Marquis Smalls: The Short and Skinny

Pride On Film: The Black Harvest Film Festival Part 6 of 8

Photos Courtesy of Marquis Smalls

In the short film “HARRIET RETURNS” Harriet Tubman returns to modern times to emancipate young male rappers who use the “N” word as a term of endearment.  She believes they have enslaved themselves with their disrespect of their ancestors. Two bounty hunters from her era also return in search of Harriet so she is urgent about her mission.  Brooklyn born educator and filmmaker Marquis Smalls developed “HARRIET RETURNS” into a short film based on a script written by actress Tamu Favorite, who plays Tubman in the movie.

Smalls has been a filmmaker for more than a decade. He attended Penn State University where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in African/African American studies.  Smalls later took a teaching position in Paterson, New Jersey and became in screenwriting and landed at the New York University where he earned a screenwriting certificate.  He is best known for his web series “The Chronicles A Hip Hop Comedy Series,” created by his production company, Homegrown Productions LLC.  PrideIndex talked with Smalls about the his film making style, his view of the Underground Railroad icon and what’s next for him on the horizon.

PRIDEINDEX (PI): Briefly tell us about yourself, when and where you attended filmmaking school?

MARQUIS SMALLS (MS): I went to the NYU Continuing Education program 1997-1999 and earned a certificate in screenwriting, wanting to write better scripts and stories for hip-hop artists. I wrote two feature scripts and won an award in a contest before having my third script optioned by a producer in LA. I then wrote three scripts on assignment and eventually got frustrated that none were being made so I started producing my hip-hop comedy web series The Chronicles in 2005. In all, I have written ten feature screenplays, 8 short films, and two web series. I have produced all 8 of the shorts that I’ve written plus 3 more written by other writers. Harriet Returns was the 4th short film that I’ve directed.

PI: When did you first know that you were going to become a filmmaker?

MS: I knew in 2003, when I realized that Hollywood wasn’t interested in telling the vast majority of stories that were inclusive of a broader depiction of the African-American male story.

PI: Why did you become a filmmaker?

MS: I felt the need to take action to tell more of “our” stories, especially for young black men and women.

PI: How would you describe you filmmaking style?

MS: My style is very creative, collaborative and well thought out.  I like to research other filmmakers that I enjoy watching while reading about the history of how certain films were made as well as some of the choices and problem solving techniques that Directors have used to help inform my process. I like to rehearse a lot in pre-production. In production, I love working with actors who are well prepared and thoughtful in their emotions and choices while in character. I’m really laid back and use a sports coach or manager approach to directing my crew. I believe that people are on set to have fun and do what they love so I try to put everyone in the best position to win. In post, I collaborate with my editor and post production sound and effects people to incorporate their thoughts into my final vision and completion of the film.

PI: Name at least 3 people who have had the most influence over your artistic style.

MS: George Lucas, Spike Lee and Steven Spielberg

PI: Tell us about your role with Home Grown Productions.

MS: I am the CEO, President and founder of Homegrown Productions with my business partner Dana Folk who is our VP of development and distribution.

PI: What was the inspiration for “HARRIET RETURNS?”

MS: I’m in a writer’s lab sponsored by the Harlem Arts Alliance at Columbia University and the short was brought in as part of a feature script being written by Tamu Favorite. I approached Tamu about taking a few selected scenes and creating a short film. I have always been a huge black history lover and even majored in African/African-American studies in college so I re-wrote the scenes into the short script and Harriet Returns was born.

PI: Why did you make “HARRIET RETURNS?”

MS: As teacher and educator I always looked for ways to inspire my students by entertaining them more than just hitting them over the head with facts and boring content. Harriet Returns was my way of telling an entertaining story that included great figures in our history that all ages could enjoy but especially the youth.

PI: During the filming of “HARRIET RETURNS” did you experience any notable challenges, if so what did you do to overcome them?

MS: Budget restraints were the biggest challenges. In bringing Harriet Tubman and William Still into the present, we had to find cost effective ways to meet our prop and wardrobe budgets.

PI: What is the one thing you want audiences to retain from it?

MS: I want audiences to get a better understanding of what young black men are thinking and feeling as we arbitrarily and most times harshly judge their language and style choices. And I want the young people to understand better how they make our elders and adults feel when they use the N-word and show disrespect to their elders.

PI: If Ms. Tubman were to return to American today, what do you think she would say is the African American community’s greatest accomplishment?

MS: Successful hip-hop, sports, entertainment, business entrepreneurs and the election of President Barack Obama.

PI: What do you think she would say is her biggest disappointment?

MS: Her biggest disappointment would be our concern with material possessions, overall disrespect for our history, fellow man, and our unwillingness to think for ourselves on a larger scale and more global point of view.

PI: If Ms Tubman were to address our African American youth, and leave them with only one message, what would message be?

MS: Love yourself, treat people the way you want to be treated, and always be helpful and uplifting in your community.

PI: What’s next for you professionally?

MS: I’m about to release the season finale of my web series “The Married Bachelor” on YouTube while also being in post-production on a series of support videos for President Obama and a short documentary on the Stop and Frisk practices of police in NYC. I’m directing 2 new web series this fall, and pitching 2 TV pilots to cable networks while waiting on a green light for a feature film script that I wrote. I would like to shoot that feature this winter. I’m also finishing up a script about my mother raising me as a single parent in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn where now the tables have turned and I now find myself taking care of her. I am submitting the script to the Sundance lab and Tribeca All-Access with hopes of making the film in Summer 2013.

HARRIET RETURNS screens at The 18th Annual Black Film Festival along with The Contradiction of Fair Hope on Sunday August 19 at 5:15 PM and Monday August 20 at 8:15 PM.  For more information visit

For more information on “The Chronicles A Hip Hop Comedy Series,” visit