“Random Acts of Flyness” was Naima Ramos-Chapman’s first professional television gig. Having known creator Terence Nance for five years prior (he produced two of her short films), the writer, dancer, and artist came into her first writers’ room and faced a difficult challenge: Connecting stream of consciousness storytelling that jumps between seemingly disconnected topics at will.
“Let’s spend 30 minutes talking about how we could go from this disparate idea to this one — this image of a du-rag to this conversation about rape. How would you do that?” Ramos-Chapman told IndieWire.
Shaping the short stories that made up each 30-minute episode was the first priority. Each writer would share parts of themselves, of their journey, to flesh out the series. The writers’ room became a safe place for sharing personal ideas, but it was also a place where each member had to find ways to connect their story to others — and to connect with each other so fans could do the same.
“I think that’s what the show does really well,” Ramos-Chapman said. “Having conversations about things that feel super disparate, and bringing them all together under this umbrella idea that blackness can be a more expansive thing than [what] television, or even mass media, have dictated [for] people who look like me or Terence or other people on the show.”
Ramos-Chapman said she felt strongly about a segment from Episode 4, where a woman goes to a police station to report an assault. The red tape she has to go through ranges from the extreme, such as when she’s asked to “turn in her pussy,” to the mundane, when she’s forced to repeatedly identify her attacker. The piece helps explain why some women are so hesitant about starting the legal process.
“It’s a tricky space for black women to engage with because we don’t always trust the criminal justice system to do right, but also it is the only source of recourse,” Ramos-Chapman said.
Her assigned police officer is played by none other than Whoopi Goldberg, who Ramos-Chapman not only got to write for, but got to direct, as well.
“She’s a comedic genius, and we couldn’t have been more excited that she read the script [and responded to it],” Ramos-Chapman said. “She knew exactly what to do, [but] was so generous and open to being directed. […] A talent like Whoopi gives a lot of credence to a work that’s very new.”
Beyond writing and directing, Ramos-Chapman slid into the editing booth as well, digging into pre-production, production, and post-production on the finale. She said that experience showed how creative opportunities are everywhere — that even though many transitions between big ideas came from the writing, she was also encouraged to find connections through archival footage and more to make each episode deliver its greatest impact.
In the end, Ramos-Chapman hopes the show — which has been renewed for a second season at HBO — continues to drive conversation.
“It’s a hard show to tweet about,” she said. “You can love it, you can get it, but you can’t reduce it to 140 characters. We wanted to make something that people needed to talk about for the week, for the month, or for the year, so I really love when people tell me they wrote a thesis for their dissertation on it.”
Watch Ramos-Chapman discuss Whoopi Goldberg’s performance at IndieWire’s Consider This FYC Brunch below. “Random Acts of Flyness” is eligible for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, as well as other variety programming categories, at the 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards. Season 1 is available now on HBO.