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Deeper than Roots

A Love Letter to Filmmaking

I used sneak into my brother’s room to watch Terminator on ‘cable’. We’d laugh together and then re-enact our favorite scenes. Movies were awesome then.  So when the TV and VCR was rolled into my classroom for movie time in the 4th grade, I was ecstatic. And when Roots began to play, I sunk into my seat. 

The easiest way to handle Black history month in a predominantly white school was to show one volume Roots, the most epic retelling of slavery in America ever filmed. Only the first volume. I got to see Lavar Burton from Reading Rainbow get captured and beaten and that was it. I’d have to watch the rest at home.

The entire 10 volume collection of Roots was on display in the living room of my childhood home like a work of art. It was the closest thing Black people had to a discussion about shared trauma. Contemporary films were added to the collection: Boyz in the da Hood, Menace II Society, and Higher Learning. I refused to watch any of them. I wanted the excitement of Indiana Jones, the romance of Pretty Woman, the joy of Mrs. Doubtfire.

I dreamt of making my own movies that avoid Black themes all together. I wanted a simple good guys versus bad guys story where maybe the woman saved the day. I wanted to make Terminator 2. But when I arrived at film school decades later, I was met with the question “Do you consider yourself a black filmmaker?”. Instantly I was teleported to my 4th grade classroom, watching black celebrities pretend to be slaves. “No. I’m not a black filmmaker. I’m just a filmmaker.” I went on to write short films about noodles and paper cranes. 

Joining the Slate 505 team for the Albuquerque 48 Hour Film Festival a year later was a leap of faith. I still couldn’t describe myself as a filmmaker in any succinct way. But John Freelykirk got up and pitched his approach to making a movie in two days and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be a part of this entire filmmaking community. 

The writers’ room that weekend was magical. It was filled with equal parts laughter and vulnerability. It felt like playing Terminator with my brother. We our shared traumas and our joys.  We worked hard to write from a real place which required the safety of trust. And I felt like I was at church. The Chameleon Effect screened a few short weeks later with several other films from production teams around the city. The Guild Theater was filled with filmmakers who had become instant friends. We watched each other’s movies with smiles and great applause. My cheeks began to tingle. The Albuquerque film community is marked by its spirit of collaboration and that weekend I had been baptized by it.

I look at my own screenplays now. The one about noodles. The one about paper cranes. I know there is a community here that would help me make these words into films. I edit the main characters to be Black women. I’m not afraid anymore. We are soft and accepted here. Finally, after all these years, I feel safe enough to combine my Blackness with my love of film. I’m not forced to revisit a horrific past and leave it there. I can go deeper. I can create films that lead to discussions around shared hope; to add to the canon of black film stories that celebrate, that encourage, that bring joy.
 

Candice Marie is a filmmaker and the curator of Black Girls Film (@blackgirlsfilmguide). She also serves as the lead writer for the award-winning Albuquerque-based film crew, Slate 505 (@slate_505), led by fellow filmmaker, John Freelykirk of New Wave Films (@newwavefilms_official). 

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