Chocolate Coloured Sweetheart - Interview with Stacey Duah
8th March 2019
This week, Melanated Minds teamed up with Stacey Darkwaah Duah to discuss her recent short film Chocolate Coloured Sweetheart as well as her experiences being a black filmmaker, producer, director and screenwriter of West African decent.
Growing up, Stacey was an avid reader, something that she believes, greatly impacted her ability to write short stories, poems and screenplays. When she isn't writing, she enjoys binge-watching shows on Netflix such as Pretty Little Liars, hanging out with friends, listening to music and taking walks through her local parks. In her own words, "I've had a pretty simple life to be honest".
We interviewed Stacey about her latest film Chocolate Coloured Sweetheart as well as her thoughts on the industry.
Click on the button below to watch Chocolate Coloured Sweetheart online via Youtube
1) What lead you to become a filmmaker?
If I'm to be honestly honest, until 2013 I'd never even thought of myself as ever wanting to be a filmmaker. Heck, I didn't even know much about filmmaking or what goes on behind the scenes, away from what we - the general audience and consumers see and watch on our television screens. It all sort of happened accidentally. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to become an actress (amongst several other things), but I had the "acting bug" bad. So, a friend of mine - Kernisha Peterking, told me about a FREE youth-centred media and film club in her area called 'Mouth That Roars' and that they were having intakes for a Film Academy funded and powered by the BFI (British Film Institute).
I'd heard "Film" and "Institute" and I jumped the gun; told her that I wanted to apply. I actually thought it was an acting course rather than a filmmaking course. So I filled in all necessary applications and posted it off. A few weeks later I got an email from the Facilitator of the Academy Denise Rose, saying that she enjoyed my application and thinks that I'd be perfect for the course, but that she noticed that I'd mentioned acting on my form and it wasn't an acting course, it was a filmmaking/DIY how to make films course. My heart sank, and I instantly responded opting out seeing as I had no knowledge of filmmaking and had no interest in it. But Denise urged me to still come along to the first meeting/induction session, and that if I still felt the same way afterwards then, I was under no obligation to stay and / or continue the course.
So a week or two after that, my friend (Kernisha) accompanied me to the first session and my curiosity just took off from there. It was all new to me and I was fascinated and just curious. Weeks and months passed, we'd have guest industry speakers come in and tell us a bit about themselves and what they do and then by the end of the course we got to make our own film. A few years after graduating from the academy, I wanted to put what I'd learnt into practice, so I rounded up a few of my friends that I'd made on the academy and I scripted and co-produced my very first independent short film, called 'Forget Me Not' (2016). It's a mental health awareness film. The film did quite well and I managed to privately screen it at the BFI. I released it onto Youtube afterwards, and then rounded up my friends again for the next film, and the next and the rest is history. But yeah, when I'm asked how it all happened, I say "accidentally", but thankfully I found film. I think it found me actually.
2) What are your overall experiences as a black woman in the field?
Hm. Let's dissect that question shall we. Being a "woman" is hard enough in this field, in most fields to be honest. But being a "black" "woman" in this particular field is even tougher. You go into a room, could be a board room for pitching a new idea for commissioning (I haven't done so before, but I'm sure I will in the near future) or even a general networking event, and 8 times out of 10 you find that no one or very few people look like you. They're either all men or all white, or just white men generally. Which isn't a pleasant experience, because if you walk into a space that's "supposed" to be inclusive and diverse (that word in this context makes me itch, but it is what it is), and you don't see anyone like you then, it knocks hope out of you. How can you dream a dream that you don't see yourself in? Which takes me onto what Viola Davis says in her iconic 2015 Emmy acceptance speech (if i'm not mistaken): "The only thing that seperates women of color from everyone else is opportunity."
With that being said, it's not all doom and gloom. I've had more pleasant experiences than unpleasant. There's very few people like me (black, female and queer) within this field, so it gives me more room to take creative risks and break the rules a little, especially as an independent filmmaker. When there's not a lot of people like you then, there's not a lot of people to be compared to, so you can do your own thing with little to no comparison. If that makes sense?
3) Where did you get inspiration for Chocolate Coloured Sweetheart?
The concept for the story was actually curated after a conversation I had with my younger sister about her unfortunate experience(s) of colourism, which is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a darker skin tone by people within the same ethnic group/community as the person that’s experiencing colourism. At first, I found it quite difficult to relate to what my sister was saying seeing as, although I’m not light-skinned myself, my younger sister is a lot darker than I am. So I’ve never experienced colourism in the same way that she has, which meant that I didn’t understand or relate to a lot of what she’d been through and was saying. The initial conversation didn’t end well and we ended up having an argument.
After a few days of not speaking, during which, I also reflected on the conversation we’d had a few days before, I decided to approach my sister – but this time with a more open-mind around the subject of colourism. Initially, she found it quite difficult to express how she felt so, knowing that she’s a big fan of spoken word poetry I asked her to write down how she felt, and how her experiences of colourism had made her feel. Lo and behold, she penned a beautifully and unapologetically raw and hard-hitting piece. The poem that she’d written was littered with so much anger, passion, pain and confliction and it was then that I knew that I had to build something around it. So I asked her for permission to re-write parts of her poem, and from there I built a story around the poem, with colourism being the focal point. The poem serves its purpose in one of the pivotal scenes in the film, and being a huge fan of “social problem films” and art that not only entertains but also provokes thought, I just had to incorporate themes such as, the necessity for self-love, unity, family, sisterhood, motherhood, identity and friendship within the story. Although I scripted, directed and produced the film, I owe a lot of it to my amazing younger sister. Without her, I wouldn’t have a story as beautiful as Chocolate Coloured Sweetheart.
4) If you could give any advice to individuals interested in filmmaking, what would it be?
First and foremost, tell the stories that you want to tell, or stories that you feel the world is lacking in. As opposed to telling stories that you think people want you to tell. I mean, it's easier to do this whilst you're an independent filmmaker. When you're signed and you have bigger budgets and Exec. Producers and clients breathing down your neck, it's a little different. But for independent filmmakers starting out (like myself), "just make the art for you".
When it comes from a personal place of truth and conviction, people will feel it as deeply as you do and you'll find your niche. More practical advice would be, find a group of friends or likeminded peers who are interested in growing with you and in it for the long haul, as it's not a "quick overnight thing", and make stuff together. Collaborate, make mistakes and learn from them. I alway say, if you have one person that likes to or can write - you have the script, another person who knows there way around a basic camera or even a decent smartphone's camera - you have a camera operator, someone who is good with liasoning with people and persuading people - you have a producer, someone who's good at kindly making people do what's necessary when it's necessary - you've a director and another person who has aural precision - there's your sound operator.
And there you go you have a film crew, as small as it seems, a lot can be done. It really all starts with working with people on your level, rather than trying to work with who's hot now. If you watch the end credits of both films I've made, you'll often see the same old crew members over and over again. Collaboration with peers is essential. Lastly, the best advice I could give is to be NICE and considerate. Talent will get you where you want to go, but your attitude, personality and how you treat people, will keep you there. That's the advice I can give now, from experience. I try not to give advice that I can't back or vouch for from experience, as so far, I'm still premature in my filmmaking journey myself.