Countering Negative Images of Black People in the Media by Thinking Inside the (Becoming) Box: An Interview with Filmmaker Monique Walton!
At the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, which took place August 4, 2012 in Atlanta, GA, the amazing film The Becoming Box screened, receiving rave reviews and high praise. The audience was blown away by the masterful storytelling that could only be done by a director of the highest caliber. That director was none other than the incomparable Monique Walton – director, screenwriter and film producer.
Ms. Walton was kind enough to grant me an interview, which happens to be this post. Read and enjoy!
And, as always, your feedback is always welcome and encouraged.
What is your film, The Becoming Box, about?
The Becoming Box is about a family of three siblings dealing with the tragic and sudden loss of their mother in a storm. It’s about how each of them deal with the aftermath of that tragedy, and it’s about rebirth and re-invention.
What is your role in the making of the movie and how did you become a part of this project?
This is my second fiction film project as a grad student in UT Austin’s film department. I co-wrote this piece with my classmate, Paavo Hanninen (who was also the DP), and then I co-produced and directed it.
What were your experiences in the creation of The Becoming Box?
So all of the locations had a localized, historical and emotional significance. The mural pillars under the I-10 overpass and the African American History Museum were a good example of that. It was definitely a challenge getting my crew and equipment down there from Austin, but luckily I was able to enlist some great crew members in New Orleans as well, and everyone ended up getting along on set, which I was really happy about. The one thing I didn’t anticipate was how cold it got in the city in January. The house we shot in had no heat so it was far from the humid, swampy weather we were hoping for!
How do you think the negative images of Black people in the media affect society?
How can we counter those negative images?
We counter those images by making our own, simple as that. And it’s happening more everyday with the democratization of image making on the internet, but Black folks have been representing themselves and countering negatives images since the beginning of cinema, despite direct efforts to degrade Black characters on screen.
As a filmmaker, how important is it to you to have creative and financial control of your work?
Ideally, it will be the only way I’ll make work. Once you give up creative control, you might as well be making a commercial. And I’ll do that too, but that’s working to pay the bills, not making art.
Is there such a thing as a “Black Science Fiction movie”? If so, what makes it such?
Looking back and reading about the Harlem Renaissance, Dubois and Locke were having the same critical debates. I think the arguments continue to come up because, at least if we’re talking about film, Black directors, writers, and stories are still not appropriately represented in the mainstream. So I think it’s important to continue to work to get your voice out there, and whether or not the viewing public calls your work Black, will be a representation of the times.
How do you come up with ideas for films?
The best ideas are spontaneous. They come up (usually in the shower) and then they take off. With The Becoming Box it was a discussion I was having with my classmate Paavo about alternate realities and identities that just snowballed into the idea for the film and kind of took off. But I’m inspired on a daily basis by things I watch, read, experience etc. So the challenge is acknowledging and cataloguing that information and using it when the time is right.
What upcoming film projects are you planning?
My next film is a documentary about gentrification in Austin. The basis of the narrative will be non-fiction, but it will still have some science fiction elements to it.
What advice can you give to someone who also wants to make an independent film?
Do it! I love that the Black Sci-Fi/Speculative Fiction genre is taking off, and I can’t wait to enjoy the fruits of everyone’s labor. There’s no formula for success, except you have to be creative and relentless and surround yourself with positive supportive people.
Monique Walton was born and raised in Long Island, New York. A 2004 graduate of Yale University, she has directed and produced numerous documentary and narrative films focusing on racial identity and belonging. Ms. Walton’s first film, a short documentary entitled Still Black, at Yale, screened at over ten film festivals and at universities across the country. She worked at Viacom for four years producing on-air and web videos for Nickelodeon and then relocated to Austin, TX in August 2009. Her sci-fi short, Dark Matters, premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Creatively Speaking series in September 2010.