Children are the most innocent of innocence with a perception that is unbound by reality. They live in their own imagination where wonders never cease and anything is possible.
As a child I was always creating things. What I didn't understand, I would deconstruct literally or figuratively; all because I wanted to see how it worked or imagined so. Nothing stopped where I could go, how fast I could get there and what I could do once I got there. I escaped into another world, creating things that made sense and was interesting to me. And yes, I was the ruler; the boss. I commanded and it came to fruition.
As I got older, my imagination grew even more and I began understanding my perception of the world through movies and TV shows. I thought I could fly like Christopher Reeves in "Superman" or at least dream so. I thought I could grow up to work in big business like Michael J Fox in "The Secret of My Success" or travel the world as an adventurer like Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
At sixteen year-old, I really knew what I wanted to become when I grew up… a successful music superstar. I could see my adoring fans all swaying back and forth to my fantastic tunes as I played the piano on stage for all thirty thousand or so. I would have all the hottest friends, the most beautiful girlfriends, a child in every nationality and travel the world helping the underprivileged. I even sketched what my all-glass house would look like and the university I would build to gentrify the homeless.
Now an adult, I see and understand things much differently. And reality isn't the same as the imagination. Still, that vivid imagination thrives within me and has been the inspiration for many things I've accomplished in life.
Now-a-days, movies inspires children to travel through time with Simon Wells "The Time Machine," explore outer space and encounter other intelligent beings in J.J. Abrams’s "Star Trek," become god and create man with Louis Leterrier’s "Clash of The Titan," explore and covet new worlds in James Cameron’s "Avatar," and lie, cheat and steal big business in Oliver Stone’s "Wall Street Money Never Sleeps."
Society is more domineering and children’s imaginations are super-sized through a smaller world, real life events, the internet and technology such as massively intelligent video games, which are more life-like than ever before. However, they are still more impacted by movies and TV shows, because nothing can command the imagination, emotions and thought processes of people like a well written visual aspiration.
Defined as “a hope or ambition of achieving something,” aspiration is “the object of such an ambition; a goal.” So if movies and TV shows inspire one to aspire for greater things, why aren't there more movies and TV shows depicting the positive aspirations of the African American lifestyles and imaginations? Instead, you have down-trodden slaves, house keepers, delivery men, drivers, pimps, hoes, gang-bangers, thieves, criminals, rapists, murders, rappers, dancers, and athletes. Is that what African American children are to aspire to become? Where are our super heroes, big box office, epic/fantasy leaders and explorers, kings, queens, princes and princesses, world savers and history storytellers? What happened to the aspirations of children of color when they see others living the life they should aspire to become? Is it just others who should aspire? Is it just others who should have a beacon of hope that ignite the passion of a people; of their existence?
When asked these questions, the answer seems to lead to the same statement… “It’s the people who green-light the projects that are to blame.” Is that escapism or reality? When has the intricacy of others stop the heart and mind of people whose whole existence resembles life itself? So, I say this to whoever is responsible for green-lighting projects… let the speech flow! Untangle the literary voice. When all of us think together as a collective, then and only then, can we truly realize the greatness God intended for us all! Until then, you will only get a one-sided picture of the world, life, reality and even the imagination. Who knows, maybe the key to whatever it is that scientist, researchers and explorers seek is hidden in the silenced.
I had the pleasure of interviewing former music journalist now writer, Mrs. Rhonda Freeman-Baraka; writer and creator of Lifetime Networks Pastor Brown. A made for TV drama, Pastor Brown tells the “tale of a wayward pastor's daughter who returns to Atlanta to face her past.” Cast includes Actor and Director of Pastor Brown Rockmon Dunbar, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Ernie Hudson, Nicole Ari Parker, Keith David, Michael B. Jordan, Tasha Smith, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Michael Beach, Angie Stone, Monica Brown, and Rev. Creflo Dollar.
Q&A with Writer/Creator Rhonda Freeman-Baraka…
As a child, we’re all inspired by someone or experience some enhanced moment that sparks a glimmer of interest in life and the things that creates our destiny. What moment(s) in your past inspired you to become a music journalist and now writing and creating your own films?
I grew up in Tuskegee, Alabama, the youngest of three. My oldest brother always exposed me and my other brother to music: the Jackson Five, Earth, Wind & Fire, and The Isley Brothers. Music was always a big part of my life and I always had a special admiration for artists so it was exciting for me to write about them and tell their stories. As for writing screenplays, I always had a rather vivid imagination which my grandparents encouraged. I loved creating characters and making up stories. Little did I know I was a budding screenwriter back then. I have to say though that my creativity as a writer really grew wings as a student at Talladega College. There was so much growth and self-discovery for me there.
I’m a huge movie buff; going to the movies at least once a week. Being more partial to sci-fi, action, social/coming-of-age drama, epic, fantasy and adventure, the ratio of people of African descent being depicted or immortalized in these genres have been sparse in comparison. Why do you feel there aren't more films depicting the inspiration and imagination of the African people; especially because people of African heritage are gaining more commanding roles in the film/TV industry (i.e. Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, John Singleton, Tyler Perry, Danzel Washington, Will Smith, F. Gary Gray, Peter Ramsey…)?
I don’t think it’s because black writers aren't writing these stories. I think that as artists we are extremely diverse and gifted in many ways, capable of telling any kind of story but in some ways the green lighters -- and to some extent the audience -- tend to put black artists in a box. And sometimes, artists allow themselves to be caged.
Reading a brief synopsis, provided by Jay, your production company is called Toko (meaning sibling or a close acquaintance), which is the seed of your creation. What was the inspiration for the name?
You know what’s funny? I didn't know that was the meaning of the word but it’s truly appropriate. I named my company after my children, Toni and Koran.
Let’s talk about your new film Pastor Brown, which will air on the Lifetime Network in mid-February. It’s about “a wayward pastor's daughter who returns to Atlanta to face her past.” Does the story-line have any reflections of your past or anyone who have crossed your path? How do you feel this film will affect not just the church community, but everyone else as a whole?
This film is set in a church and it uncovers some of the hypocrisy of so-called ‘church folk’ but, it’s really about second chances; it’s about reconnecting with that part of you that is pure and good and having the courage to let that person shine through. It’s about forgiveness, acceptance, and unconditional love. At the core of the story is the scripture and I tried to strip the words of the Bible down to their simplest, purest form so that people can see that these words have meaning in our lives and are applicable to the situations that we go through and the problems that we face day after day. It’s not just about reciting scripture chapter for chapter and verse for verse, it’s about giving life to those words and allowing them to govern our actions. I hope that the film will teach us not to judge and that it will speak to those who feel that they've fallen by the wayside that it’s not too late to get back up on their feet and ‘find their shoes.’
This is a directorial debut for Rockmond Dunbar, who’s famously known from the Showtime family drama Soul Food. What was it like working with Rockmond as a director?
I loved working with Rockmond. He’s a very creative and diligent visionary who has so much passion for his work. He was very respectful of me and my work and I am so proud of and grateful to him for the job he did on this film.
The cast of Pastor Brown is star-studded, including actors Rockmond Dunbar and Nicole Ari Parker of the original Soul Food (the TV show). What was it like not only writing these characters, but getting the actors immersed in their roles?
I was very fortunate to have a cast of absolutely outstanding actors who are wise, not only as artists, but as people. They understood the story and their characters completely and even helped me to add even greater depth to the characters that they were portraying. Some of the conversations I had with people like Keith David, Ernie Hudson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Tisha Campbell-Martin on set were invaluable in teaching me how to create rich, realistic characters that actors can really bring to life.
Whose idea was it to cast Creflo Dollar and Salli Richardson-Whitfield in their roles and what was the experience like working with them both?
The producers decided to cast Creflo Dollar and Rockmond chose Salli. Needless to say, they were both excellent choices and I enjoyed working with them both immensely.
Who is the wayward daughter and how has their role grown from the inception of the character to wrapping production?
The wayward daughter is Jesse Brown, played by Salli Richardson-Whitfield and the character that you see on screen is completely true to the character that I created when I wrote the script. Salli truly brought her to life with a breathtaking performance.
Do you feel this film will create thought in the masses and why? Why chose to premier it on the Lifetime Network and what mark do you expect to leave from Pastor Brown’s success?
I think airing a film that is led by a cast of strong African American actresses and written by an African American female writer was the perfect fit for Lifetime’s tribute to Black History Month. My hope for this film has always been fairly simple: that it would be released, that people would see it and it would open their eyes and touch their lives in some way. I hope it leaves a legacy of healing. It has certainly warmed my heart to see the responses of those who have seen it and has solidified one thing for me: we need more films like Pastor Brown.
Your next project is Looking for Jimmy Lee, starring Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari-Parker. What is the plot behind this romantic comedy and is the writing a reflection of Kodjoe and Nicole’s life, relationship and experiences?
This film will show Boris and Nicole in a way you've never seen them. Let’s just say it’s a story about two mismatched radio personalities who are not quite what they seem to be.
For aspiring writers and TV show producers and creators, what thought can you leave to them about following their dreams?
Listen to and remain true to your voice. Know who you are as an artist and be true to that. Solicit and accept advice but listen to your heart as well. Be open to criticism and always realize that you can get better. I've written many scripts in my life but I still don’t think I've written my best work yet. I still think I have a lot of growing to do as a writer. As long as you keep that attitude, you will continue to get better and continue to be excited about what you do.
Article & Interview by Patrick Kelly, Editor-In-Chief of USL Magazine
Sources: MeMe Agency and Freedictionary.com
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