An interview with Sophia Romma | USED AND BORROWED TIME | VMA20 BEST INDIE FEATURE | November Edition | By Silvia Nittoli
It is a gloomy day at the Birmingham Autumn Fair in present-day Alabama and Eva Gold, an eccentric blind Jewish actress from New York is roaming about, craving apple pies that are spiked with transcendental magical properties. After accidentally stumbling upon a mystical Romani Sorceress’s tent, the Gypsy tempts her by attempting to predict her future but Eva refuses out of superstition. She then enters the tent of Kitty O’Neill who is a Southern bigot stuck in the past and who peddles pies that transport her patrons/victims to a psychic state of phantasma where they experience certain life-altering moments from their pasts lives. Hence, after eating a laced pie, Eva Gold is supernaturally transported to her past during the violent 1960s. Albeit now, she is able to see and to her surprise, she is confronted once more with her young self as she mournfully relives her ill-fated love affair with a poetic African American civil rights advocate. Back then, during the turbulent segregation period in Alabama and in the South, the two lovers were obliged to hide their love yet one day they carelessly end up lost on private property belonging to a White Supremacist family. Secretly hiding in a shed where they make love for the first time, the couple is discovered by the backwoods family and all hell breaks loose.
After the Younger Eva Gold reveals to her temperamental beau that she is a Jew, the youthful lovers get into an argument and as they discuss discrimination and religion, they are caught off-guard by the owners of the shed—the sadistic Woods family who capture the lovers and take them as hostages on Christmas Eve. Uncle Wade Woods along with his sister, the Matriarch of the family, Blanche Woods, and her hen-pecked, backward son, Jed Woods, decide to punish the couple for being on their premises, but their rage towards them is clearly related to the fact that Steadroy Johnson is an African American and Eva Gold is Jewish, a fact which the family simply cannot tolerate due to their racial and ethnic hatred.
The central scene of Used and Borrowed Time is based on an unfortunate racist incident from American history. The feature is directed and written by Sophia Romma, a playwright, screenwriter, theatre, and film director. As well as serving as the Producing Artistic Director of Garden of the Avant-Garde Film and Theatrical Foundation, Romma is a member of the New York City Bar Association where she spearheads the Police Brutality, Racial/and Social Justice Programs and the Right to Health Project, working on prevalent human rights issues.
Outside of making a film, Sophia Romma has penned sixteen stage-plays which have been produced Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway. Some of her more notable play titles include The Past Is Still Ahead, The Mire, and Cabaret Emigre.
• Sophia, congratulations on your award at the Vegas Movie Awards.
You emigrated to New York with your parents from Russia in the ‘80s, and your family is Jewish. How much of your personal story have you put into your movie?
Firstly, I am grateful to Vegas Movie Awards for bestowing upon my film, Used and Borrowed Time, the award for Best Fantasy Feature. Receiving this coveted award is indeed a great honor and the Garden of the Avant-Garde Film Productions Team is reveling in the accolade. I arrived on American shores as a six-year-old child and had witnessed my mother face the gruesome challenging fate brought on by immigration, the dislocation of the émigré soul, and the eventual rather heart-wrenching assimilation which is the fate of the émigré who stands obliged to blend into a society that is not often welcoming and in fact quite frankly unapologetically judgmental of differing cultures and customs. I am a child of the Cold War and having defected from Soviet Russia due to religious, ethnic, and for political reasons, as most fledging immigrants; I found immense and infinite escapism in fantasy with the unfolding of slow seductively intricate, and sublime images on the screen at the very moment that I had set foot at the Film Forum in Bohemian Greenwich Village, New York. My mother was born in Ukraine and my father was born in Bucharest, Romania. I am of Romani and Jewish ancestry, which is quite a combination.My mother and I fled the Soviet Union as refugees seeking asylum in the United States and my father joined us two years later as he was not granted permission to leave the Soviet Union since he was a diplomat.I have always incorporated the personal and tender tales of immigration from different countries in my stage-plays and in my films. My play, “Coyote, Take Me There!” which premiered at La MaMa Experimental Theater explored the immigration of the impoverished, struggling Latino/Hispanic population in conjunction with the persecuted, hounded Eastern European Jewry and drew comparative parallels.
I have most definitely derived from my personal narrative, the motifs and the themes which loom heavy in Used and Borrowed Time, namely the theme of bigotry, prejudice, blind-spot biases, racism, interracial relationships, the atrocity in the face of complicity and intolerance. In 2010, I had the good fortune of working with the late great Charles Weldon, the Artistic Director of the legendary Negro Ensemble Company at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York. Mr. Weldon directed my two one-act plays, “With Aaron’s Arms Around Me and The Mire.” These vignettes were lauded by the New York Times for breaking down the harsh barriers of racism and intolerance with love, inclusiveness, and compassion.https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/15/theater/reviews/15with.html. I often write about love, the clashing of cultures, and explore the subject of ethnic tension.
• With numerous racism and antisemitism episodes happening across the world, this story is as relevant as ever. What is the message you want to convey with your feature?
Systemic overt and covert racism is ignoble and is one of the most egregious issues in the United States which has a tainted history, to say the least. Since the founding of the nation, slavery was America’s shameful sin for which expatriation did not occur. It was not solved by our forefathers bearing a torch burning wild in upholding the principles of democracy but alas racism had never truly dissipated with the dreadful Civil War and with its promise of freedom for the blacks. The Civil Rights Movement was a vehement devotion to striking a profound chord of change and lashing out against bigotry in America—it was not only a movement to attain civil rights and fundamental human rights—it was a movement deployed in jazz, poetry, literature, and was echoed through the halls brimming with emphatic speech preaching change, begging for tolerance. Martin Luther King, Jr. cast his dream over America’s downtrodden and ostracized—and a change was in the works. Nonetheless, we are now amid such discord as Americans, that we tread on thin ice. Racist rhetoric runs rapid and hate crimes are riding high. From the unbearable murder of George Floyd and Ahmaid Arbery, to the unaddressed heinous racist acts which occur across the United States—America stands isolated, drowning in its self-proclaimed exceptionalism while partisan wars are waged and equality, parity, and tolerance have taken a seat at the back burner. Our national spirit is deeply wounded and broken. I have written a recent report for the New York City Bar Association which I had presented at the International Human Rights Committee (where I am a member) and at the European Affairs Committee regarding the rampant rise of antisemitic acts of violence against the Jews and the rise in anti-Roma hatred in Europe. I had noted that in Ukraine, for example, this heightened antisemitic vitriol is primarily carried forth through the actions of thugs from low socio-economic strata, who find relief from their frustrations with the demolition of Jewish tombstones and synagogues, resorting to graffiti while spewing racial insults as well as burning of Roma campsites—phenomena that are well known, rooted but still marginal. Recent events are rooted in the rise of the extreme right in countries such as Poland, Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, and Greece.
These hate crimes express deeply ingrained antisemitism and anti-Roma hatred, either stemming from an ignorant belief in the negative role of the Jews and Roma or in an attempt to gain political capital from those sectors of the population that have given up on politicians and seek to improve their dire situation on their own. The prevailing of intolerance stems from its inane absurdist drive and its pathetic reasoning of superior white power—hatred based on the baseless and naturally, such blatant atrocities towards humanity such as the Holocaust and the genocide of human beings no matter where they come from or where they are headed cannot be tolerated in the 21st Century lest we pave a dangerous path to our past inequities. Hence, in making Used and Borrowed Time, I have tried to convey the message that Americans and people living on this earth cannot remain silent about injustice. Inaction is simply unacceptable. We have a civic duty to stand tall and defend humanity no matter what the consequences may be. It is our obligation to harness and fortify the voices of those who have been underserved and marginalized in society. Furthermore, I have tried to depict the horrors that plague people from all walks of life. Suffering is universal as is the insufferable strain of prejudice which so many of us harbor and pass on like a venomous baton, from generation to generation without questioning its horrific consequences. I hope that my film leads the audience to self-reflect and to seek change in the eyes of peace and in the heart of steadfast tolerance for the diversity which makes each one of us—unique.
Life is about heartfelt raw emotions that do not subside and bleed out into the sewers of soggy alleyways—they hover in time and so I let them dance suspended in this ethereal time.
• You have written and produced many stage plays. How is your approach to filming different compared to your theater work?
I believe that breaking boundaries and non-conforming to the rules of writing for the stage and screen is of the utmost importance in collapsing the old wive’s tale of showing more in cinema by relaying less, which is a classic concept but not my mantra and not the way in which I craft my literary work. Although it goes without saying that plays are dialogue-driven and films are image powered—I have never ascribed to this philosophy as I feel it is formulaic and debilitating for the storyteller. The film is a decidedly visual medium in which one cannot simply rely on the cascading of endless dialogue but there are filmmakers such as Luis Bunuel and Ingmar Bergman who have bent the cinematic experience and have paved the path for me as a director—a filmmaker who aspires to express visuals burgeoning viscerally through a character’s dialogue accompanied by lush expressive visions of scenery. In order to combine the two mediums of theatre and film, I utilize both mediums interchangeably by tipping my hat to the Gods of vernacular and by embracing cinematic imagery which accentuates context and characterization.
Having worked on Off-Broadway stage productions which leave less room for intense scenic backdrops, dialogue may indeed have the luxury of being longer but I have never felt that a screenplay needs to skirt dialogue and be sparse. That type of filming could be left to music videos. In theatre, any mention of what the audience will see on the stage can be very sparse indeed, as in the United States, since the arts are not subsidized by the government, so the artist is obliged to be frugal. Nonetheless, I feel that a director can effectively translate meaning through theatrical verbose dialogue while adhering to the principles of strong visuals which strengthen the mise en scenes with intricacy and poignancy. In fact, Used and Borrowed Time, was originally a fifteen-minute play, written and performed during a gala cabaret dinner at The Players at Gramercy Park in New York.I had adapted this fifteen-minute play into a one-hundred eighty-page screenplay. I am not F. Scott Fitzgerald nor am I Vladimir Nabokov shaking up Hollywood, but I need for my characters to express their inner-most feelings and I will take my time like the French, lingering on each emotion, milking each emotive scene. I will allow for my Dinner with Andre scenes because life is not about curt seconds of screentime where each shot wasted signifies money down the drain. Life is about heartfelt raw emotions that do not subside and bleed out into the sewers of soggy alleyways—they hover in time and so I let them dance suspended in this ethereal time. As a director, because those moments are the inevitable truth of our lives as captured as snapshots on the screen perhaps not in a synchronized harmony but in an orchestrated meaningful symphony—hopefully!
• What gave you the inspiration to write and direct this story?
Used and Borrowed Time originated as a short ten-minute play that was performed at The Players at Gramercy Park in New York. It was originally entitled “Used and Borrowed Pies for Eyes,” and was performed during an evening of cabaret dinner accompanied by a medley of play selections. When my play was over—silence fell upon the hundred-year-old oak room and not a fork was moved. The play resounded with impact and thrashed the soul with bitter truth about society’s tremendously dark foibles. There was a backer in the audience who approached me pertaining to writing a screenplay based on the premise of my original play. So that is exactly what I had accomplished—the challenge was set to the tune of a dare. I love dares. Just dare me! In September of 2019, I had embarked on the journey to write the screenplay—it had taken two months to complete—I was riding high on an inspirational trajectory. The bug of creativity had bitten me badly. In an effort to shed light on an all too horrid and common practice of shameful racism and segregation in the 1960s, and amid the unjust enactment of anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, during the apogee of the Civil Rights Movement—I set forth in documenting an incident that occurred in Birmingham, Alabama at the peak of protests against segregation laws and inequity. This horrific historical incident that sparked sincere interest and spurred me to research this momentous moment in time was recounted by the dignified educated son of slaves who worked as a chef on the Amtrak train which had transported my grandmother and me, once upon my past, to Alabama from New York, during Halloween.
This humble chef extraordinaire had cooked up the most delectable rosemary baked aromatic lamb chops and collard green, and while the train tooted onwards with full steam ahead, he poured his heart out about this true tear-jerking tale of tender ill-fated love. This lashing psychological docu-drama welled tears in my eyes as the tale captured the narrative of the chef’s young cousin, a civil rights leader and poetic soul who had expired way before his time at the hands of a clan of heartless white supremacists. The unspeakable crimes committed against an innocent Jewish blind girl and her African American soul mate is a tragedy that unfolds in my experimental psychological drama phantasma. I pray that this film shall serve as a reminder of the evil that can descend upon innocent spirits seeking to change our wounded world for the better and as a beacon of hope in the plight for human rights, gender parity, and equality as we stand united on one sunny day—one nation under the unified multi-colored and multi-national blanket of universal hope: guided by a forgiving understanding Lord who made Us walk upon this earth as One—sharing in grief as in ecstasy.
•Your film touches on a lot of other issues such as identity, religion, sexual orientation, rape, and murder. Explain your creative process behind all of these delicate issues?
One may regard the awareness of identity as positive or as destructive. In Used and Borrowed Time, I attempted to dissect identity in the fashion of a high school science experiment.The characters in the film are burdened by their own beasts and salvaged by their very own conjured up saints—shackled with insecurity in a world of introverted perverted violence. Each one of the characters grapples with self-identity and they are either lured or betrayed by religion just as they are bull-whipped or caressed in the arms of those who either seemingly show them love or shake them with vindication. When overwhelming stressors occur acutely or chronically, the natural psychologically and physiologically induced response, in my experience with people from various walks of life, is numbing, avoidance, neglect, wrath, and fear.
This motion-picture assigns memory to the past which is skewed in the context of apprehension and is imbued with the earnestness of labial bliss and psychotic desire. Jed Woods, for instance, is traumatized by his matriarch mother, Blanche, to the extent that he reexperiences this dramatic trauma on an everyday basis and is thus conscripted to live in a prison of bogus pity, incest, rape, and the prospect of committing a murder in Klu Klux fashion in the name of machismo and virility.During the numbing phase which each character experiences throughout the film, caused by their own questioning of love, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and humanity; the audience senses an avoidance, detachment, emotional constriction, and depression which is clearly present in Jed, Wade, Blanche, Lorna, Kitty O’Neill, Fred Busch, as well as in our protagonists, Steadroy Johnson and Eva Gold. Because of the high level of fear and avoidance, there appears a time-limited gradual revisiting of the past events in Eva Gold’s life which caused calamity in her soul, directly or indirectly. Therefore, until this trepidation to face the past is mastered and until the cycle of the past reconciles with Eva’s present—we are consumed in the follies of these characters as they await each other’s cathartic experience. The Inability to be resurrected and to come to terms with these overwhelmingly fanatical experiences successfully (as might occur in the case of traumatized young children without supportive nurturing parents) results in intrusive chaos that controls the Woods family and enslaves the Younger Eva Gold and her poetic lover. These intrusions take such forms as visualizations of the horrors of past events with intense effects that plague the characters throughout this drama phantasma, such as sadness, depravity or fear on a chronic basis and/or a tendency to recapitulate aspects of the trauma developmentally - "dedicating" one's life to reliving that incident which hounds the spirit of Eva Gold for an eternity. I have known these people. I have heard their tales, their punctured dreams –their horrid penetrating nightmares. Individual experience as recounted in oral histories are terrifying or excruciatingly exciting but whence retold in cinematic form, the creative process in bringing to life these tormented souls seldom provides relief from the depressed, numbing, and constricted states which are the beasts of human burden.
I have indeed dabbled in depicting hypo and hypersexuality which alternate concomitantly with outside forces brought upon these characters. When trauma has included sexual abuse or rape as it obviously had in the Woods family, the numbing and intrusion symptoms seem to implicate body sensations and lead to a distorted view of good and evil, as well as sexual desire which runs like a manic river but remains unsatiated and is thus detrimental due to its desire for constant arousal or orgasm which cannot come under sincere circumstances due to the fear of religious backlash and hence is subdued until rapture consumes the perpetrator. Used and Borrowed Time is not a love story—it is a violation upon a love affair because of a racist state of mind. The film also reveals what may transpire due to societal developmental influences to the unfolding sexual and affectional systems which come naturally to individuals born with varying sexual orientations. Traumatized individuals may develop a sexual desire, a disorder with hypo- or hyper- or asexuality. For example, hypersexuality in the Woods family is clearly presented in blatant sadistic undertones of depravity in their desire for rape and for murder as they exercise their white power over an innocent unsuspecting interracial couple. On the other hand, as a director, I had the obligation to show that the Woods family is subjugated to live in a negative affective state from which there is no escape and so they are coerced to contend with crippling loneliness, fear and sadness. Jed Woods exhibits asexuality, typically a result of extreme fear of bonding with others due to falling prey to the influence of his narcissistic conflicted Uncle Wade and his overbearing nutcase mother, Blanche, who rules by chastisement and false biblical prophesy. None of the Woods family members exhibit any viable ability to genuinely care for or empathize with others. Although this film does not outwardly show severe repudiation of one's genitals, or unconscionable sexual arousal—it does deal with an identity crisis in a world that admonishes reality and dictates the absurdism of the so-called non-existent “norm.”
• Considering your experience in human rights, what have you personally learned about intolerance and bigotry?
I have been spearheading the Criminal Justice and Human Rights Project with a concentration on Police Brutality and the Right to Health during Covid-19 for the International Human Rights Committee which I am a member of, at the New York City Bar Association. The initiation of this project had taken place nearly three years ago when I commenced working on the Human Rights framework to propell foward a vision for racial justice in the United States after Ferguson. The violations of human rights fueled by systemic intolerance and bigotry are unfortunately ever-present. The United States has long applauded its great selfless nation on the domestic front as well as in the eyes of the international community as having a most commendable human rights record which given the nation’s soiled history of racism, is far from the truth. Yet history is riddled with racist incidents indicating an immeasurable dilemma with intolerance and bigotry, one of the most atrocious of such examples was depicted in the police killing of Mike Brown, Jr. in Ferguson in Missouri in 2014. The human rights framework, which holds human dignity as the yolk of governance, seeks the road towards adhering to the vision of equality, parity, and the rule of law. It is in this spirit that the family of Mike Brown, Jr. and young African American leaders have ensued upon the road of holding uprisings and demonstrations in Ferguson and hence these grievances have been brought forth before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in 2014. These efforts appropriately bear the title of “Ferguson to Geneva.”I have worked with the U.N. Human Rights Network, which aided in the organization of the U.S. Shadow Reports and of the U.S. Civil Society Delegation in 2014.I have also written and published articles on the violations of 4th Amendment principles regarding prejudicial search and seizure fueled by racism—the unlawful stop and frisk which affects our African American communities in the most detrimental ways. Used and Borrowed Time deals with these offenses against the black community as is lamented by the story of police brutality against the poetic Roy Johnson in my film—young civil rights advocate devoid of any history of violence and yet persistently harassed by the Alabama police without due cause.
Another relevant issue that I have recently tapped into is a topic that is so pressing and terribly important to address during the ravaging of the Covid-19 virus on our minority communities is the right to health for minorities. It was just today that I had read a devastating NAACP article regarding a new Poll revealing the horrifying effect that the Corona Virus has unleashed upon the suffering and struggling African American Community. The Criminal Justice Project which I spearhead at the New York City Bar Association depicts a scrupulous purview on blatant present racism during the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has pulled the curtain back on many of the nation’s racial problems. I have conducted numerous surveys for the New York City Bar Association which uncover the indisputable fact that African Americans are very concerned, not only about the racially-disparate impact of COVID-19 but also about the federal government’s laissez-faire approach to slowing down the spread of the virus.I believe it would behoove us to address the havoc Covid-19 has reeked upon minority communities on the domestic front by unveiling this disparate impact. Working closely with Human Rights Organizations such as Human Rights First has opened my eyes wide to the discrepancies and injustices that plague our society. People must participate in politics and should understand what political liberty means. Freedom is not simply the absence of coercion. It is vitally important that the state respect diverse freedom and individuality. A liberal system means that people of color, people of diverse sexual orientation, folks from differing religions and cultures should be placed on equal footing so that when we search for equality, we shall surely find that it signifies quality in the equity which we seek.
• What was the biggest challenge you had to face on set?
I would have to say that the most challenging film I had worked on was my most recent labor of love, Used and Borrowed Time. We were shooting on a very tight budget. We were obliged to shoot in the dead of winter with snowfalls and raging whiplashing winds. Our post-production Estonian team was riddled with the dilemma of working during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic where the entire world was paralyzed by impending death, an economic crisis, and a medical calamity that taxed healthcare systems to the maximum and altered the lives of each member of society on a multi-faceted level. This film was indeed a labor of love during the time of cholera called Covid. Often, we would be on the set/location for ten to fourteen hours. The shooting schedule was intense and emotionally draining as well as physically straining. Also, in the open wintry terrain, the bitter wind created a howling wailing effect which later had to be hushed in post-production by our relentless sound designer, Alex Voronin.The shooting of the entire film entailed twenty-two days.
We began shooting the film on November 2nd and then waited for the cast to assemble as they were dispersed and engaged in film/theatre projects in different states. We had culminated in shooting the film on January 22, 2020.I would strongly advise young aspiring filmmakers to work from storyboards so that directors know exactly which shots they wish to take on certain days—storyboarding also aids in effective post-production editing and helps layout the storyline clearly.I would heed the advice of many directors who leave ample time to rehearse with their actors since that eliminates any misunderstandings on the set and the director wastes less time—taking the desired shot right away. Most importantly, do scout out your locations with your director of photography. Scoping out the area before the shoot gives the director and the cinematographer a sense of comfort and security in knowing the surroundings well. I was caught shooting in an open area where planes flew across the skies every three minutes, rendering it nearly impossible to take long scenes, heavy-laden with dialogue and make them work without retaking the shots about one hundred times and trying the patience of the crew and of the talent.It is also imperative to remember to take the time to speak with each cast member about their characters' idiosyncrasies—their hopes, their aspirations, their yearnings, and their hauntings. Character development is essential as characters drive the plot and the theme forward. The characters in Used and Borrowed Time are the essence of the story. So, the director must take time to sit with each actor and table talk the script. Allow your actors to first grasp and then grip the story comprehensively and holistically so that they can imbue the tale with their own flair and flavor. This is how a story comes to life on the screen. Always make certain that your cast and crew are well fed and amply rested—otherwise performance will lag as will creativity.
• Why did you decide to use VFX?
My Estonian Post-Production Team, Revel Film Studios, and our editor in chief, Sergio Voronin, understood precisely in which fashion film could use special effects to efficaciously underscore the horrors of Halloween at an Autumn Fair as well as the effects that speckling yellow/emerald fire-flies would produce to phantasmagorically transport Eva Gold to her horrendous past. The color grading process naturally took eons but we all worked in tandem and walked the fine line of occasionally introducing larger than life symbolism with the personification of wild animals, rodents and reptiles in order to create a fantastical sense of an Alice in Wonderland universe such as the author Mikhail Bulgakov had achieved in his surreal social commentary masterpiece, “Master and Margarita.” Visual special effects are hard to contend with. Optical effects such as using multiple exposures, mattes or the Schüfftan process or in post-production using an optical printer have been overcome by CGI which has come to the forefront of special effects technologies. Now, filmmakers have greater control and we can achieve a myriad of special effects safely and convincingly, and as technology improves, filmmakers are able to use special effects at lower costs. Many mechanical effects and optical techniques have been superseded by CGI—this is an axiom.
However, I still remain a fan of films such as Sunrise by the great F.W. Murnau, where special effects were used with a sense of lyricism driving with force the theme of “love conquers all,” without much concentration on the visual effects themselves and more on highlighting the memorable tender moments between the lost husband who expatriates for his desire to murder his wife and his wife’s insatiable longing to fully forgive her husband for his human folly of falling for manipulative sex drove city girl and committing a felonious act. Above all else, I felt that a fantasy film begged for special effects and so it was a rather organic choice in propelling the storyline visuals forward without making a mockery of this sacrosanct medium.
• You are currently the Producing Artistic Director of Garden of the Avant-Garde Film and Theatrical Foundation, dedicated to aiding women playwrights and screenwriters from around the world in getting their work produced on the stage and screen. Have you seen this industry making any improvements in the last decades on this matter?
I believe that women are still very much underrepresented in Hollywood in particular. I have read a recent report from San Diego State University which finds that more than ten percent of the directors working on last year’s top films were women, which was more than twice as many as in 2018 and the highest number in over a decade, and yes, we have certainly come a long way baby, at least according to said metrics, but we still have miles to go to achieve gender parity in the entertainment field. Progress has been made off-screen in terms of gender equality. Women comprised twenty percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top one-hundred (domestic) grossing films of 2019, up from sixteen percent in 2018. Women accounted for twenty-one percent of individuals in these roles on the top two-hundred-fifty films, up slightly from twenty percent in 2018. Women made up twelve percent of directors working on the top one hundred grossing films in 2019, up from four percent in 2018 (and eight percent in 2017), and thirteen percent on the top two-hundred-fifty films, up from eight percent in 2018 (and eleven percent in 2017). These figures represent recent historic highs, which are indisputable. However, the percentage of women working as directors on the top five hundred films declined slightly from fifteen percent in 2018 to fourteen percent in 2019. I reiterate that freedom in the arts must entail equality in working in those fields which were traditionally saturated by white men.
While it is true that for the first time in over a decade, both the number and percentage of women working as directors on some of Hollywood’s most memorable feature films have increased. Nonetheless, we remain hard-pressed to quickly recount the names of female screenwriters and directors who working in film today. Society needs to embrace the female perspective as they exceedingly welcome the males. The rule of law would dictate this equality and conversely shun and existent disparity. Garden of the Avant-Garde Film and Theatrical Foundation is characterized by its dedication to promoting women’s creativity in film and in theatre. Women are creating some of the most salient and challenging art in the United States and globally. Yet, despite significant strides in other fields and a few high-visibility success stories, women continue to face enormous employment discrimination in the arts and media. My organization remains loyal to educating the public about the salient issues of gender bias in the arts. Not only do women suffer by being shut out, but the culture as a whole remains impoverished when it deprives women of the vision and creativity of excelling in the performing arts. Women, especially women of color and minority women have a distinct voice, whether it is the voice of the diaspora or the voice of the century—we need to listen and to hear. Female voices need to be heard over the boisterous clouds of the horizon where men once boisterously treaded their paths—so shall courageous, talented and unique women in the arts prevail with their distinct immutable voices of honor and talent. In fact, the Executive Producer of Used and Borrowed Time, Dr. Renee Lekach, is a one-of-a-kind risk-taking woman. She is indelible and relentless in her efforts to support talented female filmmakers and does not shy away from taking risks. Without the perseverance of Dr. Lekach, this film would have never been made as she took a great leap of faith in believing in the truth of my words. Many women in the arts say that they support other women because it is now deemed politically correct, but they lie. Jealousy reigns in the art field. Women who support other women in getting ahead are a rare gem and should be heralded in our society—a macrocosm of individuals driven by conspiracy and envy. Seldom do we find women like Renee Lekach, who is able to pierce through that veil and emerge a hero.
A liberal system means that people of color, people of diverse sexual orientation, folks from differing religions and cultures should be placed on equal footing so that when we search for equality, we shall surely find that it signifies quality in the equity which we seek.
• What are your new projects at the moment?
At New York University, I had a professor who had taught a class on Vladimir Nabokov, and the students were assigned to read practically each of his novels.I was a young lady who was particularly touched by the story of Mashenka which in my opinion served as a prelude to Nabokov’s infamous banned novel Lolita. In Mashenka, a young man recuperates from typhoid fever, clenched in the clutches of boredom, and thus conjures up his ideal love—a girl whom he actually meets a month later. Mashenka is the love of his life. Nabokov describes the lass: “a girl with a chestnut scythe in a black bow, burning eyes, a swath face, and a rolling carted voice.” Once the protagonist, Ganin, catches a glimpse of this girl, he is instantly smitten with her much like the lewd character of Humbert Humbert was possessed and consumed by Lolita’s underage visage and sensual aura. Mashenka and Lolita are primary examples of young girls who are victims of solipsism. The two girls exist only in the sole minds of Ganin and Humbert Humbert as they appear as clip-on identities and not as real youthful ladies imbued with distinct individual characteristics. In a sense, these unfortunate girls are victims of a contrived imagination.
I am currently engaged in writing a screenplay revolving around Lolita’s perspective regarding Humbert Humbert in which I depict her every reaction to his haughty sexual advances towards such a youthful girl.I believe that as a woman I am equipped to ascertain and portray Lolita’s version of Humbert Humbert’s infatuation with a twelve-year-old Dolores Haze and to express Lolita’s vision of this rather perverse seduction of a pubescent girl. While the term “Lolita” has been sadly assimilated into our popular culture as a description of a young girl who is “precociously seduced….sans the wicked connotations of victimization,” I aim to prove on the contrary (drawing from a similarly situated experience) that Dolores Haze is indeed a victim and not a seductress, at least not a conscience one due to her obvious inexperience, fickle pre-teen posture, youth and fleeting innocence which is prone to serve as sensual prey of worldly educated men like Humbert Humbert. I feel that a film based on Lolita’s response to Humbert Humbert’s cringy physical and emotional advances may be timely in the era of meaningful social change movements seeking female empowerment while holding guilty men accountable for their despicable acts against women, such as the #metoo movement demonstrates.
I would also very much like to shoot an adaptation of my play, which premiered at the 13th Street Repertory Company, entitled, “The Blacklist,” which is a fun political satire about an afterlife party hosted by the Grim Reaper with a comedic streak.