Telling The Stories Of Regular Black People
Nefertite Nguvu’s new short film, Myself When I Am Real, looks at the consequences of the police killings of black men in the US from the point of view of a grieving couple.
“Myself When I Am Real is about a couple dealing with the post-traumatic ripple effect that the loss of a loved one to police violence is having on their lives” she explains. “I was inspired to write it after seeing so many grieving families on the news after they had lost a loved one to senseless police violence. I knew how horrified, sad and angry I felt just bearing witness. I couldn’t fathom how these families were coping and the depths of what they must be feeling, so my heartbreak and empathy for them led me to the tools I have at my disposal, my art.”
Rather than delve into race-based politics, the film focuses on the impact such a cruel loss of life has on families, and on the pain that is universal to everyone when faced with a tragedy like this.
Her aim is for the film to rouse people’s empathy. “I’m hoping the level of intimacy and humanity that we explore these characters with gives way to our audience connecting in a meaningful way. Hopefully this translates to more empathy where it’s needed around these injustices in the real world.”
Nefertite grew up in New Jersey surrounded by artists, one of whom was poet and activist Amiri Baraka. She knew from a young age she wanted to be a filmmaker, particularly after watching Spike Lee’s first movies when she was still in school.
Her work draws from Ingmar Bergman and Richard Linklater, as evidenced in her debut feature film In The Morning, where a group of friends facing big changes in their lives re-evaluate their relationships over the course of a day.
The characters – affluent, middle class, with wardrobes that make the cast of Sex and the City look shabby – are light years away from the stereotypes of black people we’re used to seeing in film. Nefertite explains that she wants to tell the stories of regular black people’s lives, and black women particularly, because examples are so few and far between. “I’m just very interested in exploring our lives truthfully, with humanity and dignity. I’m also into exploring our lives as just regular people, like the films that I’ve always loved, in telling stories that are outside of the dominant paradigms.”
Her past work includes documentaries that have openly discussed social issues. Black America Again, which she directed, sees rapper Common speaking to Hollywood star and activist Harry Belafonte about the role artists play in inspiring social change. Newark: Art for the People is about the role of art in revitalising a local community.
“I think both narrative and documentary are important tools” Nefertite says. “Cinema is an incredibly powerful medium. For me, hearing things in theory in a discussion via a documentary format can have an impact certainly, but being able to emotionally impact an audience to the extent that they can in some way share an experience, or feel like they have, I believe is inherently more powerful, and what narrative does. My passion is definitely in narrative filmmaking.”
In The Morning was largely crowdfunded, and Nefertite believes that it’s becoming easier for young black filmmakers to enter the industry thanks to funding platforms like this, digital technology, and following the success of Black Panther. “Big, bold, beautiful things are happening in black independent cinema” she says.
“Digital cinema made the medium more affordable and therefore more democratic and accessible. The advancement in technology and access to crowdfunding are helping a great deal in terms of access. Our narrative is expanding and I’m excited to be a part of that. I think the current political climate has given the work of artists pushing back against our dominant paradigm a lot more agency. It’s given birth to a lot more awareness, activism and meaningful art.”
For more on Nefertite’s work visit Hollywood Africans