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Guest Post: Enough with the “Black Movies,” Bring on the Black Mermaids

Guest Post: Enough with the "Black Movies," Bring on the Black Mermaids

I love seeing movies with black people in them, but I’m not interested in making “black movies.”

There’s a difference. I want to see representations of women like me in movies where it’s not about having a black experience, but about having a human experience (or a mermaid one). I’m a black director/writer/actress who will play a mermaid in a movie, but it won’t be a “Black mermaid movie.” I’m very conscious of race and I don’t believe we live in a post-racial world (yet). But I also believe there’s a lot of power in telling stories that highlight the fact that, though we may look different from one another, we all love, hurt, and live the same way in our core. 

I moved to Los Angeles in 2007 to pursue an acting career but found myself only getting consistent work as a production assistant. When I blocked out periods of time to work on my acting, I realized that, even if I had a manager or an agent, I’d be lucky to audition twice a month. With my flat nose and dark skin, the only parts that came my way were slaves, maids, and a part simply titled “African Girl.” (Seriously.) I don’t understand why I or others like me are limited to such parts. Can we not be an inspirational teacher? A housewife? A woman struggling with cancer? A mermaid? Can we not be heroes? 

Yes, we can. And a a lover of science fiction and supernatural and fantasy movies, I’m starting with the easiest of those possibilities: a mermaid of course. A black mermaid. I’ve never seen one on film, and I had no idea I would be the one to bring her to existence. I’m done reading through breakdowns and only finding marginalized roles for myself. So I’m creating the character I want to see onscreen. She’s beautiful, vulnerable, and at first naive, but gains the wisdom to be stronger.

The film is called “The Water Phoenix,” and the Mermaid community (yes, there’s a community) helped me pick the title. From that and the gorgeous concept art piece drawn by Tim Chang, they immediately understood the character. One of the many comments that solidified my choice was, “The title suggests she has to overcome something that almost destroyed her.” This story flowed out of me while I was reflecting on paralyzing heartbreak. I feel this is a universal tale, and I’m expanding on that with an allegory.

I’ve been working hard at a low-level position for almost a decade, and though I’m grateful to be in the business I love, these golden handcuffs have to come off. I want to tell stories, larger-than-life ones. My ideas have always been ambitious, and I’d love to prove to the industry that women can direct huge visual-effects movies. And I can’t do that by making relationship films set in my living room. 

I’m off to a good start now as an alumna of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women, where I had the opportunity to audit classes and hone my script. And my years behind the scenes have paid off through the knowledge I acquired on how to work with low-budget films like Mark Ruffalo’s “Sympathy for Delicious” to big-budgets like Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” 

I have to show that I can make these types of movies while also making them diverse. I’m starting today on correcting that imbalance. No more labels like “Black movies.” Sure, I may be swimming upstream for some time, but “The Water Phoenix” wouldn’t be afraid of that, so why should I?

Bola Ogun is a writer, director, and actor making “The Water Phoenix.” To help bring this film to life, check out her Indiegogo campaign.

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