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Black is Black is Black: Adepero Oduye on Directing her First Film

From April 21-24, 2016, BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) hosted the 6th annual New Voices in Black Cinema, which is a platform that showcases filmmakers seeking to redefine narratives of the African Diaspora. One of

From April 21-24, 2016, BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) hosted the 6th annual New Voices in Black Cinema, which is a platform that showcases filmmakers seeking to redefine narratives of the African Diaspora. One of the films featured this year was Breaking In, a short film about that moment when black boys in America are first stopped by the police and “broken in.”

 

Breaking In is the directorial debut of award-winning Nigerian-American actress Adepero Oduye (Pariah, 12 Years a Slave). Since her 2011 breakout role in Dee Rees’ Pariah, Oduye has starred in several critically acclaimed productions such as the 2014 Academy Award winner, 12 Years a Slave, and 2015 Academy Award winner, The Big Short. Within a short period of time, Oduye’s acting has received numerous awards and nominations, as she is a force to be reckoned with. We were not surprised when we found out about her compelling directorial debut, Breaking In, so we caught up with her to chat about it.

 

AA: How does it feel to be behind the camera as a director instead of being in front of it as an actor?


Oduye:
It was a wonderful, wonderful experience and afterwards I felt like I could do anything. It felt very natural to me, and I plan on doing more directing and writing. In general, I think film has a significant role to play in our society. Film allows us to express ourselves in multiple ways, but more importantly I think it is powerful way to talk about important societal issues. I also think that this is an exciting and optimistic time to be doing this work, especially seeing the impact of films like Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation.

 

AA: Why did you choose the short film medium?


Oduye: 
The short film best captured that moment for me because it was a quick way to get out what I needed to say in very little time.  Yes, it was a short event but it had a lasting impact. It shows how quickly things can change.

 

AA: I saw in the credits that you thanked your brother for sharing his story. Can you provide a bit more background on what motivated you to tell this story?

 

Oduye: This story is actually my youngest brother’s story. I remember the day it happened. I was home and immediately after he walked into the house, I could tell something had happened. I remember looking at his face and I could see him trying to sort out his emotions. I kept asking him what was wrong and then he told me the police stopped him. I remember starting to tell him,  “Next time if this happens this is what you need to do…”  When I caught myself saying that, I knew that I had to do something, because I knew that it was a moment that would mark him. I knew that he was no longer an innocent boy. He had been initiated into black manhood in America. Within the past three years, the increased media publicity of similar stories like Trayvon Martin’s made me realize that I had to tell this story.

 

AA: How did you feel about telling this story given the fact that Africans normally don’t see these things as their issue?
Oduye: You know, I think that it’s silly to say it is not our issue. Being Black in America is an African issue.  Growing up, I remember my parents and their friends constantly reminding me and my sibling of what made us different. I think that this was probably because they were much older when they came to America so it was harder for them to see the different dynamics and things put in place to set us apart.  But for  me and my siblings, it was different. We grew up in Brooklyn and we grew up in this culture so it was easier for us to  understand how the system works. Black is black is black is black. Bottom line is that it doesn’t matter where you are from, all they see is black.

Kanyinsola Obayan

Ithaca, New York – Kányinsọ́lá Ọbáyàn is a PhD Student in Africana Studies at Cornell University, where she is investigating questions of nationalism and postcoloniality; transnationalism, diaspora, and globalization in contemporary Nigeria. She is currently Deputy Editor of Applause Africa.

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