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Interview with Numa Perrier

Numa Perrier creates a subtle and sexy lane in the world of cinema with her feature film Jezebel. Perrier shares some insight on how she sculpts the aesthetics of her shadowy slice of Las Vegas. The following interview offers a peek inside the mind, and "Subtle Core" of what makes her style shine:

1. First, I love how quiet Jezebel is as a film. It has the cadence of a symphony orchestra-- there are moments, visual melodies in mood and tone that are delicate and skillfully refined as violin solo, juxtaposed with intensely loud and fiery brass section scenes. This dynamic is beautifully displayed in the back to back scenes where the family argues after finding out their mother has died followed by the quiet scene with the two sisters in the bathroom. It's a pitch perfect example of artistic control-- extremely loud and then expertly quiet, almost like a post-rock tune. My question is this: What's your approach to sculpting quiet moments of connection in a scene? What guidance, and advice do you give your actors in regards to laying out the groundwork for such an emotional journey?

My approach to sculpting the quiet moments starts in the casting— finding actors who have that range and flexibility to express fully yet nuanced. I can tell from the first few moments of a reel or audition tape or a meeting even. Then as the work unfolds I help tune the instrument- no no too sharp - no too flat — actors with supple instruments and openness allow me to do that and we are in the dance together. 

2. That wig gifting scene: It's one of the sweetest on-screen moments I've ever  seen that portrays the depth of a sibling bond. You could feel the love, the longing, the sadness and despair as they clung to each other after losing their mom. That scene really stopped me in my tracks-- it's perhaps the masterpiece moment of the film, the subtle core. Can you walk me through your directing mindset on the day you filmed it?

Yes thank you I view it the same way. That scene we did in one take. 

We took a lot of time before hand building a real sister bond with each other and I took a lot of time talking to my cinematographer about what I wanted in that moment. Then because of her hair and the time we had that day we had to get it in one long remarkable take. Tiffany and I went in emotionally full and just let it sweep over us. A sliver of my mind was still in director mode but that also works for the scene as her older sister guiding and directing her younger sister towards her womanhood. In the edit worked long to get the scene to feel like real time and to do as few cuts as possible. I wanted the moment to be as pure as possible and echo the real life memory that I based it on. 

3. I find it fascinating how the wig equally represented sisterly love, and sexual empowerment. It was her cape, her superhero suit, as she made her way through the cam girl dark universe in Las Vegas. I'm curious, do you have something that you bring to film sets, perhaps, a necklace, a poem (a tangible item) that reminds you to stand tall in your role as a director? I think that speaks to the human condition. Kind of like how a baseball player might bring a lucky charm to a game. Do you have a lucky directing charm that you carry?

I have a book that my first acting teacher wrote and it’s a lot about the craft of acting but also a lot about life and how we approach artistry. I will take a deep breath and open up the book to a random page and read it. I consider it a message for the day and i use that for my acting and directing. I also meditate before I report to set. My angels are always guiding me. 

4. Let's talk about shadows. Jezebel has some solid achievements in this cinematic lane. One of my film favorites are Jean Luc Godard's Alphaville. What are some of your favorite shadowy scenes, and shadowy characters in cinema? Is that style something you aesthetically gravitate to as an artist?

I love shadows and chiaroscuro. I first fell in love with this in Maya Deren’s film Meshes of the Afternoon. And as a kid playing with my own shadow always brought such a sense of wonder. So it’s always been important in my work to dance and play and lean towards natural shadows as much as natural light. In Jezebel this was also about the honesty of how I remembered my life in that apartment. We filmed in the same apartment complex that I lived in and I wanted to stay as close to that reality as possible which was we lived in a very shadowy apartment.

We never opened the blinds. When the door opened garish light would fall in and then we would all be together seeing each other and our shadows overlapping in the small space. The darkness and depression was visceral. I wanted the audience to feel this so we leaned into every shadow and never tried to blast it with light. 

5. I know you have some erotic centric films in the works. I feel like that's something that's been missing from arthouse cinema in regards to stories centered on Black characters. Jezebel gave us a wonderful introduction to your artistic palette as a director. What's your approach to constructing sexy moments on screen? What makes a film, a project, uniquely a "House Of Numa" thing? Have you figured out a particular aesthetic that you want to be your signature, "your stamp" on every film? 

Provocative personal and feminine are my staples. And I care deeply about Black Womanhood. Our desires, our vulnerability. Our sensuality, our masks, our rage, our magic. That’s what I seek to focus on and continue to explore. House of Numa is an invitation to that in many forms - films, TV, art immersive experiences, books, brunches, you name it. 

6. What actresses, or cinematographers, or collaborators in general, are you eager to work with in the future? Who are some of your dream collabs? Or perhaps, you have a dream location you'd like to shoot at. 

There are so many emerging talents that I’m excited about! As an actor I’d love to work with Janicza Bravo. As a director I love Nikki Beharie she’s an indie darling; I’d love to find something for us. I look forward to working with Tiffany again and Stephen Barrington from Jezebel as well. I’m always very open to fresh faces new talent and people who aren’t necessarily actors at all but they inspire me. 

I’d love to film in Washington state where I once lived I’d love to make a film in Japan, in Paris... so many ideas and possibilities. 

7. Thanks again for doing this interview. Is there anything else that you'd like to share about your filmmaking process? 

Thank you for such a thoughtful and caring interview. 

The only thing I have to add is I’m excited to get back on set. This time of pause has been tough- a slow rollercoaster of intense emotions.  Looking forward to continuing filmmaking keeps me hopeful and in this time of tremendous loss it has been movies that bring me great comfort —so I will be very happy to get back to making them. 


JEZEBEL is currently streaming on Netflix.

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Interview with Felicia Pride

The world needs Felicia Pride's creative voice in cinema. Her breakout short film tender explores an intimate and dreamy world of Black womanhood, one stylized with warm light and subtle glances. Tender does exactly what a great short film is supposed to do: It pulls you in, makes you feel something deeply, and leaves you craving for more. 

I asked Felicia Pride to answer a few of my questions about the artistry of her aesthetics, and how she entered the world of directing in a uniquely subtle style...

1. What films (or scenes) in recent years have found a way to linger in your mind long after the credits ended? Did these films influence your style, perspective or inspire you in any particular way?


Moonlight haunted me in the best possible way. That film stayed with me days, months later. It’s so beautifully quiet and powerful and intimate. Beautifully shot. And you can tell that Barry Jenkins cared for these characters to the point of wanting to present them so fully - from script to screen. 


I loved Lulu Wang’s Farewell. Such an exquisite film. Personal. Specific. And what struck me was how much Lulu expressed in her frames. Such full blocking and composition. Loved.


I also was struck so tenderly by Numa Perrier’s Jezebel. This film is special and has so much heart. Numa showed us how we can tell a hearty story without the big budgets, which is no easy feat. I loved its natural feel. And loved the opening shot of Numa. Like I need that on a poster.


And I recently watched Tayarisha Poe’s Selah and the Spades and wow! That film literally haunted me. It was dark and harrowing and beautiful. And such a unique blending of genres. And so damn well composed. Such intentional filmmaking.  


2. In the tender case study Q&A, your DP said that you used "light to create an emotional bubble." Was the lighting meant to be a central character of its own upon the inception of the film? Because how tender is shot is very much part of why the film feels so good. Could you please talk about your relationship to lighting aesthetics-- What technical aspect was the easiest (or hardest) thing to visually convey in your short film?

Our DP Ludovica Isidori is amazing! And along with our gaffer Guy Pooles, they really captured the mood we were going for. And lighting was a very big part of that. All the technical aspects were hard for me because I’m not well versed in them! Working on that. So I communicated the vision to Ludovica in terms of story, tone, mood, and feeling, how the characters are feeling in each scene. My lookbook also included inspiration for lighting in certain scenes. Since the film takes place over the course of the day, from the morning to night, we talked about what that transition would look like across scenes. And across intimacy, because as the movie moves from morning to night, they get closer. So Ludovica really thought about how that could be shown via lighting. She translated the vision technically and accentuated it. 


3. Asha Santee, who worked on the soundtrack, described the music as a journey "about the silent conversation you have with someone in a room." What were the silent conversations that you wanted your characters to have in tender? And how did you go about conveying that to the actors?


I love that description from Asha! Asha Santee, along with the group BOOMscat, which Asha is a part of, are the artists behind all the music in tender. 


I’m not sure if I thought about them as silent conversations initially, although I am now! But I did think about entry points across the film where they each made space for the other, allowed the other in more, let down their guard more, became more vulnerable, showed that they cared about the other. In terms of working with the actors, the fabulous Farelle Walker and Trishauna Clarke, I worked with them in isolation so the other wouldn’t know what was coming. In isolation, I’d ask each actor about what they wanted, what they wanted the other to do and how they wanted the other to feel. Then we talked about how they would go about doing that. And across takes, we’d switch those strategies up through adjustments. Both Farelle and Trishauna were  able to drop into their power and vulnerability so seamlessly, which is a tribute to their craft. 


Quick plug, if you dig the music in tender, Asha and BOOMscat curated an extended soundtrack which you can find at www.tendermovie.com


4. You mentioned that tender explored the theme of "what it is like to be intimate with yourself" - as in the characters mirror each other, as two versions one just further along in her personal growth-- in queerness, and womanhood. What does intimacy look like to you as a creative... What conversations would you have with your younger self about the craft of filmmaking? And if you could hear from your future self, what essential piece of advice, perhaps something that you find tricky now, would you hope that your future self has mastered?

I think the conversation would be very similar to the conversation that Kiana and Lulu had in the film about their dreams - the notions of permission and validation. Just two years ago, I told myself I was not a director. I couldn’t direct. I didn’t see as a director. All these harmful and limiting narratives.  I’d tell my younger self that you give yourself permission and you validate yourself. No one else. No other entity. No festival. No program. No financier. No fan. No friend or family member. You. And you are enough. And my future self would validate this same message. Because I think as we continue to push ourselves creatively, we can still hear those voices that want us to limit ourselves or look outside ourselves for permission. 


5. For the ultra indie filmmakers who watched your short film, many who fell in love with your style... What did you shoot tender on? What lenses were used? Any filters? Any tips for those hoping to create a similar lush and intimate visual aesthetic?

We shot on an Alexa mini and also used a lot of haze. I’d say it’s important to be intentional about the intimate aesthetic you’re going for. While I’m not as well versed on the technical side of things, I was able to articulate what I was going for with our DP Ludovica Isidori and that was soft and intimate. I created a lookbook and Ludovica also created her DP lookbook to communicate the vision to the crew. 


6. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Thanks so much for this interview and a platform to talk craft! Means the world. We’re looking to turn tender into a feature and have lots of exciting updates coming in the next few weeks. Folk can stay updated by following @tendermovie on IG. 


WATCH tender ]


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Heavenly Brown Body

The opening line of Leslie Foster's Heavenly Brown Body makes a bold statement, with gorgeous cinematography to match. This experimental short film is a perfect visual Queer Anthem for the current times. You get four frames of lush and poetic visuals woven together as one, to create a dreamy tapestry of queer lives, presented in a harmonious aesthetic worthy of a big screen experience.

Heavenly Brown Body is one of the best short films of Outfest 2020. It's the kind of relevant, and artistic narrative that the LGBTQ+ community needs to celebrate and bring to the forefront of the movement. Leslie Foster is an indie filmmaker that should to be on your radar, and I am delighted to see where his career goes next.

For those fatigued by white lesbian seaside films becoming the "new face" of LGBTQ representation in cinema, let the beauty of Heavenly Brown Body be a short remedy, and reminder, that Black and BIPOC narratives rightfully deserve exquisitely shot feature films that showcase longing and love in epic coastal dramas as well. 

Also, of note, Heavenly Brown Body was filmed on location on "unceded Gabrielino-Tongva and Chumash territory." Hollywood desperately needs more Indigenous representation in film & TV. I would love to see more LGBTQ+ stories emerge that center on the Indigenous experience. 

Bottom line: Heavenly Brown Body is a film worth celebrating!

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Are Black Filmmakers Allowed To Shoegaze?

The idea of quiet opening scenes, moments where actors have "shoegaze" type silences where there is space for a character to simply breathe in the weight of their existence. Films like Ava DuVernay's I Will Follow and Barry Jenkins' Medicine For Melancholy give us Subtle Core in that realm. Matthew A. Cherry's The Last Fall is a film that centers on a Black man and is plentiful of sensitive shoegaze moments, something we rarely see on screen, especially with a Black actor as the lead.

I liken the feeling of shoegazing to the music genre where performers are allowed (and expected) to come on stage, quietly perform their set, embracing lo-fi vibes. Where the audience and performer are joined in a marriage of quiet appreciation. The music reaches out and connects with the audience without the expectation of an exaggerated performance. As someone who has attended several of these type of concerts (usually held in smaller venues) there is an unspoken communion between performer and audience that we are both here to cherish the subtle flow of artistic expression.  A slow cadence of swaying back and forth. This kind of communion exists in shoegaze, dream-pop and post-rock. Translating these vibes, theses aesthetics into cinema-- White filmmakers are easily afforded the opportunity to create quiet films, and often celebrated for it. It's a privilege. I hope we can cultivate more spaces, and film fans who celebrate the Subtle Core moments of Black filmmaking.

Which brings me to Miss Juneteenth. It was just released on VOD and is a solid addition to this cinematic space. Channing Godfrey Peoples directs Nicole Beharie in an Oscar-worthy performance as a woman who's biggest dream is for daughter to win a Juneteenth pageant. The subtle core of this film is very specific, we enter a vibrant world of Black Texan traditions-- one that has never been depicted on this level before. Peoples and Beharie did the thing were musicians close their eyes, and completely immerse themselves into the sonic waves of their artistry-- it was epic in its quietness.

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Same Difference (2019)

Watching Essence Atkins in a quiet, character-driven drama is a cinematic revelation, an experience that I never knew I needed. Her performance in Same Difference shook me in an unexpectedly powerful and pleasant way.

Atkins is known for her comedic work in film and television, (Half & Half is one of my favorite sitcoms), but up until this point, in this emotionally tender film-- I don't think I've ever truly seen her, at least not in this light. Same Difference explores the idea of connection, with one's self, and the unique bond between sisters. The last time I remember being this blown away by a comedic actor turned dramatic lead, was perhaps, Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. That film opened my eyes to his range, and depth. Same Difference does that for Essence Atkins-- there's a deep reservoir in which she drew from to give this very subtle performance.

After recently watching Atkins in Ambitions, I was captivated by her performance in the opening scene of that series. I saw something that took my breath away, and made me pause in awe-- her face, her body, became an instrument of beautiful nuances, the weathered look in her eyes, the way she conveyed rejection and shame, it made me stop and do a double take. After that, I made it my mission to see if Atkins had any dramas on her resume, which lead me to viewing Same Difference. And what a lovely rabbit role to fall into... Seeing that indeed, Atkins had this wonderfully layered dramatic lead role in her pocket. This indie film gem waiting to be discovered. Who is this version Essence Atkins, and how can I have more of her?

It should be noted that Atkins won an award for her role in Same Difference at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) for Best Performance by An Actor. And rightly so.

I'd love to see Atkins lean into her dramatic side more-- For her to take on projects that give her the space to shine in this realm. Atkins does comedy well, but she is equally talented in this lane.

Same Difference was written and directed by Derege Harding. Kudos to him for crafting a heartfelt piece of "Subtle Core." I'll definitely be on the lookout for his upcoming works.

You can watch Same Difference on BET+


The Subtle Core of Little Fires Everywhere

In an episode centered on the genius portrayal of two very different women, we see the remarkable layers of how exquisitely written, cast, acted and directed is the Hulu Original show Little Fires Everywhere. Episode 106, titled "The Uncanny," is explosive-- the big reveals, the dancing nuances, the subtle and dynamic nature in which every scene and every glance artfully pull back layers and unearth a striking new clarity about each character - we're holding our collective breaths, and getting everything we hoped for and more.

Little Fires Everywhere is decadent in all the right ways. Like a glass of good bourbon-- strong and smooth, we feel and taste the seismic magnitude of each performance, our palettes pleasantly get the taste of Tiffany Boone, who gives us a performance so stirring-- she has us in awe, second guessing our eyes,  and our ears, hypnotizing us with a persona so dazzling we question the space-time continuum where Tiffany Boone's Mia ends and Kerry Washington's Mia begins. We're drunk in love by the electric introduction of Professor Pauline (Anika Noni Rose)-- and the chemistry that Rose and  Boone share onscreen.

By the time Nicole Beharie's character comes on screen, we are wonderstruck by everything that could possibly go right in a TV series.  AnnaSophia Robb and Tiffany Boone give us the best cast younger versions of any characters in  recent TV history. We simultaneously want more screen time of the past and the present in Little Fires Everywhere, this show is that good!

To get to the heart, and "Subtle Core" of the show's dazzling display-- It is hugely worth noting that this episode was expertly written by Shannon M. Houston, and directed by Nzingha Stewart, two black women creatives who I'm sure will be on everyone's must-watch list after this episode. The shot where the camera hovers above Mia and Pauline in the tub will go down in television history as one the best black queer women scenes of all-time. It was spell-binding, doing exactly what it needed to do: make us fall deeper in love with the artistry of Little Fires Everywhere.

Ans lastly, kudos go to the the showrunner, Liz Tigelaar, who put together an incredible cast, crew and adaptation of Celeste Ng's novel. Tigelaar is great at weaving together ensemble casts and content that tugs at your heart-strings. Life, Unexpected was one of my faves.

You can watch new episodes of Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu, released on Wednesdays.