***HBR Media sat down with writer-director Stacey Muhammad, a longtime activist and award winning filmmaker. Her films include: A Glimpse of Heaven, The Legacy of the Million Man March, I AM SEAN BELL, black boys speak, Out of Our Right Minds, Trauma, Depression and the Black Woman and RITES. She is also creator / writer and director of the critically acclaimed For Colored Boys series.  She is currently working on her first feature film, Finding Forever, executive produced by Marc Lamont Hill and Karyn White with Karyn also co-starring with newcomer, Travis Cure.

My filmmaking career began when I lived in Washington DC.  At the time, there were countless workshops for anyone interested in film. I attended most of them.  I was then fortunate enough to begin taking screenwriting and directing classes with the esteemed Haile Gerima at his independent media center, Sankofa.  There are no words for how valuable and life changing this experience was.  After taking his classes, I knew that I could not only be a filmmaker, but that I could tell the kind of stories I wanted to tell.

In 2008, I moved to New York and attended the one year digital filmmaking conservatory at Digital Film Academy.  DFA is a film training / hands – on educational center where you learn about every aspect of film production. During that time I was also working at HBO in the shipping and media library and just about every film festival I wanted to enter was an HBO sponsored festival. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to submit my films to these festivals since I worked for HBO so I stepped out on faith, left my job, and became a filmmaker full time. You’d be surprised how many people thought I was crazy to leave a job mailing packages and organizing tape, simply because it was for HBO.  But I was clear about what I wanted.

The biggest challenge during my transition from working full time to becoming a full time filmmaker, was not having an income and still wanting to create while living in New York City with a child. I had to learn how to make money as an independent artist. Most days, I’m still trying to figure it out, but years later, it’s much easier and I have many more options now than I did then.  Somehow, living in NYC, with a school aged child at the time, working as an independent artist with a dream worked out for us.

My first project (after moving to NY) was a short documentary film titled I Am Sean Bell, Black Boys Speak.  The documentary featured conversations with middle school aged black boys about the brutal murder of Sean Bell by police officers and the iimpact it had on their lives and their community.

After completing the film, I had the opportunity to meet Sean Bell’s parents, visit their home, sit in his room, and spend time with those who loved him.  They’ve attended numerous screenings of the film, participated in the Q&A with me and have  supported this work over the years.

This project showed me the power of the short film to not only kickstart a film career but to also convey important messages in a short amount of time. I AM SEAN BELL toured and screened worldwide with the Media That Matters film festival (Sponsored by HBO :)) Being able to return to HBO with this film as a filmmaker, was truly a testament to having the courage to step out on your dreams.  Audiences around the world got a glimpse into the tragedy that happened here in NYC. I’m hoping this film helped to bring awareness to the issue of police terrorism and how it impacts communities of color. I am eternally grateful to Sean Bell’s parents for embracing and supporting this work. For many of us, these tragedies come and go, but it lives with the families impacted by the loss, forever.  We must continue to support them.

After I Am Sean Bell, (and the Out of Our Right Minds documentary), I was doing quite a bit of research on the privatized prison industrial complex and was inspired to write a story about a father’s attempt to repair his broken family after being released from prison.  I started interviewing people (mostly women) with incarcerated spouses and realized that oftentimes we don’t talk much about how prison impacts not just the incarcerated person but also the families and loved ones of those serving time. There are countless children with incarcerated parents and many parents attempting to stay connected to their children despite being away. Although many of the characters are people we see everyday, I realize that in the mainstream media space, we rarely see a balanced, complex depiction of Black life.  My vision for “For Colored Boys” was a collection of short stories that followed the lives of Black men, from various walks of life who attempt to love, heal and rebuild their lives while navigating socially constructed challenges.

During screenings, people would say, “I can’t remember the last time I saw a black man hug in a film,” or “I can’t remember the last time I saw a black man embrace someone and cry on camera.”  This actually happens frequently, because we’re human :), but we don’t see much range of human emotion for Black characters in film and television.

I’m currently gearing up for production on my first feature film titled Finding Forever, about an older divorced woman who falls for a man who is 14 years younger.  It explores he beauty and challenges of their connection.

I wanted to tell a story about women over 40, like myself; and women over 40 who have adult or older children.  It’s a different experience.  My daughter will be 20 years old this year.  Dating a younger man when your children are closer to his age than you are, I imagine could present unique challenges. For some these challenges are deal breakers and for others, it isn’t.  These are some of the storylines we’re exploring in Finding Forever.

My personal experience served as inspiration for the story. I also want to explore some of fears and insecurities women have as they approach 40 and how those fears can be exacerbated if they love (and are loved by) a younger man.  For Colored Boys was a love story in its own right, but I wanted to delve into Black romantic relationships in a way in which we rarely see.  Finding Forever is very much a story in homage too, How Stella Got her Groove Back.

For Finding Forever, a mutual friend connected me with Karyn White who came on board as our co-star (opposite Travis Cure) and as an executive producer.  I LOVED Karyn’s music back in the day so I was like OMG! She has a beautiful spirit, is serious about Black women working together and has been extremely gracious with her time. I’m honored she loves and connects with this story. Through her Atlanta based production company,, she is committed to supporting and releasing quality work. She also brings along a strong team of people who are committed to helping us take the project where it deserves to be.

Karyn and Travis have incredible chemistry.. Finding Forever (although a dramatic series) is lighter than For Colored Boys. As an activist and artist, I needed this story. I needed balance. Writing this story was a reminder to myself (and hopefully to others) that although we have serious work to do, that self care, and allowing others to love on us, is important work as well. It’s life sustaining work. It’s the fuel we need to keep going.

I found Travis Cure, our co-star, on Instagram through a friend who’d worked with him. He’s a well known model with a loyal fan base to say the lease. When I saw him I was like, ‘who the hell is this (laughing).’  Turns out that he was also an actor; so we brought him in to read for the part.  He was just as beautiful in person as he is online, but he was also humble and kind. He’s been committed to the project and growing as an actor and we’re excited to be working with him.

Marc Lamont Hill also serves as one of the executive producers on the Finding Forever project.  He and I connected while I was in production on For Colored Boys through our publicist at the time.  He came on board the For Colored Boys project as Executive Producer and has been supportive of my work ever since.  We’re now business partners, co-founders of a new Atlanta based production company (1930 Productions) with an exciting slate of content planned for this year and beyond.  We recently wrapped production on a project with Tika Sumpter that we hope everyone will get a chance to see soon.  Marc and I have also worked on a few BET News specials together. It works because we have a shared vision and worldview.  Beyond that he’s been my best friend, a true brother, my right hand and funder for numerous projects. I am eternally grateful to have that kind of support. I don’t take it for granted.  Producer / Assistant Director, Michael Boogie Pinckney has also been with me on a number of projects and I could not do what I’m doing without him by my side, literally. This work is collaborative work. It doesn’t get done unless artist are supporting one another.

Although, we’re starting to see more diverse and complicated images of Black life on screen, we aren’t seeing many love stories.  Finding Forever is about showing the vulnerability of loving someone you never expected to love. It’s about getting older and the fear associated with it, being an empty nester and just allowing oneself to heal and live your best life.  Most times, when I’m writing I’m also healing myself. I’m hoping the work is healing to others as well.  I always say that it’s a blessing to be an artist because I know what I was born to do and I’m finding a way to do it. This alone makes all of the challenges worth it.  I truly enjoy filmmaking and storytelling.  It’s who we are as African people, we’re storytellers who pass on tradition and culture through our stories.  Filmmaking and storytelling is a part of preserving our tradition or legacy, our life work.

For those interested in film, although It’s not necessary to go to film school or have a film degree, and most of us don’t;  it’s absolutely necessary to learn your craft.  Learn the rules and then break the rules.  But learn them first.   These days, there are numerous educational opportunities for those interested in film and television.  Raise the money you need, and do everything you can possibly do to complete your project. Don’t stop doing the work. Take full advantage of the digital space where we now have audiences at our fingertips.  Hire a publicist or somehow get the word out about what you’re doing and eventually the people who are supposed to be around you will help take you to the next level without you even having to ask.

Check out a sneak peek of Finding Forever below!

 

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About The Author

Dreux Dougall has experience writing, researching, interviewing, and developing content for news programs and online publications such as PBS.org, Essence.com and VIBE Vixen. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Hofstra University, and her passion, is screenwriting. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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