Close-Ups / Film / Technicolor

Close-Ups: Filmmaker Kandis Hutcherson Talks QWOC Media Representation, Buying Power and Nebula

ImageWe’re pleased that QLiC Press got a chance to sit down with Philadelphia-based filmmaker Kandis Hutcherson as she shared her experiences as a queer woman of color (qwoc) in the industry, her thoughts on black media representation and details about her newest project, Nebula.  Bold, honest and always hilarious, Kandis doesn’t mince any of her words in this conversation  about life, art and politics.  Check out the interview below:

QP: What led you to become a filmmaker?

KH:  Well, that’s a complicated story.  I was originally an accounting major, but knew that I wanted to do something with more meaning.  Like many, I had this strong urge to change the world.  [chuckles] Plus, I realized that  accounting had nothing to with math.  So, I decided to switch to Political Science and quickly learned that it wasn’t for me.   I never wanted to be in a position where I had to lie to myself or someone else.  So, after I accepted that I wouldn’t be president, I switched back to accounting.   Honestly, I was completely bored; it was the worst thing in the history of the world.  Then, one day, a friend suggested that I explore writing.  I’d always loved writing, but I didn’t think people could actually make a living do it.

QP: A lot of people don’t. 

KH:  Yeah, exactly.   I learned that after I ventured into creative writing at Georgia State University.  It was too bureaucratic. The truth is it’s never simply about writing;  it’s about money.  But, I knew I had a message- I knew I really wanted to reach a lot of people.  Unfortunately, no one reads anymore.  No one’s picking up books.  Everything’s about instant gratification. So that’s when I really settled on film.  I realized that if I really wanted to change the world and do the things that I wanted to do, film would be the best medium.

ImageQP: How do you approach filmmaking?

KH:  Well, I’m certainly for the organic.  I don’t like to force anything down anyone’s throat-especially with my actors.  It takes a certain level of personhood to be able to go with the flow.  With Nebula, I wrote a script and they read it.  However, I told them from jump, ”This isn’t about you remembering and delivering lines.  It’s about you bringing your authentic experience to the table.  So go with whatever you think your character would do in this moment.”

QP: If you only had 10 seconds, how would you describe Nebula?

KHNebula is about two women who are entering a new stage of their lives.  One is dumped, one is getting a divorce and they meet at this party that celebrates the comet Ison, which ushers in a new age of peace and prosperity.  Was that 10 seconds?

QP: You have a little time left. 

KH: It’s about the idea of transformation.  Literally, three days before production, Nebula’s script was still changing.  And that was because I learned about the Nebula stone, which represents reincarnation, transformation and being grounded.  And it was perfect because the film is about a woman that’s not feeling really comfortable in her skin or her placement in the world.  She’s transforming herself, trying to rectify her past life with her current and future lives.  And the fact that I found information about this stone, three days before production…it was meant to be. There’s no other way to explain it.

ImageQP: So Nebula has a strong metaphysical aspect to it.  What made you go in that direction?

KH:  Simply put: I applied to Temple and I got in.  I mean, I’ve always felt this connection [to something greater], but I didn’t begin to explore it until 2009.  That’s when I’d recently lost both of my grandfathers.  And soon after, I began having really vivid dreams about situations and realizing that they were more significant than I’d thought.  Specifically, I’d had a dream about getting into Temple and this was way before I’d even contemplated grad school.  Then, it all came true.  I mean, it was more involved than that, but it was a kismet experience and something I needed to explore.

How do you respond to being labeled a “qwoc”  filmmaker?

KH:  When people see me, they see a black woman.  I will never try to deny those things about myself.  But I also have to embrace my otherness.  And that comes from being queer. That comes from going against what the preconceived notion of what blackness is in America.  That comes from all the cultures inside of me.  That comes from my spirituality.  I’ve been out of the closet since I was 15-years-old.  However, when people see my work, I don’t want the first thing for them to think to be, “Oh, this was made by a queer woman of color.” [chuckles]  Although, I don’t think they would;  they’d probably first say it was weird.  But, I don’t think that my work always says black or always says queer-especially with Nebula.  Even though 4 out of the 5 main characters are queer, it’s not a film about being gay.  Nor is it a film about being black.  It isn’t a film about any of that stuff; it’s a film about life.  And that’s what I want.

Kandis Feature PhotoQP: So you don’t feel any pressure to produce any specific type of material?

KH:  It’s a double pressure, but I put a lot of that on myself.  On one hand, I want to change these ideas of what black filmmaking means or what queer filmmaking looks like.  I want to integrate that into the mainstream in some way.  I feel a pressure to not be tied to one way of thinking or representing someone.   At the same time, there’s also pressure to change our representation for the better in a different way.  But ultimately, it boils down to, you, as an artist, having your own vision.  I’ve seen a lot of people compromise themselves in this industry and that’s something I do NOT want to do.  I never want to tell a story that has absolutely nothing to do with me.  If I can’t see myself in it, then it’s not for me.  It’s just not.  This is who I am and no one is going to change my sense of self.  Only I can do that.

QP: How do you think your identity as a qwoc affects the way you’re perceived in the industry and has that posed any challenges in making Nebula?

KH:  As a woman of color in this industry, I won’t say it’s nothing but challenges, but it’s very challenging.  We are the last people to get thought about.  I mean, look at how we’re represented.  It’s tragic!  There aren’t any deep characters in the mainstream.  People are very hesitant to fund projects that are geared towards black audiences unless it’s going to be a Tyler Perry kind of thing that’s going to make lots of money.

QP: So does that mean you’re not a Tyler Perry fan?

KH:  It’s not that.  It just becomes challenging when you’re trying to make it and studios tell you, “No.”  And then it’s challenging from the community aspect because people are expecting you to be like Tyler Perry.  And there’s an audience out there who wants something different and you’re kind of like, “I’m trying!” But, it really comes down to where we spend our money.  And that’s one thing I hope people learn.  We, the black community, have so much buying power.  It’s in the trillions and the dollar talks.  But what’s most challenging for me, is finding a way to verbalize what my project is about in a way that makes people care.  I know some of that has to do with marketing, but I also feel like, “Shame on you [the consumer] for not knowing more or wanting to know more.” Aren’t we tired of getting spoon-fed things and not thinking for ourselves?  I guess you can’t want something that you’ve never done.

QP: Well, what are your thoughts on the recent surge in qwoc-oriented web series?

KH:  Is there one in particular?

QP:  Let’s go with the most popular one right now: Between Women.

KH:  This is tricky because I know one of the people behind it.  The thing about Between Women is that the audience is so specific.   And again, this is a really good example of what I said earlier.   Here we are talking about Between Women, but it’s really not well made.  And that just shows us how starved we are for media representation.  And if that can be a testament to anything, it’s that.  We need images of queer women of color; we want to see it so badly that we will sit here and watch this really poorly-, shoddily-made series.  And, I’m not trying to diss anyone.   I mean, I commend them for going out there and getting it done.  At the end of the day, that’s what you have to do.  Walter Mosley [award-winning author of Devil in a Blue Dress] once told me, “If you want to be a writer, write everyday.”  So, if you want to be a filmmaker or media maker, do it.  Don’t wait for someone to come around and hand you a check.  Go out there, do it and make it happen for yourself.    But, I hope that they can get some legitimate funding… because people want to see it.

QP: Finally, we like to play a little game with people we interview.  It’s just simple word association:

Nebula: Star

Queer:  People

Tyler Perry: Entrepreneur

Independent Film:  Necessary

Transformation: Constant

Kandis Hutcherson: Nice/Awesome

Religion: Patriarchy

It’s official! We’re going to keep our eyes locked on Kandis Hutcherson and you should too.  Nebula‘s currently in post-production, which leaves us eagerly anticipating its release.   To learn more about Kandis and Nebula, visit kandiswithak.com or check out Nebula‘s Facebook page.  And make sure to spread the word!

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