Justice Jamal Jones’ talks about his film ‘How To Raise a Black Boy’

Justice Jamal Jones is a filmmaker, actor, and writer based in New York City.  He is the founder of Rainbow Farm Productions, an outfit started to create a space where individuals can cultivate themselves outside of non-binding standards.

How To Raise A Black Boy is a short, experimental fairytale dedicated to the modern Black boy, in which four boys disappear one night—as many Black boys do—and find themselves on a fantastical journey to break the curses of Black boyhood.

The film was inspired by J.M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird, a prequel to the classic fairytale Peter Pan.

The 2021 Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellow/Omaha native shared with PrideIndex their journey to New York, the filming experience, and what’s next.    

PrideIndex (PI): Give us a brief background information on yourself. Where you’re from? How you get started as a filmmaker?

Justice Jamal Jones (JJJ): I’m justice Jamal Jones. I am 22 years old. I’m a recent graduate of NYU. I’m originally from Omaha, Nebraska. That’s where I am right now with family for a little bit of a cool downtime. I went to school at Tisch for acting. I found as a black queer person, I kind of want to be in a little bit more control of the work that I was making. I realized that there wasn’t a lot of work that was highlighting the nuances that I saw within the communities that I was a part of. I was just kind of like, Oh, I need to do it myself. That’s how we kind of ended up with the film, How To Raise A Black Boy.  

PI: Describe your journey in how you migrated or traveled from Nebraska, to New York.

JJJ: Honestly it was a very fast journey. I got into NYU and then a couple of months later, I moved to New York. I’ve loved New York ever since. I guess it seems like a pretty large jump. But for me, I feel always joked that I had more culture shock living in Nebraska than living in New York.

PI: Interrupt, You’re going to start something. (Laughs)

JJJ: Yeah, New York is where I feel like I’ve always fit in.

PI: When did you first know that you wanted to be a filmmaker?

JJJ: I always knew I wanted to be a part of the arts since I was a really young kid. I’d always like, been acting, dancing, and playing around. I was very imaginative. I didn’t want to be a filmmaker until maybe two years ago when I started get more involved in writing and creating my own stories. That’s kind of where How To Raise A Black Boy came from.

Photo Credit: Angie Nicholas Photo still from a collage for How To Raise A Black Boy.

PI: Since you’ve mentioned that project twice we’re going to just get directly to that. What is it? How did it come about?

JJJ: How To Raise A Black Boy is an experimental fairy tale that explores the vastness of black boyhood. At first it was going to be a reflection of my childhood. It was more of a documentary piece where I was going to interview black men about their experience and childhood. But from that I started to realize that there was so much more happening there. I realized there was need for the imagination, escape and to reclaim our stories. That’s where the fairy tale aspect came in. It was pulled from pieces like J.M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird, which is like a prequel to Peter Pan that everyone knows now. It is kind of like this space where a real documentary work came in conjunction with fairy tales and the imagination.

PI: Let’s talk about the time period. How long did it take you to make this film from the time you first thought about it to the time you actually went out shot a scene?

JJJ: It took two years all together to create. We started in the fall of 2019. We did a lot of pre-production, a lot of writing and then we ended up shooting in February of 2020. Then in March there was this whole pandemic happened across the nation. The beautiful thing is by then we had already shot. We were able to do editing via zoom over digital platform. It’s been a whole two year process.

PI: You were very fortunate to actually get the things out of the way before COVID- 19 put things on hold.

JJJ: Exactly. I was very fortunate that I was able to get all of the things that had to be in person done. Once things opened back up I was able to share the film as the world opened back up now.

PI: You’ve mentioned that you were an actor. Are you in this film? In a big role? Small role or what have you?

JJJ: I’m not in this film. I felt like I was already there was so much of my like soul in the film that I felt like having myself in the film would have been kind of too much. Right now I am working on a project that is going to be a feature in which I am acting in.

Photo still from How To Raise A Black Boy.

PI: Let’s talk about the reception of this film. In one sentence sum up how audiences have reacted to this film? (If possible for one sentence)

JJJ: I think it’s been healing. That’s the purpose of the film from the very beginning, to be a healing platform. I say that it’s been healing, not just like representation, but from a jump off point for people to go back into conversation with their child selves to reflect on those moments of trauma, beauty or joy to inform who we are as adults.

PI: That’s a powerful message powerful thing. Why was it not a feature length film?

JJJ: It was my first film and I don’t think I was ready to tackle a feature per se. It’s a short because it’s pretty concise. It gets its theme across. It was a feature it could have been a little redundant

PI: Where has it played and where is it going to play next?

JJJ: The film has played in the Cleveland International Film Festivals and the Atlanta Film Fest.  It’s also played at Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival, Focus Film Festival. It’s set to play in at Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival. It’s had a digital premiere with Nowness and also did a digital premiere at NoBudge.

PI: What do you mean by digital premieres?

JJJ: Digital showcases are more like platforms for films to be seen.

PI: What is the biggest challenge you faced during the making of this film? And how did you overcome it?

JJJ: The biggest challenge I faced in making this film was being in the leadership position. I think I’ve been in leadership positions in the past before, but I think sometimes some of the hardest things about being a person of color or being a queer person, so people aren’t used to seeing you in leadership positions. And so when you take that position, you sometimes get like pushback, and you might get a little bit of flack. But I overcame that by realizing that like no, this is my story and I know what I want and still pushing through regardless.

PII Let’s talk about some of your next projects, you just mentioned that you’re now working on a feature already why so soon?

JJJ: I’m really inspired by the story of Robert Johnson and his relationship to the devil. He sold his soul to the devil in exchange to learn how to play the guitar. The piece is called “Crossroads Blues.”  It’s very much in the beginning stages. I’m very excited to begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together and the logistics together.  

PI: When is that expected to be completed and out in the marketplace?

JJJ: I would hope sometime around 2023.  

PI: Tell me something about yourself that no one else knows (until now)

JJJ: I guess I am very sensitive. People may not like realize that as an artist you hold your emotions on your sleeve. I’m learning to be proud of that and to be around people that support my sensitivity.