Pride On Film: The Black Harvest Film Fest Filmmakers Profile – Ralph K. Scott

The Black Harvest Film Fest Filmmakers Profile – Ralph K. Scott

BARBASOL is a story about a man that desires a bond with his elderly father. He realizes that he is running out of time due to his father’s increasing dementia. What he comes to realize is he needs to now turn his attention toward his own son. BARBASOL is the first short by filmmaker Ralph K. Scott. Scott spent about 19 years promoting independent films in various film festivals and for BET.  He spoke with PrideIndex about why he made this film and the mission of his company Social Cinema.

PRIDEINDEX (PI): How are doing today?

RALPH K.SCOTT (RKS): I am doing just lovely and yourself?

PI: I thank you for allowing me to get home and get to my desk and put this A/C on because it’s hot as blazes in here.

RKS: We’re in a heat wave here in New York too.

PI:  As we previously discussed I am writing about that Black Harvest Film Festival.  In the past, I’d interviewed four or maybe five filmmakers but this year I’ve interviewed ten.

RKS: All right.

PI: It’s about giving you hard working filmmakers an audience, exposure, a platform to get more participation, to get folks to come out, and see these films that you guys put so much into.

RKS: Yeah, that’s for sure. That’s a good thing.

PI: Tell us about yourself and when did you realize you wanted to be a filmmaker.

RKS: Growing up in California and being a shy kid, I gravitated towards photography. I saw my father taking a bunch of pictures, so I picked up his camera. I‘ve always enjoyed looking through the lens and taking pictures. I realized that after I’d left high school that I could be a television camera man.  After college,I realized that television was not the thing for me.  I said Aha! I want to become a filmmaker.  It was the films that I watched in film appreciation courses and the art of the image that was a more artistic thing to me as opposed to just being in television.  The want and desire to be a filmmaker did not match my expertise or my timing.  Because I was in Washington, DC at Howard University, I said to myself, “Wow, they don’t make movies in DC, you need to be back in LA where you grew up.”  So I put it all on the back burner for 20 to 30 years.

PI: WOW, that long!

RKS:  Yeah, I shouldn’t really say that I put the career on the back burner, but the actual filmmaking.  I’ve just made my first short film in the last year or so.  For 20 years, I’ve been supporting and promoting independent filmmaking.

PI: Better late than never.

RKS:  Right.

PI: Why did you become a filmmaker?

RKS:  Throughout my years of promoting independent black film, I’ve always had a mantra of “If you’re going to do something that’s going to last forever, you might as well tell a good story.”  There was a time when filmmakers felt they had to make films about gang banging, prostitution, and drugs. It was the height of the dramatic arc in the black community and you did not see too much of the other kinds of films with families’ that loved each other and fathers that did not leave the home.  I became a filmmaker, so I could tell my particular story that makes sure that everybody in the world knows that I existed on this planet.  When I say I exist on this planet, I mean being the type of person that I am.  People tell me my film BARBASOL hits home for them, and they appreciate the fact that I am telling the story of three generations of black men because you don’t get the chance to see that.  Its’ funny because I built that into storyline based on it’s the lack thereof in the independent film community.

PI:  Where did you find your muse for BARBASOL?

RKS:   The story touches on dementia; it was loosely based on my own life.  My father had dementia when he passed.  I decided to write and write and write, slowly but surely the story came out of me and the rest is history.

PI: What do you think your father would say if he were alive today to see the movie?

RKS:   He would say something to the effect of that’s not how he looks or something.  (Laughs) Ultimately, I am sure that he was proud of my accomplishments.  It’s one of those things where you know your father never really tells you how proud he is of you, but you know it by what he says or does. He probably would not say too much, but I would know that it meant a lot.

PI: What did your mother say?

RKS:  My mother passed away when I was a little lad, but she had my back all the way to end, but we had a close relationship.

PI: BARBASOL is a brand of shaving cream. Do you have any special memories of it or of growing up and going to the barber shop with your dad?

RKS:  It was kind of a strange experience to see all of those elderly men talking freely about everything that was going on in the world and things that you could not say at home.  The only reason I used the name Barbasol was because I had a can of it in my cabinet at that time.  Maybe if I had a can of Gillette that would have been the name. (Laughs) The name had a ring to it and the shaving cream was the glue between the generations. Generally speaking, a man teaches a young boy how to shave.  The man would tell the young boy that he has to use Barbasol because obviously that’s what his father told him. I used it as a metaphor and a bonding agent so to speak.

I researched the name and found out that Barbasol was a favorite brand for men of a certain age. Shaving cream used to come in a container like tooth paste; you squeeze it into a cup and then lather it up.  Barbasol was the first brand of shaving cream to come in an aerosol can.

PI: In the film, you touch on dementia and mental health issues as a theme. Why do you believe these themes are such a taboo in the African American community?

RKS: There are a lot of things we don’t speak on in the African American community. It could be going to the doctor, being tested, or having certain bad habits or health issues.  We shy away from them.  There have been some experiments in the past specifically on black people, so some of the argument might be, “Well, you know I don’t want to put any of my family members in that situation or the educational element of getting treatment… may not be for us; we would rather eat well and do what we need to do and we won’t worry about being unhealthy.”  But mental health is a different animal.  In fact, it’s something that you can’t do anything about. You cannot self medicate or sit still and be quiet. It’s still going to be there.  That’s what we tend to do; we tend to self-medicate and we tend to do all of these different things to heal ourselves. That may be part of why we need to reach out sometimes.

PI:  Why did you choose to make this BARBASOL as a short rather than as a feature?

RKS: In my years of promoting independent films and attending festivals, I see people skip making a short and go right into making a feature and wonder why the film did not turn out so well.  It’s because you need to cut your teeth on something that is not a feature film.  You cannot just jump in right in. I did as much as I could by jumping right in and making a short having not made a film prior to now.  I surrounded myself with people who knew what they were doing, and all I had to do was to steer the ship.  All I had to do was say that I need to get to that shore over there and they all helped me tremendously.

I still do not know when I will be making a feature I do not have a feature script. I am kind of abnormal in that respect in terms of filmmaking.  A lot of filmmakers come out with five or six scripts and will be ready at the tooth but I am taking this from a different perspective.

PI: Name at least three people who have had the most influence over your creative style.

RKS:  In my immediate circle, I must speak to Kiara C. Jones, who is my producer and she wrote the script.

PI:  Yes, I am familiar Kiara C. Jones. I love her work!

RKS:   I came across Kiara when I was working on the best shorts over at BET. She gave me one of the films that she made. I said okay and she gave me another. Then she said I helped this guy make a film and that guy…I said,“Do you have any down time?”(Laughs) And then she showed me a script.  The way she’d wrote the script,you could see the movie being laid out in front of you.  I said to myself,  wow if I could ever afford to make a film, I’d want the script to be laid out in this way where you could visually see what’s happening in the film on paper.  It was in such a descriptive story telling style.  I told her that I had never become a filmmaker and she said, “Why not?” And she encouraged me to make one.  I eventually wrote this story, and she pushed me to get it made.

There is Haile Gerima out of Howard University. He does not realize it, but he has been a big influence. I worked with him years ago on a film called SANKOFA. Early on, that was then called NUNU. It was still in the stage where he was trying to get financing.  I remember him yelling at us that we had to be at the grant office by a certain time or we were not going to get his money for the movie.    I get so many influences from so many filmmakers like Seith Mann, Rod Gailes, OBC and Julie Dash – so many that I get different images and feelings from that I cannot name just three.

PI: If your filmmaking style were a drink, what kind of drink would it be?  (a) A martini – straight up. (b) A margarita, sweet but an unexpected high will sneak up on you or (c) a fine glass of wine, timeless, and classic.

RKS:  I’d say for this particular film it would be a glass of wine, timeless, and classic.  I guess it has a certain amount of class to it.  We don’t go into certain direction with the characters. They stay true to what they are trying to say.

PI: What is the message this film and the Social Cinema Project? What do you hope to accomplish with it?

RKS:  It’s just to look out for your loved ones when the time comes to put your loved one in a nursing home, don’t consider it putting them away.  You’re putting them in a safer environment. It’s just like moving from a house and into an apartment with nurses and doctors and 24 hour care.  That’s my main message.

The Black Harvest Film Fest takes place August 2-30 in Chicago click here to see a complete schedule.
For more information on Social Cinema Project visit