their talents and accomplishments… but instead I’ll tell you why I love them so much.
Rebeca Ortiz (Producer) is selfless. She will ask everyone in the bar if they have a tampon for you, when you’re too embarrassed.
Venessa Harris (Producer) has your back in the womb, in film, politics, and beyond. Woke AF.
Tess Sorochan-Ruland (Production Designer) is the sun. When things start to feel dark, she is always a ray of light.
Victoria Schupp (Costume Designer) is the definition of cool, smart and funny. I want to be her in another life.
Kathryn Lyons (Editor) is a pun queen. One of the funniest, most clever people I’ve ever met.
Amanda Ann-Min Wong (Sound Designer) is a charming and multi-talented force to be reckoned with.
Nehnika Williams (Hair Stylist/Makeup Artist) is black girl magic! There are no limits to her genuine kindness.
Tell us about why you are a feminist and why it’s important to your filmmaking.
AH: Feminism taught me I was strong in a world that constantly told me otherwise. I’m a feminist because I believe that women deserve the same rights, respect and opportunities as men.
After attending a Women in Film panel, and subsequently becoming a feminist, my life and path as a filmmaker changed. Initially I was writing male characters, mainly because all my favourite films had male leads, and I thought I wanted to make films like that. Now I’m telling stories about women and marginalized groups.
I realized that my biggest disadvantage, entering a white-male dominated industry, was also my biggest advantage. Women, women of colour—and more specifically black women—have not had an equal opportunity to create work, which means our stories have not been adequately told. This gives me great confidence in my own work, because I know I’m making films that are revolutionary.
You’ve also worked in the industry as a production design. Do you feel you approach directing differently because of this?
AH: Being a production designer has made me a better director, and vice versa. I recently directed and production designed a film called Maybe if it were a nice room. The story is told through intricate, symbolic production design, without actors. Filmmakers underestimate how much production design can enhance a film. I think every single detail in every single frame is important, when I’m directing and production designing. A lot of directors think of production design as an afterthought, whereas it’s something I’m constantly thinking about as I’m developing my stories. I plan on making many more films where the story is rooted mainly in the production design.
Who are your favourite women working in the industry?
What 3 people, living or dead, would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
Viola Davis, Paul McCartney, Mariah Carey.
What’s the best advice about filmmaking you’ve ever received?
AH: Never let a deadline pass. Chelsea McMullan said this at a panel I attended. As an emerging director, you have to create opportunities for yourself. I spend a ridiculous amount of time researching grants, contests, and mentorships. If there is a deadline coming up, and I don’t have a project that fits, I’ll try to come up with a new idea for it. I’m producing a short right now called Abuela. Rebeca Ortiz, who will be directing the film, wrote the script in record time—specifically so we could submit to WIFT/BravoFact’s pitch competition, because we didn’t want to miss such an incredible opportunity. We are currently finalists and pitching for a chance to win $50K on March 30th!
You have a documentary short (“Unplugged”) in post production. How is that going? Do you plan on doing more documentaries?
AH: I made Unplugged in my third year of film school. It’s about my younger brother and his obsession with League of Legends. My whole family is in this film (including me), so I was definitely more careful and particular about the edit. So careful, that I’m not done editing it two years later. It’s hard for me to go back to old projects while developing new ones. But I will definitely finish it… eventually.
I plan on making many more docs! It’s been a great privilege to share different aspects of myself, my experiences, and my values, through my work. Though it takes a lot out of me to create work that is largely autobiographical, it is always fulfilling and cathartic to have a platform to share my stories. I would love to share this platform and privilege with many people.
What’s your go-to jam?
“Nights” by Frank Ocean.
Recommend one #MUFFApproved film for our blog readers!
LoveTrue by Alma Har’el.
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