My second Hollywood production experience was working on the set for the movie, Beloved, directed by Jonathan Demme and produced by Oprah Winfrey. Jonathan Demme invited me to watch him work as a director. You can say I was a director-in-training. All I did was observe. And yep, I get paid for that, too. Jonathan introduced me to Oprah and all the cast and crew. They shot part of the movie in Philadelphia, PA.
Do you feel like your experience has been working well for you as a filmmaker?
It has been working well for me. However, communication has always been a barrier. I have not let that stop me for getting the training and experience I deserve, and I won’t let it stop me anytime soon.
Can you Act? If you can, what kind of projects do you have coming up as an actress?
No, I don’t act but I can act. I’ve been put through several courses on acting at NYU and have given it a shot during those classes but it’s not my area of interest. Those courses were required for directors to learn how to collaborate with actors and that’s about the extent of my interest in acting.
What kind of “attitude” do you have about your experience, knowledge, and proving yourself to others?
I do not go out of my way to prove anyone that I can do something because I do this for me. Trying to please other people has proven to be too much stress. Who wants to live like that. Filmmaking is challenging and I continue to have two main challenges: The inability to hear sound when I am working on my films, and getting financing for those films.
You know, I do not compete with anyone. If someone chose to compete with me, I can’t stop them. In fact, I pity them because filmmaking is a collaborative effort. I think it is wasted energy. If you do not have a story to tell, then, you’re in the wrong business. Filmmakers or writers should focus on stories they want to share with the world, that they have a message. We can become inspire by others, learn about the craft they use to tell the story, how they were able to produce the film, etc. I follow people who live to tell, not live to make blockbuster movies. Show me the sweats, tears, and blood, I want to be able to feel those thought-provoking stories that makes me think.
To better understand where I come from, one needs to understand that I live my life in three different cultural worlds. My personal world is a trinity of these worlds: deaf, Jamaican-born but living now in America, and hearing. I utilize American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate, and the barrier of sound is a life-long challenge for me. This further exacerbates my life-long challenge of living in a world of sound. Therefore, I have three strikes against me as, every day, I fearlessly face societal, linguistic and cross-cultural barriers.
I was brought up in a mainstream society, one that had a tremendous influence on my life as a person with a hearing loss. As a filmmaker, I want to produce films about this experience. I want to tell and expose stories to audiences who will pay to see my films. I want to make films for television and the silver screen about issues from a non-traditional point of view commonly shared by Deaf people.
What do you feel your films bring to the industry that most other films don’t?
Through my films, I address a variety of paradoxical issues such as race, family conflicts, biracial and/or bicultural dynamics, socially conscious issues such as the inconsistently-heated debate over cochlear implants, same-sex relationships, domestic violence, rape, police brutality and mistreatment against Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, AIDS in the deaf community, and interpersonal relationships between deaf and hearing people who face cross-cultural and communication barriers.
Everyday, we deal with oppression, ignorance and bigotry. I tell these stories in a passionate manner with a strong urge to spread messages of love, awareness, diverse communication, education, uplifting, and peace-sharing that have been neglected by today’s ignorant and troubled world. These messages need more potency to be heard everywhere. As an artist who is deeply in touch with emotions, I respond well to human connection and the human condition; I want to tap into these emotions by making films that expose the human side of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people from all backgrounds, especially people of color.
Instead of turning to others for support, I established a film production company in 2006 to produce my own work as an avenue to address these three worlds, and other human experiences as well, in today’s society. Today, I am a respected and well-versed leader and filmmaker in my own right who serves as a model to others.
So tell us, do you think that the intimidation of working with actors and/or executives from Hollywood is something that you face?
No. I actually think it’s the other way around. I think many of the executives are afraid to give me a chance. They let fear gets in the way for them to hire or invest in someone who is deaf. This is 2014; I have reached out to so many people in the industry, both established and rising, and no one is hearing us, yet. We are constantly being ignored, being shoved on the sidelines. Marginalized as we call it. I am determined to change that. I am persistent and relentless. I believe in the cause. I am passionate about my films, my community. I’ve pitched pilots to Will Smith’s company. I’ve also pitched several different pilots to BET and several others. I do not think they are ready for us. Someday, they are going to have to be. They will not know what hit them until they realize they should have seized that opportunity when it was presented to them. In life, no one is generally ready for anything. They take risks. They trust the story. Someone else will trust that story. They will eventually put their fear aside and trust.
If You Could Hear My Own Tune is my first guerilla-style indie film and was my first feature length film I wrote, produced and directed for under $30K. I am proud of the work. A lot of lessons were learned during the making of that film. We first shot it in 2001-2003 and finally completed the work in 2011. Why the time gap? We ran out of funding and didn’t have postproduction funds to complete it. So between these years, before crowdfunding even existed, I raised pennies through hosting fundraiser events and saved up to finish it. I never want to go through something like that again. Never. But it was an amazing journey. If anyone interested in purchasing this film or any of my other work, they can visit www.jadefilm.com
. They can also donate funds to support our other projects as well.