Your new movie Wrath City
- in a few words, what is it about?
is about a fictional, angry town and a Haitian woman who's being
deported out of it for committing an awful crime. The film makes a lot of
commentary on police brutality and Black Lives Matter.
What were your sources of inspiration when writing Wrath City,
and is any of this based on personal experiences or concrete true stories?
is based on a woman named Korryn Gaines who was shot and killed by a cop
while she sat on her floor in her home with her child in her arms and a
firearm in her hand. She was at a standoff with police over a traffic
violation. When it comes to the violence against blacks, I started feeling
the fear and the anger in the summer of 2016, ironically right after
Independence Day, when unarmed blacks kept getting shot and killed by
policemen and people (that would swear they're good people because they
denounced bathroom laws for instance) were silent about it. Then there
were people that kept justifying it. But those quiet ones refuse to speak
out against racism against blacks, and that's not okay. If you speak out
against inequality only when it comes to some groups but are quiet when it
comes to black oppression, in my mind you're not really for human rights
like you say you are. Period. Those people are hypocrites, and it
frustrates me to no end. So I made a film to address it.
what extent can you identify with your main character Marie, actually? And
with Malik for that matter?
identify with Marie for the fact that she is
passionate, stubborn, and she is a fighter, maybe all to a fault. In
Malik's case, you will always have that one black person that will justify
their own oppression, make excuses for it, act like it doesn't happen, or
just don't want to talk about it at all. You have those types that are
uncomfortable with the subject and don't want to ruffle any feathers;
those that were brainwashed by their peers, etc. And they don't snap out
of it and "get it" until late. I wanted to show that with Malik.
Even in our own community, the black community, there are two sides that
don't see eye to eye and those sides butt heads. I wanted to show this
with Malik and Marie's relationship.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but
if memory doesn't deceive me, Wrath City
is your first openly political movie - so what urged you to bring exactly
this message across?
Besides the violence against blacks,
the silence and the hypocrisy, a couple incidents. I was a part of this
writing workshop, and I'm the only black woman there, and this lady wrote
a really cool story on these clowns that were being oppressed and they
were trying to figure out how they could get respect and how they can rise
up. This was around the time all that brutality was going on. We all went
around and discussed our thoughts about the story she wrote. I was the
last to speak and I told the writer that I took a special liking to it
because actually, it reminded me of the black experience. I felt comfort
in reading it. Then I talked about everything that was going on with the
police brutality. After I spoke the writer immediately said, well no
actually, it wasn't about that, it was based on another group's
oppression. Then everybody moved on and no one addressed what I said at
all. It was like I never said anything. I felt dismissed. I felt that my
voice was marginalized, ignored, insignificant; that our oppression is
less important and that no one gives a crap. But it's always been this way
and it's not okay. I felt like people didn't care about what I was talking
about. I felt silly at the end of that conversation and I shouldn't have.
I don't expect much from ignorant racist people. But I expect better from
progressive people and leftists. Where is your outrage when we die? I'm
calling out to them in this film. The instructor then told us, for our
homework, write a story on what a city would look like as one of the seven
deadly sins. The next week, I came back to the workshop with the short
story Wrath City. And guess what? We had that conversation. And 10 months
later I have the film. And we're going to continue to have this
conversation until people grow up and speak up about it and do something
But that doesn't mean people still won't try to brush it off. The
conversation Malik had with Josie and Myra is an exact conversation I had
with a filmmaker at an event. He was literally hitting on me as he was
explaining to me why my life doesn't matter. The whole conversation
between Malik and Myra and Josie was real life: the cancer conversation,
and the objectification. All of it. You find me attractive but you don't
think my life matters? If you want to sleep with a black woman but don't
think her life matters, not even enough to make a statement when blacks
are murdered, you don't deserve that woman. Stay away from her.
was mostly filmed in just one rundown room - so do talk about your
location for a bit, and did you film the room as it was or did it require
much set design? And what were the challenges of filming mainly one room
while keeping things interesting to begin with?
I wanted to
have one location, and one of my inspirations for that decision was based
on the episode of The Twilight Zone titled
In the Eye of the Beholder. That episode was set mostly in one room, and it worked
very well. I knew that this story would work well with one location, and
it would even feel claustrophobic, which is exactly how Marie's feeling,
so it's purposeful. I'm a fan of contained scripts anyway, because it's
budget-friendly, and it forces you to write more creative concepts. And I
welcome the challenge. The challenge was writing a film about a city based
on a sin, coupled with a black human rights theme, and having it all come
together and make sense. This was the most challenging script I've ever
written, and the most rewarding, I'm happy.
about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand!
Sun was our DP on the film, and I worked with him a lot during pre-pro. He
is definitely one of the most talented DPs I've ever worked with. Besides
just being a really nice guy, Mike has a real eye for shot composition; he
really knows his stuff. I knew I wanted a look that had natural lighting,
nothing fancy and unrealistic; nothing flashy. Just natural lighting that
you would see in someone's apartment, cause these matters are real. And I
wanted it to look real and have a docu-drama style. I wanted lit up
windows in the living room where Marie was seated to show that she is the
enlightened one in the house. I loved the movie Captain Phillips, and I
based much of the look and style of Wrath City
on that film. The natural
lighting, the bright windows, the greenish tint, all inspired by that
movie. The greenish tint is also something I've always wanted to try ever
since I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo where he used the color green
to show anxiety in one particularly unforgettable scene. For the scenes
with Myra and Josie, I wanted the kitchen where they mostly occupied their
time in, to look darker, less enlightened. And I gathered pictures from
Law & Order as examples actually hahah. But as it later turned out
when I was working with our colorist Eileen Slavin, she thought it'd be
cooler if the lighting was brighter in the room; it represented more of a
fantasy world since those two cops are living in their own little world
and seeing things that are totally not even true at all. And I worked with
sound mixer Ric Murray to get the sound and design just right for the
film. Wrath City was definitely a very creative but also collaborative
process and I enjoyed it a lot.
can you tell us about your cast, and why exactly these people?
Brown was actually brought in 2 days before we shot lol! Can you believe
it?? Auditions were the biggest obstacles behind this film to be honest. I
ran into some people that weren't serious about the film. I had no-shows
at auditions and people not emailing me back after they inquired about
roles; people coming to auditions unprepared; skipping rehearsals. It was
very frustrating, and it was the first time I had to make the tough
decision to fire a person. But this is how you grow into the producer you
need to be to get things done. I looked at this for preparation for the
feature. But yeah I actually ended up bringing Sean on board late, but he
got the script down and he did an amazing job. He only had 2 days to
prepare. I really tip my hat off to him. I think he's a great actor too,
and he's very professional and reliable. I worked with my friend and
writer/actress Dominique LaFleur to cast Claire Elizabeth Davies and Katie
Scardino in the roles of Myra and Josie. We both believed Claire's
performance the very first time she did it for us. She was perfect for the
role in my eyes. And she is NOTHING like Myra in real life. But that goes
to show you, if you make people hate your character and believe you when
you're nothing like that character, you're DAMN good at what you do. We
wanted to have her on board. Katie was funny and charming in the audition
so I saw her in the part of Josie. I liked the way she played the
character. It was exactly how I saw her. And Leica Lucien, even though
this is her first film, and she has more theater training and background,
it was really fun and educational for me to learn how to work with a
theater actor, and train them for the camera. It was a huge learning
experience. When we first did auditions she was very theatrical of course
lol, and looking at the film, you will see how much we toned it all down.
Marie is a very numb, composed, tired young woman. We worked really hard
during rehearsals and we got it!
talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere!
We prepared a ton, from test shoots, rehearsals, re-shoots, budgeting.
With every film I do, I'm learning more and more how to produce a film the
professional, proper way. And how to make the tough decisions and deal
with tough situations. This shoot seemed to be more so a prep for a
feature film. It's always a great learning experience producing a film. It
was a very encouraging atmosphere though because the actors complimented
us on how smoothly the shoot ran. It was a very encouraging shoot and I
think it was a prep for a feature even if we didn't know it. Like, we're
on our way.
$64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?
haven't released it publicly yet. It's going through the festival circuit,
and I am figuring out other ideas to get it seen besides that option too
cause a lot of festivals are politics and you need a plan B, your own plan
to get it seen. It will be available publicly in the future, but in the
meantime you can check out the trailer we just released for it on my
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Wrath City?
I showed it to a few people close to me for feedback while I
was editing. One person asked me if I'm making a "political"
film because I feel obligated to because I'm a black woman. I was like
huh? How can I not feel obligated to address the police brutality and
people's hypocritical responses to it being that I am a black woman? How
can we not talk about it? I was legitimately scared to go out during that
period. Damn right I feel obligated. You will never see me make anything
that I don't believe or feel.
I got good feedback though for the most part. I also got good technical,
helpful feedback from crew. But then I also asked filmmaker friends who
were not a part of the making of it to give feedback while I was editing. I
would discourage people from asking filmmakers their opinion on your work.
I made this mistake. Filmmakers usually give feedback that describes how
they would've directed the film. But their vision is not MY vision though.
And I wrote and directed the film. So this is how I directed it. It's my
vision. So I'm going to steer clear from that in the future.
Any future projects you'd like to share?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
I'm currently editing a film on women's rights that I wrote and directed
in July, and that will come out next year. I can't talk too much about it
right now but like a lot of things I like to write, nothing is ever as it
seems! So pay close attention! :D Can't wait to share the film with
everyone when that's done.
I might be directing something in D.C. in October, but I don't want to
give details about that until it's finalized. You know, people say a lot
Oh, and there's also the film Not in Love that I want to do too.
I loved evolving as a filmmaker and challenging myself by writing and
directing more difficult concepts and more impactful films this year. You
will never grow as an artist until you stop caring about how others
perceive you and make a statement already. I've grown a lot from those
experiences this year, and I'm going to continue to grow. I very much
enjoyed the experiences this year in my filmmaking. But I also want to go
back to my roots, the bittersweet love stories. To hell with
marketability. I need to express myself. This is who I am at my core and I
have to express myself in that way. So, more of those films coming too...
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
for the interview!