In 2007, I visited Los Angeles and, among other things, attended the American Black Film Festival. Obviously younger and poutier, it was very early in my screenwriting career, and, at the time, I hungered for and devoured every morsel of knowledge and advice a fledgling screenwriter might crave. On this particular night, my BFF from middle school and crew landed at the Beverly Center Cinemas 13 for the festival’s screening of a film, Redrum. Co-written by Carl Seaton, the indie film starred its director, Kenny Young, along with Jill Marie Jones, Joe Torry, Rodney Perry, and Jenifer Lewis.
Anyone who understands the notion of “six degrees of separation,” or who has indulged in the parlor game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” understands. With the depth, expansivity, and interconnectedness of the multitalented “Auntie” (capital “A”) of Black acting, Ms. Lewis could institute her own version, make it a board game, and sell out at Black ramily reunions. Just saying…
On the night of this photo, during the post-film talk, Jenifer Lewis was generous with her wisdom and awe-inspiring in her presence. She talked about how she had just come off of several successful projects and, at the time, was working on Boston Legal. She encouraged Black filmmakers to seek out known Black actors in support of Black film and TV. While it might seem obvious, it was the first time I had considered the idea that black actors might invest their time and talents into good micro-budget projects in order to support a thriving Black film industry; that, as much as I did, Black actors also TRULY wanted Black film to flourish.
As we exited the theater and milled about in the atrium, I noticed Ms. Lewis and the small entourage that surrounded her. She had a cold and they served as a protective layer between her and the general public. She graciously nodded and exchanged smiles with adoring fans. As I stood at my respectful distance, I couldn’t ignore the pathway that remained, leading directly from me to Ms. Lewis.
“Go,” I remember my BFF urging.
Pensively, I made my way toward Ms. Lewis as she cautioned people that she was keeping her distance; she had been feeling sick and didn’t want to pass on her germs. Before she left, I caught her attention, thanked her for her last comment, and shared that I felt inspired as a screenwriter to continue writing and telling our stories.
Ms. Lewis took both of my hands into hers and looked me in the eyes. She reminded me of the battle scene in the film 300, where Russell Crowe tells the infantry to “Hold the line!” She explained that this is what I would need to do if I want to succeed as a filmmaker. She cautioned that I would not be able to see the arrows nor will I always know the enemy. “And, you won’t know if the win is going to happen next week, next year, or ten years from now. Your job is to hold the line.” She left me feeling like she was counting on me; like my stories were necessary.
It’s incredible that every time I tell that story, I get emotional. Even now. Especially now. Someday, when we meet again, I will tell her that her words lifted me off in ways that she may never understand.
Thank you, Ms. Lewis.