Behind the Lens


Scars Become Badges of Honor in Talibah Newman’s Films

The narrative film director draws on her own family experiences to portray innocence and resilience in her children-centered films.

AIRED: December 19, 2018 | 0:07:02

Talibah: I'm almost trying to be Peter Pan in certain ways.

Child: As though you have...

Talibah: Trying to recreate children who are fierce,

no matter what they've experienced in life.

I try to show you can mold that which you feel

might have been a permanent scar.

That can be your own blessing or your own badge of honor.

My name is Talibah Newman.

I am a writer and director.

I also produce a lot of my own projects.

I lived in New York for 15 years, and recently moved to Oakland.

But my roots are in South Dallas.

I had a great childhood.

I was surrounded by love.

There's a Malcolm X parade and a Martin Luther King parade,

and some of my fondest memories are of those parades

and going to get ready for the parade and the march.

I was the oldest of five children.

Me and my siblings have two different fathers, but for the most part

we've all grown up under the same roof.

I've always been the second mother because my mother was always working.

She worked herself off of welfare.

And at first she worked out of her home and then she was able to get her own shop.

Having a mother who worked hard for the family and balancing both,

I think as a woman, was important to see.

One of the biggest things I've learned from you, people aren't necessarily

gonna be the people that they are today, tomorrow.

So it's important to give people grace enough to transform.

Isis: That's beautiful, Talibah.

Talibah: This is my great-grandmother's house.

My dad used to come to this house all the time and trim the hedges and keep it up.

And this street is Brigham Lane.

The title of one of my shorts ...

[Excerpt from film]: Mr. Gregory ...

- What's happening hot mama?

Talibah: .. About a young girl who sought to create a stronger relationship

with her estranged father.

[Excerpt from film]: You don't recognize me, Pa?


Talibah: So in a lot of my work people may be struggling ...

[Excerpt from film]: What happened?

Talibah: ...with different phases of their life.

But at the same time, I try to show a certain element of humanity,

a certain element of hope.

[Excerpt from film]: Look, I'm sorry, Mo.

- That's fine, that's fine.

Listen, if I get you something to wear, you'll still come?

- You just... you just never give up.

- No.

Talibah: I want to see growth.

I want to see growth in black communities, in women.

I want to see growth...

[Excerpt from film]: Benjamin-

Talibah: ... with children and their relationships with their parents.

[Excerpt from film]: Come here.

Talibah: And so, Sweet Honey Chile is a film about a young boy whose grandfather

passes away and he goes on this journey with his grandfather's ex-lover...

[Excerpt from film]: Alright, that's what I'm talking about! Outstanding ...

Talibah: And Honey and his mother, they clash.

She doesn't agree with him linking up with Mister Jolene.

[Excerpt from film]: You keep the hell away from my kid!


Talibah: And it explores what happens when a kid is expressing himself.

But the world around him and the people around him that are supposed to be his safe space

are not necessarily supporting him.

The film is a conglomeration of a lot of different elements of my life.

When my younger brother came out when he was a teenager,

I don't think that my family was equipped with the tools to usher him

into what he was experiencing.

What I seek to honor in this film is him, my younger brother.

And when I'm taking you on a journey,

it's important to me to try to preserve the innocence of children,

where you can be vulnerable,

where you can experience life in the now,

and champion for the things that just are.

We are going to make sure that we hit this scene tonight in the way

that it needs to be portrayed.

- Okay, quiet on the set!

- Do you have the slate?

Talibah: Ayana Baraka, a fantastic DP, recently tapped me to be one

of the directors for a passion project of hers called 'Greenwood Avenue.'

[Excerpt from film]: Just wanna to destroy everything we have.

And then just give us milk and cookies!

No, thank you.

Talibah: A virtual reality experience based on the

Greenwood Avenue massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921.

Greenwood was a thriving community of black entrepreneurs who had created businesses

and they had their own schools.

But in 1921, in an attempt to destroy this entire community, bombs were dropped,

storefronts were set on fire.

And hundreds of people were killed.

This was one of the largest acts of white violence, yet it's not really talked about.

We're going to make sure that it's very powerful and actually very scary.

And we're going to make sure that we conjure up the energy of what we was going on in that moment.

We were one of the first film crews to be able to film on Greenwood.

I was tasked to direct some of the most difficult scenes of the series.

One being a moment where marauders come and take the father of the family.

There's a lot of violence in the scene.

And so it was very high emotion.

But I wanted to challenge myself.

[Excerpt from film]: Get all, get your stuff.

Talibah: And help to tell this story and help to bring it to the forefront ...

...Laughing, yelling.

Get 'em.

Go, go, go!

... As it should be told and remembered, using this new medium.

Later the community rebuilt itself.

People still had the heart to come back from this,

to not run away.

And that just speaks to the resilience of the people in the community.

Yeah. First take, we're doing rehearsal.

With the art of filmmaking and the craft of filmmaking,

I've found the way to insert my voice.

And whether it's the beauty, whether it's the pain, I see my people straight up.

And sometimes it's really hard when you don't actually have immediate solutions

to fix the things that you see going on around you.

But I also think that it can be inspiring when telling stories because you try

to be the voices of the people who don't necessarily have those tools.

So I'm doing this work for them.


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