“Twelve years ago the British industry was really bleak for Black creatives… The difference today is that festivals like BUFF have been operating as change-makers for unheard voices, providing a bridge for Black talent to connect with decision makers or build cast, crew and resources to produce their own projects on their own terms.”
Clare Anyiam-Osigwe is the writer, director and one of the stars of her debut feature film No Shade.
The film is the first to be produced by BUFF Originals, an offshoot of the British Urban Film Festival (BUFF), which was founded by her husband Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe (who also executively produced). No Shade premiered at BUFF earlier this summer.
I spoke to Clare about colourism (the theme of No Shade), reactions to the movie, the path to true diversity in UK filmmaking, and her love of pressure.
1, Congratulations on No Shade, which I really enjoyed, particularly Adele Oni’s performance – she’s quite extraordinary. Were you aware of her before casting her character, Jade?
Thank you very much. No, I wasn’t aware of Adele Oni before the film. We had connected on Facebook and she had invited me to a theatre play that she was in. I was unable to attend, but we stayed connected. I had another actress in the fold to play Jade, but I moved the filming dates by two weeks and she was booked to shoot in Nigeria.
I began looking for a Black actress that was undeniably “dark skinned” and the pool of talent was extremely small. I saw Adele on Instagram and told her to send me a self-tape. Honestly, the self-tape was just ok. I took a punt, and asked her to come for a read with Kadeem Pearse (who portrays Danny) and they did the kitchen dinner scene.
Me and Emmanuel were honestly BLOWN AWAY. She only had one evening to prepare and knew the whole scene off by heart. The chemistry between her and Kadeem was electric, I knew that she was Jade in that moment. We confirmed terms with her agent the next day. I am so blessed that I chose to see her. Sometimes a self-tape just doesn’t do an actor justice. I’ve learnt from that.
Adele is an extraordinary talent. My hope is that she will go onto be as huge as Lupita and Issa. She has that “special” sauce. Her commitment to her craft is inspiring. She is so focused on set and so selfless – she gave me everything I asked for. An absolute pleasure to work with.
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2, For people who aren’t sure, how would you describe colourism, the theme of No Shade? And is it mostly something that women are subjected to or does it affect men too?
Essentially, it is the degradation of someone for being lighter or darker skinned in the same racial community. It happens in mainly Black and Asian communities and has sad repercussions: suicide, depression, skin-bleaching and unnecessarily demanding relationships. It does affect men and women.
It seems that Black women endure the brunt of it, as women are easier to break down. Black women are marginalised in most industries: sports, music, arts, corporate worlds, so it is easier to degrade someone who already is struggling for equality.
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3, You were originally an actress then became a (very successful) skincare entrepreneur, before coming back to film. What happened? And looking back, do you feel that break was, ultimately, a good thing for you or do you wish you’d been in a position to carry on in film then?
Nothing happened. My customers were absolutely devastated when I announced that I was closing the brand on New Year’s Eve. They relied on me for their skin condition remedies. It felt like I was getting a divorce. But it also felt like the right moment to return to my first love, film.
My first degree was acting and directing 12 years ago. I guess through working behind the scenes at BUFF, supporting my husband as the marketing director and awards producer whilst growing [skincare company] Premae, I began to see an opportunity for me to step in and have a go at filmmaking after a hiatus.
Twelve years ago the British industry was really bleak for Black creatives. We had absolutely no representation on screen, outside of being the tiny story in a very white period piece or the ghetto-ised Black family in a soap opera. Which is why most of the talent went to America, and still does.
The difference today is that festivals like BUFF have been operating as change-makers for unheard voices for 14 years, providing a bridge for Black talent to connect with decision makers or build cast, crew and resources to produce their own projects on their own terms.
I saw my husband helping, self-financing and exhibiting indie filmmakers and realised that this was destiny. His undying passion and zeal for independent talent is the same way I felt about natural skincare. We could create BUFF Originals to tell stories that were either commercial or educational – hopefully both – and that gave employment to Black and minority talent.
I tested the waters by writing the first draft for No Shade as a short film (entitled Dick and Diamonds). The actors at the table read could visualise a feature film and encouraged me to extend it to a feature.
It was their confidence in me, particularly Kadeem, that lead me to do this. He was actually drafted to portray the character of Jerome as his self-tape arrived late. After toiling with the actor who I had penciled for Danny, I made a decision to see Kadeem for Danny and he knocked it out the park. Once I had my Danny and Jade, the other actors surrounding them were confirmed, I knew this was the right project to bring to screen.
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4, You wrote, directed and acted in No Shade. I know we are good at multi-tasking but that‘s some workload! Does having complete control override the stresses? Did you ever wish you could just take off your make-up after a scene, go home and not think about the film?
Hehe, I am one of those creatures that thrives on pressure. If the game is too small, I get bored. I love high stakes. I have never been just one thing. I have always had more than three careers at any one time.
As an entrepreneur I was a skin doctor, journalist and formulator. So not only did I make the products by hand, I labelled them, designed the labels, marketed the products, took the products to the post office, did the accounts and answered the emails to customers. Eventually I employed staff to do some of those tasks but I believe that you should always strive to be the “CEO and the cleaner” – that was the motto I created and stuck to my bedside table. It reminded me to be humble, that no task is too big or too small and that I can do anything.
So – writing, directing, acting, doing make-up, wardrobe, 2nd Unit DOP and location management on No Shade was mega and would have probably finished a few people, but for me it was the next big challenge I needed after creating the world’s first allergy-free beauty brand.
Of course, in future, I want to work on a variety of projects – some where I’m just the on-screen talent and don’t have to worry about anything else, or I just direct and go home at night without thinking about budget and location. Ultimately I think the more you know about your industry, the more value you bring to every table.
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5, What was the premiere like, and what were people’s reactions? Has there been a male / female split?
The premiere as the opening night film at BUFF was magnificent. There was a massive queue with 350 people to get into a small venue. I don’t think Rio Cinema has ever been at full capacity, their staff were run ragged! The room was electric. The energy was connected at a high voltage. People were belly laughing, shouting in anger, cooing over the sexy bits and clapping at the scripted teachable moments.
The women seemed really hung up on Jade still choosing to wear weave and wigs after having her moment of clarity. I explained that evolution is a gradual thing and that one moment doesn’t define the movement of a woman’s growth.
Men were intrigued by other men’s reactions and wanted to hear from the male cast about how they can change the behaviours of other men when it comes to uplifting and celebrating Black beauty in all its forms.
It was fascinating seeing people so affected by the story, wiping away tears and confessing their own stories.
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6, There’s been a big push to increase diversity in filmmaking, sharing out opportunities more fairly to lift up talented women and people of colour. As a Black woman filmmaker, does it feel like a shift is happening or is it just window dressing? (Also, do you get sick of being asked this? Women are often expected to represent all women in their sector in a way that men aren’t!)
I think there’s been a great push in the USA for diverse talent. I think in the UK it’s all talk. They do it for one year and tokenise Blackness.
I am tired of answering questions about diversity but understand why it’s necessary as I do identify as a Black female filmmaker, two minorities – Black and female. Until I see a Black British directed film at the box office each month, I won’t believe any BFI, British Film Council, Film London etc initiatives that claim they are supporting diverse talent.
We don’t need anymore training, apprenticeships, courses or work experience. Funding under £100k will not produce a commercially successful film. Anything less than £300k is not even worth discussing as a viable project. They are setting people up to fail with this irresponsible rhetoric. They know that the projects won’t get a theatrical release at the cinema if the budget is less than that and doesn’t have “names” in the cast. When they start giving new talent real micro-budgets to make projects, than I’ll yield and celebrate their efforts.
Twelve films per year, that’s not much to ask, when we make up 12-15% of the population. In the absence of this, I will continue to work with men and women who believe in producing original and exciting stories and work around the inherently racist systems that intend to stop me from sharing my story because “they don’t get it” or “there’s no stars in the cast”.
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7, You based the screenplay for No Shade on the experiences of you and your friends. When a screenplay is more personal to you, how does that affect your filmmaking?
No Shade is probably the only film I’ll do that is personal. I think it was a good place for a first time filmmaker for me to start, but I won’t be defined by telling “Black stories”.
I am currently writing three scripts. One is a romantic comedy, one is a crime drama and the other is a horror. I want to grow in my filmmaking and do varied stuff. I want to experience elaborate sets and portray stories that are typically told by men. My favourite genre as a consumer is romantic drama, but as a storyteller, I read all types of stories.
Naturally when you have a personal connection with a screenplay, it makes you feel more emotionally invested in the acute execution and portrayal of the world of the film.
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8, What’s next for No Shade? Do you have a follow-up project already in the works or are you taking a (well-earned) break?
Right now, we are carving out licence deals with different channels and TVOD, SVOD platforms for the next 2-5 years.
You can watch the film right now on Vimeo on Demand (worldwide), and Film Doo (UK only). Visit www.noshadefilm.com and click the platform you wish to see it on.
We still have other premieres coming up in Cleveland, Ohio in September 2018, and in Amsterdam in November 2018; as well as several educational screenings in the UK and US, and festivals that officially accepted the film.
There may be a follow-up project – some audiences feel that Danny’s story needs a resolution, which is wonderful as a catalyst for a part 2.
I am also taking breaks when I can so I can write and rest. I’ve not had a day off in six years. Since I started Premae until now, I haven’t had a holiday that was purely for enjoyment. I will this Christmas.
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9, Do you have a go-to movie to cheer yourself up when you just need to watch an old favourite? (From any genre, bonnets to zombies!)
Oh yes! My go-to movies for a good sing along or laugh out loud is Sister Act 1 and 2, Grease 2 and any of Jim Carrey’s movies.
10, And finally… imagine you’re having a dinner party and can invite four people from the world of films, living or dead. Who would you invite, and what would you feed them?
I would feed them jellof rice, plaintain, veg stew, and a side dish of ogbonno soup with ground rice to dip into the soup. For afters, a gluten-free vegan Victoria sponge and a fruit salad.
Contact Clare and find out more about No Shade below: