Photos by The Postwoman Facebook Page, J.D. Walker Photo by Marcy Israel,
J.D. Walker is currently launching a Kickstarter Campaign for THE POSTWOMAN (2014), a dramatic love story about a single mom who is forced to confront her ex-husband, dysfunctional family, and teenage daughter about her secret life with another woman.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): Tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from?
J.D. WALKER (JW): I’m a Black woman screenwriter and director originally from the San Francisco Bay Area who won the Sundance Film Festival Pitching Contest this year for a second feature film, a biopic set in Chicago that I wrote and will be directing, hopefully, in summer 2014. It’s currently in competition at Nicholl (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) and other labs. I was a gifted child and originally trained as an actress, studying Theater, Broadcast Journalism, and Black Studies at San Francisco State University. I graduated from S.F. State with a B.A. in Drama. I toured as a leading actress in theater productions and worked behind the scenes in indie cinema. That’s when I discovered that I wanted to direct and produce. In undergrad, I began directing short plays and really enjoyed the experience. I didn’t become interested in directing films until graduate school. I thought I’d be a novelist. And here I am writing screenplays.
I remember when I first considered a MFA program after S.F. State I was discouraged by a white male faculty member at my college. Even though I was starring in leading roles at the time and was in all of the advanced acting classes doing very well, he told me that I’d never get in because his son didn’t get in. It was very personal and also silly. Of course, I forgave that person. I really did want my MFA in Creative Writing or Film, but Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, DC, offered me a full-ride so, in 1998, I relocated to the East Coast and finished my Masters Degree (with distinction) in African American and Caribbean Literature. I loved Howard University for introducing me to so many great African American leaders, poets, visionaries, and writers. I decided to begin freelancing, as a journalist, for The Washington Informer, The Black World Today, The New York Amsterdam News, and Heart & Soul magazine (to name a few) while I was finishing my Masters. I chronicled the work of younger Black poets, including mentors like Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka. I did features on Maya Angelou, Dorothy Height and Oprah Winfrey, as well as other members of the Black Arts Movement. I got a fellowship from Ethelbert Miller and studied at the Shakespeare Library in D.C. I also received a documentary fellowship from Bill Cosby’s wife, Camille Cosby. I worked with Camille and Renee Poussaint in their National Visionary Heritage Fellowship Program. I performed videography work on historic African American elders. My work with them is now archived in the Smithsonian and featured in a book called A Wealth of Wisdom (Atria Books 2004).
Training as a journalist really helped me to develop a solid writing schedule. I learned to write on demand and finish writing assignments quickly to meet impending deadlines. At that time, I was also working as a book buyer for several bookstores and had also spent a few years working for the Howard University Press, publishing books and helping to promote seasoned and self-published authors. Although I wasn’t yet writing screenplays, my training as a professional journalist was invaluable. I loved being at Howard, but I was stuck in a scholarly program that was heavily based in theory and I began to get depressed because I could not write creatively. I needed an outlet and quickly less I starve and lose my interest in creative writing altogether. I was an artist in a scholarly program and had to find a way to negotiate that experience. Serving as a journalist while finishing the Ph.D. partially served that goal, but something still was missing for me. I wanted to return back to my first love: film, writing novels, and theater. During my last year in the Ph.D. program, I was offered a two-book deal and was going to drop out of the program but a Chair convinced me to stay. Needless to say, the book deal fell through and soon disappeared. I ended up teaching for several years in the English and Black Studies program as an Adjunct, but the salary and class offerings as an adjunct was meager (I was offered one class a semester). This is when things were starting to get stagnant for me. I loved being in the classroom but I wasn’t being supported for what I truly loved. I absolutely loved my work as a journalist, but I wanted to begin writing and producing my own material as opposed to just chronicling the work of others. That’s when I decided to move back to the SF Bay Area and try my hand at screenwriting. I found that I loved the medium and could write and produce screenplays fairly quickly – far faster than I could write or finish a novel.
PI: When did you first know that you wanted to become a filmmaker?
JW: As far back as I can remember, I was always the comedienne in the family and would perform skits at the family reunions and win talent shows at my schools. My mother (even though she was forced to work both a 9-to-5 and graveyard shift as a single parent) wasn’t always physically present at home, but she always exposed me to the arts and I was registered in after school programs and Upward Bound Programs that nurtured my creativity and exposed me to Higher Education. Also, when I was younger, my grandmother always made sure that I had tons of black books to read as a child. These included anthologies like “The Black Poets” where I discovered the writings of Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Mari Evans, Alice Walker, and Sonia Sanchez to name a few. On my grandmother’s bookshelf, I also discovered Maya Angelou’s autobiographical trilogy and began performing her poetry in forensic contests. Thankfully, I also had a library card (I think all kids should have a library card) and both the Black Studies and Self-Help section in the library is where I discovered books by Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, and Nikki Giovanni, to name a few. I’m a survivor of rape and years of childhood sexual abuse so the self-help books I discovered at the library (e.g., by Dwayne Dyer, Jack Kornfield, and Tich Nhat Hanh) as well as in used bookstores were empowering; they helped me to rediscover my own writing voice that had been muted and to realize that I was not a victim. The words I discovered in books helped me to articulate a silence that I was taught to repress. And we know, as Audre Lorde informs us, our silence will not protect us. This is the tagline for THE POSTWOMAN (2014). So writing poetry early on and then chronicling the work of other poets and writers was very empowering for me.
What does all of this literature have to do with film? I have always loved film and reading autobiographies as a young person helped to appreciate the power of the biopic or character-driven stories about people who have resisted and triumphed over the odds. I have to admit, The Color Purple, really moved me as a young person, not only because I admired the way Spielberg and Alice Walker captured the “world of the story” (as well as amazing dialogue), but also because Celie’s story, as child abuse survivor, felt a lot like mine. Her story was about resistance and triumph. More importantly, it was through the mentoring of other women and other mothers in her life (e.g., like Shug Avery) that Celie was able to find her voice and discover her sense of agency. I too had countless women and female mentors in my life who empowered me and encouraged me to never give up — even when I felt like giving in. I know that if it were not for their mentoring or teachings on meditation, unconditional love, and guidance, I would not be here today. It might sound strange but The Oprah Winfrey Show also empowered me as both a survivor and a writer. Self-help and new age spirituality was really growing at the time and Winfrey was discussing things about women’s lives that we had somehow developed a silence around. She got to the heart of things. She explored the inner psychology of her subjects. I wanted to study the inner psychology of characters and did so in grad school.
A few years ago, I was sitting in my condo on the East Coast and I said, I want to make films. I want to make a feature film of my own to inspire my people. I want to make films about individuals who were marginalized in society. I want to make films about people who resist the odds and triumph over adversity. And that’s when I relocated to the West Coast to make that dream a reality.
PI: Why did you become a filmmaker?
JW: I started out writing novels when I was seven. When I was junior high school, I would spend weekends with my father who lived a few cities away from us. I discovered his home video camera and started making hilarious shorts for the family. Inspired by Oprah Winfrey, I’d host my own talk show and interview family members on camera. I’d edit and splice what I made and show it to family and friends. Back then, I was editing and splicing on a VHS. I loved the process of creating film, editing it in post, and showing it to an audience. I didn’t really know, as a young person, that I was capable of doing this full-time, as a filmmaker, but it was certainly somewhere on my mind. I got side-tracked in grad school, but never forgot about my destiny to use film as a medium to advocate for change (e.g., on behalf of those who are oppressed, invisible, disenfranchised, or marginalized).
I wanted to make films because I was disturbed by the lack of complex roles that existed in Hollywood for black women. When I turned on the TV or went to see a film, I noticed that the same image of the Black woman as sapphire, mammy, or matriarch constantly reappeared on screen. The characters I saw on screen of my own people were artificial. Their entire aesthetic did not reflect my own psycho-social, spiritual, or political reality. What made matters worse was that I was also disturbed by the constant objectification of black women in music videos. I was yearning for subjectivity, a fuller humanity for Black women characters on screen. Writing screenplays, then, is my quest to humanize us since we are often vilified and marginalized on screen.
PI: Name at least 3 people who have had the most influence over your artistic style.
JW: In terms of my writing, I can’t winnow it down to a just a few. I’ve been influenced by countless writers of the Harlem Renaissance, including 19th Century Black women poets and writers like Anna Julia Cooper and Maria W. Stewart. The writings of W.E.B. DuBois inspire me as much as the writings of Jessie Redmond Fauset, Nella Larsen, Richard Wright, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Angela Davis, and James Baldwin. I think that many of the writers I studied, who were deeply invested in “recoding” and “reclaiming” our own images, influenced my style. It’s a sensibility that is infused with culture and Blackness. It’s a legacy of triumph and resistance as much as it is a rhythm shaped by memory, ancestry, and the struggle for equality.
I really like what Bradford Young, Ava DuVernay, and so many other younger indie Black filmmakers are doing today. They are writing and retelling our own stories and there’s a rich authenticity about their work. It’s a sexy and “lush” style that rings of hope, resistance, remembrance, and pride. Julie Dash and the filmmakers from the LA Rebellion period like Haile Gerima are also influential because of the legacy of triumph that pervades their work; they have chronicled marginalized subjects and communities and given as an inside look into their world – into a Black character’s psycho-social reality in the modern world. I also appreciate Cassavetes, especially for the work that he did with “Gloria,” chronicling a female heroine in specific time and place.
PI: Why was it so important to make “THE POSTWOMAN?“
JW: I wanted to humanize African American families who were so very different than mine. As a teenager, I had been exposed to the writings of Black lesbian poets and writers like Audre Lorde (including Women’s anthologies produced by Gloria Anzaldua, Catherine McKinley, or S’ Diane-Bogus), but it wasn’t until I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1998, and became exposed to students who were my age who had grown up with an LGBT parent that I began to open my mind about families who were different than mine. My friend’s parents in grad school helped to put a human face on lesbian mothering and helped me to realize that what truly makes a family is love. Research by the National Institute of Health and the American Psychological Association has proven that parents who are non-gender conforming raise healthy children just like straight parents do. I wanted to showcase this humanity in our film. I was very homophobic in my teenage years – largely because that is how I was raised and taught; to fear those who were different from me. But, as I began to experience, in grad school, and read more about diverse communities (about human sexuality, really), I learned more about love’s unlimited powers and possibilities.
Today, I know many people who raising healthy children who don’t fit the traditional mold. They may be single parents, other mothers, or other fathers, or even extended family members. I hadn’t seen their stories told on the silver screen – through their own eyes or from their own perspective, as women of color. When we watch TV, we find that most of the scripted LGBT characters on TV are often white. Not only are they white, but they often act in comedies where they are shielded from the realities of race, gender, or class oppression. These scripted characters on TV often live in a bubble and are quite shielded from the realities of homophobia. Few of them have connections or ties to their own family. Why is this? I thought. While the L Word by Ilene Chaiken was extremely influential in helping to open the doors for countless female filmmakers and storytellers, we still need to see more stories about women of color on the silver screen. And women of color also need to be in more leading roles where they can explore a character’s depth and range. That it is why I wrote THE POSTWOMAN – to humanize healthy families who are thriving regardless of their gender, race, class, or sexuality.
PI: THE POSTWOMAN was originally a short that was made into a feature length film. What were some of the obstacles that occurred when it transitioned from a short to a feature film? What did you do to overcome them?
JW: What a great question. The short was originally produced for a class for new filmmakers that I discovered while I was still in DC. It was a free film and video workshop offered through the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP). I registered for the class in hopes that it would jog my creativity and help me get back to writing films and working behind the scenes in indie cinema. The workshop was all that and more. The ten-minute short I produced for the class was a romantic comedy also called THE POSTWOMAN (2010). I had always envisioned the short as a feature even while I was in the class so my challenge, however, was trying to pack a feature into a short! Of course, that was a bad idea and didn’t work so well, but as I began to market the short to film and pride festivals and tour with it across the U.S., I began to hear from audience members that they were interested in a feature version of THE POSTWOMAN (2014). They wanted to know who these characters really were. I hadn’t done much in depth character analysis for the short so the journey to the feature was an exercise in script writing and character development. The more I began writing the feature, the more I realized it was not a comedy at all. It was a dramatic love story about a mother developing the courage to confront her children about her secret life. Of course, there are some comedic moments in the film, but I really worked on showing the complex psychological journey this woman of color makes to finally be herself and love herself unconditionally.
PI: You received an Honorable Mention in the 2013 Sundance Table Read My Screenplay contest for “THE POSTWOMAN” what was that experience like?
JW: It was fascinating for the judges to include me as an Honorable Mention in the Sundance Table Read My Screenplay Contest for THE POSTWOMAN. It gave me confirmation and affirmation to keep writing and producing the project. The same thing happened at the Hollywood Black Film Festival last year. My script was high scoring at HBFF, which allowed me to workshop my screenplay one-on-one with the other finalists at HBFF. I was grateful to workshop my script with Harrison Reiner, CBS staffer and formerly Executive Producer on the Academy Award winning film, Cinema Paradiso.
Of course, winning the Sundance Pitching Contest this past January for my second feature script, a biopic set in Chicago, was even greater confirmation to finish the second script and to continue telling the untold stories of African Americans. I’m having a ball – writing away, honing my craft, and trying to hone and solidify producers for both features at the same time.
PI: Where did you find your muse for “THE POSTWOMAN?“
JW: I think my muse came from witnessing so many women of color in my community who were parenting and raising healthy children. I’m not a mother myself but I have always imagined myself having and/or adopting children. This narrative is my tribute to all the mamas of color who are doin’ the dang thang – despite what the naysayer’s say.
PI: Does the feature film have the same cast as the short? Why or why not?
JW: It’s interesting. I was watching Margaret Kemp, our lead actress, in the feature film CHILDREN OF GOD (dir. by Kareem Mortimer). I must have been at a film festival where I saw this film and I immediately knew that Margaret would be the perfect choice to star in the feature film version forTHE POSTWOMAN; primarily, because of the depth and sense of intensity she brings to her roles. She’s very serious about her work and extremely focused. And she’s beautiful too. I like her light heartedness as much as I admire her professionalism and her craft. Margaret is a voice and acting teacher as well and she has a lot of experience touring as the star of her own one-woman shows.
I, really, after meeting Margaret in LA and solidifying her for the role had to then find cast who shared chemistry with her own screen as she was now the lead. I had to find characters who could match her depth, craft, and physicality. As you know, chemistry is very important on screen and with a feature film, one needs to be conscious about emotional and physical connection on screen. If there isn’t any, the audience wont’ believe it.
I wanted to include as many people from the short that was produced for my class, who were interested in staying on with us, and I’m hoping that, after the Kickstarter campaign for THE POSTWOMAN is finished, we can find additional A and B list cast. As we are an indie film, we don’t have the funds to hire a casting director, so I will soon be casting for the remaining roles – provided that we raise the $25,000 that we need on Kickstarter by August 6, 2013. I am so grateful to all of the wonderful actors who I have worked with and I have enjoyed their enthusiasm and level of professionalism about this project. I’ve really been doing much of the leg work on my own (that’s how it is with a first feature). I hope to build a great production team over time that I can work with on future films.
PI: How has the LGBT community responded to this film?
JW: The LGBT community has really embraced the story about this woman of color. I have appreciated also the support from countless allies who are interested in learning about diverse families that are different from their own as well. I’ve just announced the quest to make the feature through ourKickstarter campaign this past week for THE POSTWOMAN MOVIE(2014). And I’m hoping we can get the word out that the short is now becoming a feature. Here is our Kickstarter link here: http://kck.st/15IhO4r
Pi: You’re a journalist and poet; did you use any of your original writings in this film?
JW: I didn’t use any of my original writings or stories in this film. It’s all fiction. That’s what I love about writing. It’s exhilarating and fun.
PI: What is the one thing that you would like for audiences to take away from this film?
JW: I would like them to understand the power of love as well as the complexity faced by women of color who are parenting children and to realize that love not only makes a family, but it also the conduit that holds and keeps families together – regardless of their issues, diverse narratives, experiences, or stories.
PI: What advice would you offer to aspiring filmmakers?
JW: I think young filmmakers should learn and study the craft. To do that, they must take their art seriously, develop a consistent schedule, participate in workshops, network, read about the craft, and produce as much as they can to really understand what interests them in field of cinema. I’d encourage them to attend film festivals and see as many films as they can; to invest in Netflix and watch more films; to read and study scripts; and to volunteer their services as P.A.’s on a set. I’d encourage them to read and study the trades.
Above all, I’d encourage young filmmakers and writers to never give up. There is no one who will believe in your work more than you do. You are the voice and vehicle behind your projects and with endurance, we can meet our goal. Ava Du Vernay, at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, reminded other filmmakers in the audience not to “check out” at the distribution stage for their films. Writers must understand the business of cinema as much as they must understand the technicality of producing and being on set. Making a distributing a great film isn’t just about talent. Talent isn’t enough to have in this business. You need to have personality, focus, and endurance. James Baldwin once said, “Beyond talent is love, luck, and endurance.” I think all artists should remember this. Filmmaking is not a glamorous craft. It’s hard work and can be a lonely battle but if we form groups and communities with like-minded folk, we’ll be inspired to finish all of our projects and set them free to the world. I’m only hoping I can do this after the Kickstarter Campaign for THE POSTWOMAN (2014).
PI: Is there anything else you would like to share?
JW: We look forward to bringing THE POSTWOMAN to your favorite theater! Thank you for discovering our Kickstarter Campaign. Please encourage your readers to visit our Kickstarter for our feature film on the web:
KICKSTARTER PAGE: http://kck.st/15IhO4r
OFFICIAL MOVIE SITE: thepostwomanmovie.com
OFFICIAL TWITTER: http://twitter.com/PostwomanMovie
SCREEN WRITER DIRECTOR J.D. WALKER www.imdb.com/JDWalker