To restrain baby elephants, circus trainers would chain the helpless animal to a large stake driven into the ground. After countless attempts of trying to free itself, sooner or later, the baby elephant would find his efforts hopeless.
The psychological force of conditioned helplessness enslaves the animal for life, so even after adulthood the powerful elephant becomes powerless over the peg, staked to the ground. This is called, the baby elephant principle.
Once the script to AFTER PROM was completed, I felt the story tapped into something rare and special. With excitement I shared the final draft of AFTER PROM with several of my trusted friends who all agreed.
With multiple stamps of approval, the script graduated from friends and family opinions to industry veterans I’d reserve over the years for such special occasions. In making the rounds, there was a defining moment in which one suggestions would leave an imperative impact not just on the film, but also on my life.
It was prior to the introspective phone call I would later receive which challenged me to define my creative purpose. This particular moment which forced me to confront an unknown imprisonment which I never knew imprisoned me, the baby elephant principle.
My first major job in the entertainment industry was at ABC/DISNEY in burbank. There are many fond memories of that time, but the relationships merged where, to me, the most valuable. One particular friendship was with another young black man who I felt an intuitive bond due to the fact we were both minorities in this big machine called Disney, trying to find our own way in the world of entertainment.
Fast forward almost nine years and my friend eventually moved up in the world as a producer and, through hard work, would establish solid relationships with vital decision makers. Of all people, I felt he was the one I’d want to work with in bringing AFTER PROM to fruition.
After reading the AFTER PROM script my close industry friend loved it. He believed the story was “Dope”, timely, funny and definitely commercial. He’d mentioned how it could work on various levels and had legs to travel the indie circuit or even secure a theatrical release, but there was only one problem. It was too black.
He mentioned how, as the story stands, the subject matter and directness may be too progressive for a traditional black audience, and the uncompromising blackness of the film could isolate a white audience. He was certain that it’d be a hard sell, but then he offered a solution. Recast it as a white film.
His suggestion didn’t come out of spite for the black community, he was simply using industry comparables of other teen rom-coms and brainstorming on ways to sell the project and not marginalize the film. He honestly wanted the film to be seen by the widest audience possible, and then after, when I’d proven to be a successful storyteller, come back to the niche black audience with daring material.
I argued the reason there were comparables to white teen rom-coms like AMERICAN PIE, PROM, SUPERBAD, SEX DRIVE and more, were because for every one that succeeds there are hundreds which fail miserably. The white teen rom-coms have a better batting average because they receive more opportunities at bat then black teen rom-coms like AFTER PROM.
After the passionate debate, and realizing we’d most likely not be collaborating, I was a little disheartened about it all. But at the same time, the points he made had some truths behind them and, based on the overall economics of the industry, made good business sense. That’s when I found myself stuck between two conundrums.
One was to disregard the community value of AFTER PROM in combating film’s limited scope when dealing with the black teen experience, and the other, to cash out.
In the age of internal battling with the N-word, the cultural disconnect between baby boomer and millennial generations and other conflicting views on various aspects of “blackness”, within the black community, an artists, especially a black filmmaker, has to be extremely conscious with what they’re putting out into the world.
Yet this extreme consciousness and responsibility can also serve as a self-imposed limitation on creative expression. A censorship cost paid in order to cast the widest net to ensure maximum exposure within the niche market of a black community.
The alternative, which may provide an easy fix with possibly larger financial gains, would perpetuate the very stigma to which AFTER PROM was created to fight.
On either side of the argument there would be producers and investors who I’d be responsible for presenting the best option in order for them to recoup their investment.
All angles were considered in how to find a perfect balance, because the last thing a filmmaker wants is to be labeled as an irresponsible megalomaniac who squanders investors money on personal agendas.
People do invest in films to make a statement, but they’d prefer to make their money back while doing it.
A back and forth tussle between civic duty and commercial salability burdened me heavily for a month, causing a loss of weight and sleep while mentally wrestling between the two. And in the midst of my mental fog, an epiphany sprang forth.
I realized, that it was me who was the one carrying other people’s limitations on what black folks wanted and didn’t want to see. And that I was doing this without even allowing black people to tell me what they wanted to see.
My struggle resided in the fact that I was leading with industry assumptions instead of relying on the faith in what I believed was a great, purposeful story that needed to be told. And in that moment, the extent to how severe I was conditioned into self-doubt by those knowingly and unknowingly was astounding.
Afterwards, my stomach turned with disgust, not in the system or anyone else, but in myself. My disgust was self-directed at my own weakness in allowing myself to be rendered incapable of validating, or trusting my own instincts. For allowing myself to being manipulated for so many years and never realizing it.
From that moment of awareness, it was like I’d been the adult elephant tied to a stake in the ground who’d realized he’s twelve-thousand pounds of unstoppable force. The chained and captured elephant who finally comprehends that the only thing containing or holding him back, is himself.
And that’s the moment I snapped from an inferior mindset, to a mindset of manifestation and decided to go forth with AFTER PROM as I saw it.
The journey since has been long, sometime hard and I admit, everything comes at a cost, even freedom. But in my experience, to be the captain of your own destiny is well worth the price of admission, that I’d gladly pay anytime.
Myron Ward is a writer/director of the black teen romantic comedy feature film AFTER PROM that is currently undergoing an indiegogo fundraising campaign seeking to raise $10,000 of development funds. He resides in North Hollywood, CA where he writes, produces and freelances in Industrial Marketing for RK GLOBAL.