Interview with Abu! Film Productions

It was absolutely brilliant to speak with AGMx, Alex, Dot and Narlyia - the driving force behind Abu! Productions, and all-female owned production company working in the States. They are four young women of colour producing off-kilter dark comedies, which bring under-represented groups to the screen and also address the mis-representation that so often happens to women in the movies.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey into film-making:

Bonjour! I'm AGMx, the writer/producer/director/magician of upcoming short film Clench. Since third grade, I've been working in theatre. I studied acting and screenwriting at Howard University (c/o 2012). But at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London (c/o 2013) I became determined to start creating films. I always knew I wanted to provide work for myself and other artists, but I never really knew how to start. I was intimidated by the camera until I was required to co-produce a film to graduate Central. By the time I hit the editing room, I was irrevocably in love! And I was confident about my ability to become a filmmaker. 'Clench' happens to be the alpha of my film-making career.

2. And tell us about your all-female production company Abu! Film Productions:

Founded in 2012 at Howard University, Abu! Film Productions is a New York/Los Angeles based production company that specializes in motion picture media including feature films, short films, and web series. Four African-American females head the company: myself (AGMx), Dot McDonald, Narlyia Sterling, and Alexandra Maurice. In our senior year at Howard, we decided we wanted to work on our passions together. We all separated right after graduation to pursue individual endeavors (higher education, internships, etc.) across the globe with the intent on rejoining after a couple of years. Two years later, we stuck to our word and founded a company that produces work reflective of our experiences, culture, opinions, and intentions.

3. We've talked a lot at FemaleArts about gender disparity in the theatre, what's it like in the film industry?

ALEX - “Within the film industry I feel disappointed by the shallow portrayal of women in films, especially that of women of colour... We need more dynamic female characters who are reflections of the modern world we live in today. I wish more stories were being told that aren't about what it means to be a woman, or what it means to be a woman of color, but more so about what it means to be human.”

NARLYIA - “...We need more nuanced female characters, that aren't [stereotypically] love sick or power hungry... We find vast nuance in male roles... however when writing or collaborating, the cliche of the young dumb [female] theme constantly floats around, or young, single, [and] unhappy.”

AGMx – “Personally, it's been empowering to see other females producing/writing more work on the independent front especially via online media. With web series like Black Actress produced by Andrea Lewis, Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae (who has her own production company), and others, I'm witnessing a stronger push towards eliminating that gender disparity. The internet is allowing us as women to gain creative control. But it's all new, so it'll be some time I think before we really feel the impact.”

4a. You're currently making a new film called 'Clench', could you tell us a little about it?

I'd love to! Clench is a dark comedy that follows Chauncey, a peon sales employee, suffering from a unique eating disorder. Chauncey is a compulsive eater who harms himself by refusing to use the bathroom (we've termed this 'binging and clenching'). The film follows him in therapy as he confronts the toxic relationships in his life that catalyzed his disorder. Though done through the eye of humour, this story is really a character study on how we as people (especially in American culture) tend to separate ourselves by hiding our emotional baggage. Everyday, people deal with stress and self-loathing with silent torture. For a lot of people, this becomes a base for mental illness, including depression and eating disorders. This story takes a close look at the damage that can happen when we internalize unhealthy emotions that manifest themselves in unhealthy ways.

4b. As four young women of color producing this film, what do you feel you can bring to the table that isn't already out there? And what representation do you hope you'll bring to the screen?

AGMx – “Because the black female perspective has been so historically limited, I think that just by being creators of our own work, we provide that much needed first-person perspective. And our work is so off-kilter yet fused with black culture – it's something people hardly get to see in film. Could you imagine if Stanley Kubrick where a black woman? Well, that's what we're doing.”

DOT - “As young women of color we can bring a perspective that isn't often explored... Our films are testimonies as we continue to fight against stereotypes of being women AND being black.”

ALEX - “What we are bringing to the table is four young women with unique experiences that all have a common goal of producing truthful art fearlessly and unapologetically. My goal as an artist is to represent the truth and nothing less. I find that truth is what resonates most with people whether it be beautiful or ugly...”

NARLYIA - “...Our different experiences include the wild and surreal instead of another story about the everyday hum drum... We bring the ability to shed light on those private moments when no one is watching and expand them in the most creative [ways]. We are a creative genius with a fearless reality.”

5. What messages do you hope to send with your work?

DOT - “With our work we want to encourage intellectual stimulation. We want people to think differently about life after seeing one of our films, even if just for a moment.”

ALEX - “Whenever we produce a piece of art I hope that it celebrates what it means to be alive by honoring all sides of the human condition. Humanity is one of the most fascinating and astonishing works of art there is and I want people to see themselves in our work and redefine what it means to be human.”

NARLYIA - “There are stories everywhere, worldly, universally ... that we want to honor in the most creative, unusual, thought provoking ways that lead people to find a release...”

AGMx – “Personally, I just want to tell stories that encourage people to realize that whatever opinion they think they have... it's probably wrong. And that's okay. 'Cause that's life. We're probably wrong most of the time. But being 'right' was never the point.”

6. What's an average week like for you? How much time do you spend working on creative projects?

DOT - “An average week is crazy! Many of us are employed working hourly jobs, auditioning, creating our own projects, helping others with theirs, tending to boyfriends and one of us even has a kid! An average week is full of running around, prioritizing and sleeping on the go.”

ALEX - “Creativity never stops. Each day for me consists of balancing – doing the things I want to do with doing the things I have to do and finding the happy medium between the two...”

NARLYIA - “Geeeeeesh Sometimes I feel like there isn't enough time to do it all and then I feel that I'm never doing enough!... There is no such thing as average. Life is a revolving door that we try to balance as much as possible. I juggle being the best mom... with surviving as a soon to be multimillion dollar actress and producer... Weeks consists of classes, auditions, job hunts, job interviews, picked up shifts, marketing, research and development, networking, writing, editing, actually filming and prayer.”

AGMx – “My average week is spent on the computer/internet. Between writing and promoting and organizing film/photo shoots, I'm consistently glued to a laptop. It's a problem, lol. But thankfully my side-job only requires 15 hours a week for me to make rent, so the rest of my time is spent being an artist.”

7. Are we able to see any of your work anywhere soon?

Abu! is currently working on the second season of web series, 'One Night Stay'. It is scheduled to be released in July and can be found on the One Night Stay Youtube channel. Be sure to follow it on social media! Instagram: @onenightstay; Facebook:1nightsay

We're submitting 'Clench' for festivals starting in August, so we'll premiere the film in September and stream the film online via Seed&Spark (an crowdfunding site that caters to filmmakers). The New York division of Abu! will start pre-production for its next short film 'In the Name of Rebecca Dufresne' by the end of this year for a 2016 release.

Interview (C) Amie Taylor (@spoonsparkle2015)

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