On the set with Black Folk Don't series creator Angela Tucker
First, I am black. You might not know that so let me begin my introduction that way. It might matter to you. It might not. But I thought I’d begin there.
A good number of Black people have heard it in some colloquial way. “Black folk don’t …” add your own phrase. Who defines this? That is complicated and complex but worth an attempt at an explanation. In some cases, “Black folks don’t” is a statistical fact. Black folk don’t go to the doctor in the numbers they should.
In other cases, “Black folk don’t” is an anecdotal idea and concept that is based on a negative stereotype. However, stereotypes are based in truth and in some cases, these ideas are true about Black folk. Ask any waiter. Black folk don’t tip. It’s just true. But Black folk do tip their hairdressers or barbers so go figure.
I approached Black Public Media with six potential episodes. At first, we were going to reach out to people via social networks to vote on the episodes. But then I decided to do it the old fashioned way. We polled people on the streets. (I am old fashioned and really enjoy face to face conversations. I highly recommend talking to strangers about this kind of topic. It is fascinating.) From those conversations, we came up with a new list of episodes. When every single person you interview says the same thing, even if you don’t necessarily agree, it inspires you to change your list. So we did. That was a really exciting part of the process.
In the end, no one is an expert on “being black” so my Production Manager and I decided not to kill ourselves trying to book Cornel West. Instead, we reached out to people that had original points of views and were articulate. (I mean articulate in a, “You can be vocal and concise about your ideas.” kind of way, not in a “You sound so smart for a black person.” kind of way.) Essentially we chose people who were either our friends or who seemed like they could be.
We filmed the exterior interviews in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and Harlem. The studio interviews were at a yoga studio, Kula Yoga Project to be exact. (I used to work there so I got the hook up.) We shot on the Canon 5D and 7D with fancy lenses. (I can’t tell you which ones – shout out to our amazing DPs Shawn Peters and Eliana Alvarez Martinez — but there are many, many websites devoted to teaching you how to make the Canon look as pretty as possible.) I wanted to use these cameras because I think they make black skin look really beautiful.
So why no one of other races in the series, particularly white people? Well, there are some people who are Latino in the series. A big topic of discussion in the interviews was this question of what is black? Some people see it as a cultural identity and some see it as a color of your skin kind of thing. Each person had their own take on this. Anyway, I have two answers to this. One, would you want to be the white person commenting on what black folk don’t do on a web series? But seriously, the conversation happening amongst the interviewees is meant to feel like a conversation that you would have amongst friends or family. We welcome discussion from people of all races but that was the initial intent. (There were people of all races on the crew and I might make them talk about their experiences in a blog entry coming soon.)
I worked with my editor, Michelle Chang, long and hard to cut the episodes. There were several long conversations. Michelle is someone who challenges me a lot, in a good way. These are many complicated ideas here, which required a lot of thought and debate. I will admit that I underestimated that but we’re happy with the result. No idea was just put out there without thinking about what we are saying and what this means. We hope you like it or at the very least, we hope it sparks some kind of conversation.