“In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.”
– Frantz Fanon
During the first few days of January, I was thrilled about the prospects for Escape from Beckyville and was looking forward to another cross-country tour. By the second week, I was despondent. I moped around my apartment in my robe for two and three days at a time, sometimes not bothering to shower or brush my teeth. I felt that my life lacked purpose and meaning. It’s been nearly nine months since I walked away from my job at a top-rated talk show to pursue my dreams, and I’m still surviving. I had to sell my car and make a few other life adjustments, but I’m still here. Cubicle free and all that. Sure, if it came down to it, I could get another job if things got too scary. But the reason I lay in bed for hours with the blinds closed was because I had to face a scary thought: maybe it was finally time to leave L.A.
I had already fled … in my mind. I was already putting furniture up for sale on Craigslist and typing up my notice to vacate the premises by April. I believed I was too old to be struggling in La La Land. I could struggle in Pennsylvania, back at my mother, Lola’s, house. I had family on the East Coast, and I could save up some money and start again, maybe as a clerk in a Mom and Pop shop. I craved anonymity. I didn’t want to wrestle with my dreams anymore. The best thing to do would be to strip my dainty purple chariot down to its dull golden shell and hit the highway for the home of my childhood.
After nearly a month of trudging around, clutching to my shoulders the blue-black shawl of malaise, something happened. I went to bed one night expecting to awaken to the familiar greasiness of defeat in my stomach. But it wasn’t there. I felt so joyful that I bounded out of bed and booted up my laptop. There I sat for an hour, typing up a script, eight pages in length, entitled “Distance.” It was a speculative fiction story, in the vein of Escape from Beckyville. It occurred to me that I could create several of these stories and film them. Thus, the Escape from Beckyville web series was born.
The leap from independent author to web series writer and creator isn’t such a huge one, in my mind. Truth be told, I didn’t move 3,000 miles from Baltimore to Los Angeles to become a novelist. I came here to be a working screenwriter in Hollywood. The book evolved during grad school because I felt compelled to pen transgressive tales of black womanhood and critique the issues we face – our hair, race, identity and relationships – in short story form. I’m not abandoning one project to pursue another. The Escape from Beckyville web series is an extension of the dialogue that began with the book.
In talks that I’ve given in bookstores and cultural centers from Sacramento to New York, I’ve always maintained that we have to create the images we want to see. I’ve written in the past about why I find movies such as The Help to be problematic and how I long to see empowered and complex depictions of sisters on the big and little screens. Naturally, when you object to cinematic tropes you find offensive – whether they be Jezebel, Mammy or Sapphire – you are told to “make your own movies if you don’t like it,” as I have been instructed several times when I have voiced my objections. I’m sure many filmmakers have heard the same lazy rejoinder. If everyone had the same access to financiers (or a trust fund), if everyone’s project could get the green light, that discussion would be moot. But so many screenwriters of color feel shut out of the game that they either abandon their dreams entirely or try to subvert the studio system.
Count me in with the latter category.
When I see the success of Issa Rae’s web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” when I see Ava DuVernay self-funding her own movies I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere and becoming the first black woman to win Best Director at Sundance, when I see Dee Rees raising money to direct the critically acclaimed independent film Pariah, I know two things: it’s a wonderful time to be a black woman filmmaker and sisters are clamoring for representation. We are hungry for content – in theaters or online – that reflects our unique experience.
So this is what I’ve been up to for the past month and a half. I wrestled with sharing this idea in so public a forum because I didn’t have anything solid “in the can.” But blogging about this process will help keep me accountable and will allow me to chart my progress. I plan to launch the first episode for Escape from Beckyville TV (it feels funny to write that, but I’ll get used to it) by the first week of May. As I did when my mother and I went on the road, I’ll be tweeting and FB updating every step of the way – from the meetings, to casting, to pre-production to filming. I’ve already drawn up a business plan and met with a potential producer and actress for the web series. In a few hours, I’ll be meeting with a director to discuss how to take the project to the next level.
The above quote from Frantz Fanon resonates with me for several reasons. It’s about self-determination, the ability to live on one’s own terms, particularly in a society that seems indifferent to the psychic and physical survival of African-American women (and sometimes seems hell-bent on our destruction). It also brings to mind travel, movement. You can’t fall if you’re standing still. Finally, it speaks to my constant need for reinvention, or maybe I should say evolution. I’m always growing because my dreams, and my desires and my hopes for the greater good are always in a state of flux. Transformation is good for the soul. It reminds us that no matter how good we used to be, no matter how much we’ve accomplished in the past, we can’t get stuck there because we have much work to do.
I’ll remember that the next time I’m in bed for days in my food-stained robe with the blinds closed.
For now, I’m getting excited about this next venture. I hope that you, Faithful Reader, who have been following my journey from day one, when I nervously pulled out of my garage to embark on an 11,000 mile nationwide book tour, will come along with me on this journey as well. I know that I am just an unknown author with big plans, but I still have childlike faith. Miracles have occurred with less. I’m still warring for my dreams, and I hope that you’ll run out onto the battlefield as well to fight with me.
This is an epic project for me to undertake, so if you’re a fan of Escape from Beckyville or you want to be a part of this effort for change, here are three ways you can get involved:
1) Donate. The button in the right sidebar takes you to a PayPal page to donate to help defray costs associated with production (hiring a crew, props, food, pre-production, etc). Any amount from $1 to $10,000 is appreciated!
3) Document! If you’re a fan of the book Escape from Beckyville, consider filming a short 2- to 3-minute video about what this book means to you, about any stories that resonate with you or the things you’ve learned throughout this journey. Your submissions may be used on the blog or my social networking sites or in any future campaigns to promote the web series.
Thanks in advance for your support. Let’s create a movement!