Brooklyn resident Reginald T. Jackson has carved a name for himself as a legendary writer. Jackson’s works have appeared in several national publications including BLACK OUT, BGM, OUTWEEK, and CLIK magazine. He has contributed to anthologies such as BROTHER TO BROTHER, edited by Essex Hemphill. In 2008, he was nominated for a Lambda Literary for his book STICKS AND STONES and HEJIRA.
Jackson is hoping to repeat his success as a writer with his short SOUL MATES. SOUL MATES is an effusive love story about two people separated by time and trickery. Reginald and Anita pledged their love to each other ten years ago, but ten years later they have grown into two different people from two separate worlds. It will be shown at the Black Harvest Film Fest on Thursday August 22nd at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. PrideIndex caught up with Jackson as he discusses his foray into filmmaking and his influence Lee Daniels.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): Good afternoon Mr. Jackson.
REGINALD JACKSON (RJ): Hello there.
PI: We’re talking this afternoon about your film SOUL MATES which will be playing at The Black Harvest Film Festival here in Chicago.
RJ: SOUL MATES is an original short. It is a love story about two young lovers who meet at a soul food restaurant and fall in love and pledge to be together forever. Then one gets called away to take care of some family business, but through time and trickery they get separated. Ten years later with no deliberate action by themselves, they are brought back together with the possibility for the second chance at romance and to live happily ever after. It is set in Harlem New York at present times.
PI: Why did you make this film?
RJ: I wanted to do this film because it examines the external racism that comes from the black community about people from the hood. It looks at the pressure that comes with the thinking that once you’ve made it, you’ve got to leave the hood to kind of live the high life and if you’re still in the hood, then it you have not made it.
The lead female character does a very extreme job of reinventing herself as someone, denying her heritage of growing up in the projects in order to attract herself to someone who she considers to be successful and give her the life she wants. At the same time, the male protagonist is someone who has made it and chooses to stay in the neighborhood where he grew up and is always mistaken for something other than a successful man. In the movie, he is immediately mistaken for a waiter when he actually owns a number of those restaurants throughout the South and the North, but because he is there, it is assumed that he is a lowly worker and not the owner. It really looks at this whole idea of do we really have to leave our neighborhood and our community or move to the Upper East Side to project success.
PI: I understand that you are from Brooklyn, New York?
RJ: No, I am from Jamaica, Queens. I live in Brooklyn now, but I was born in Jamaica, Queens.
PI: How much of this story was from your own life’s experiences?
RJ: Some of it was from my life’s experiences in a roundabout way. While I was growing up in Jamaica, Queens, I wanted to go to the music and performing arts high school, but my mother choose not to let me go because it was based in Harlem. She was afraid of me going there with all of those black people from “the wrong side of the tracks.” I kind of spited her by going to City College, which was also in Harlem. She was always very worried and very concerned that I was up in Harlem venturing away from Queens in the safe middle class neighborhood that I was in. I think there were only about 4 black families in our entire neighborhood. It was very much about turning that on its head and examining that fear that my mother had while I was growing up and being in Harlem and being around the black community and the hood. She grew up in the South, and they called it the people from the wrong side of the tracks. Of course, almost all of us once we got free we made a beeline right for those people she told us from which to stay away. We all wanted to know what the taboo was, what the mystery was, and what they were doing. So that information made it into the male character of the movie.
PI: What did you learn about yourself after making this film?
RJ: It’s hard to say. (Sigh) One of the things that I’ve learned about myself was had to trust myself as a writer and the director. What I learned as a writer was that what I put on the page really worked. I really did not need to do anything special to tweak it. I did not need to come up with a special kind of artifice to make it work. It was right there on the page. The second thing was the conversation I was having with the actors about racial politics. I remember having specific conversations with the actress Mary Hodges who plays the Leticia in the movie. She was very reluctant to take the part at first because she did not want to play the stereotypical dark skinned angry black woman. I had to do a lot of convincing of her to play the part. I tried to make her understand that I was already reversing the stereotype making the antagonist a light skinned brother and the hero a dark skinned sister. I was already reversing what you see in Hollywood with the good guy being a light skinned guy with good hair and the dark skinned guy with bad hair and tattoos. I took on the taboo, but I could not take on both issues with the male and female at the same time, so I had to have her to invest in my vision to tackle at least one or two of those stereotypes and those –isms through the movie even though we could not do all of them. It took some convincing, but she finally came around and agreed to play the role.
PI: Is there any reason why you did not make this into a feature film?
RJ: Yes. I started in the arts as a theater artist. I founded the Rainbow Repertory Theater in 1988, and I ran it for 18 years successfully. Then I took a six year hiatus and now I am back into theater and film projects and so this is my foray into film. I did a short film that was just under six minutes in August of 2012, that was my first foray and this is my second. This film clocks at 26:54, so I am slowly taking steps towards learning myself and learning the craft before I just throw myself into a feature. I feel that if I am going to do it as an artist, a writer, producer, and director I have to have the same amount of respect for the film art form as I do for the theater. This is my own way of teaching myself. I am scheduled to do my next film in October or November, and it will be under 30 minutes. I am going to do a documentary of which I am seeking funding now and from there I will do a feature. I am taking it step by step in a methodical way.
PI: What was the name of your first short?
RJ: HOOD LIFE 101 was my first short. It is a short film project that takes a satirical look at the stereotypes of African American males living in an urban neighborhood. All of my works can be found at my website http://reginaldtjackson.com
PI: What’s your next film is going to be called?
RJ: It will be called FIRST BASE, which is based on a true story about a woman who was lured away by five men from and bar and gang raped and ended up HIV + as a result.
RJ: Yeah. I am a rape victim survivor myself, and I did not want to tell my own story because I did not want it to turn into psychodrama or therapy, so the next best thing was to tell the story of someone else in my family, who also went through a very similar thing. He was lured away from a bar by five guys who were supposed to be taking him to an afterhours spot, but instead took him to a basement and gang raped him. It was in the late 1980s, and they ended up infecting him with HIV, so that is the premise of FIRST BASE.
PI: In your writings and films the themes that you speak to include HIV/AIDS as well as status and social class. What other themes do you cover?
RJ: I deal with sexuality and what it means to be African American in America and try to not redefine but try to clarify and put out some more positive, more diverse images of what being African American means. I am very sensitive to the view that Hollywood, especially white Hollywood, has on us. We don’t get to do movies unless they are crime dramas or drug dramas or comedies with guys in a dress or something like that. We hardly get to play in a regular drama. We are not looked at like we go through everyday normal middle class trials and tribulations. I want to create those images, so that we have that voice to counter all of the other narratives.
PI: Let’s talk about your writings.
RJ: I have been published in several publications and have published three books of poetry. I have been in five anthologies last year and will be in five this year. I’m also in one documentary called CLICK HERE, following eight theater and film artist in New York. I write in all forms, essay, short stories, open letter, play writing and poetry. I am in BLACK FIRE: AFRICAN AMERICAN GAY EROTICA, edited by Shane Allison. I try to be very diverse and get my works into white gay anthologies too.
PI: How long did it take to make SOUL MATES?
RJ: The process took a little over six months. It took time to work with the union because I used union actors, so it was a long and somewhat bureaucratic process. The second part was amassing the funding to pay for the film. SOUL MATES was financed by me out of my own pockets. It really meant taking my income and having a really good Director of Photography that helped me to stay on budget. I knew exactly what amount of money I needed to have during pre-production, production, and post production and made sure those funds were there. A lot of people marvel at how quickly I got the film done.
PI: Where has the film played?
RJ: Chicago’s is going to be the first debut for the film. It’s already been accepted to play at the Hollywood Short Film Fest in the Fall. We’re waiting for notification from eight other film festivals. We have submitted into festivals through December 2013.
PI: What else would you like to tell us?
RJ: I see myself being like one of my major influences – Lee Daniels. I am trying to pattern myself after Daniels as an openly gay, openly HIV + African American filmmaker, who is making very interesting projects. Those projects will represent the community, race, and our culture and will exemplify us in a positive way. I think Daniels is a phenomenal influence and someone I would like to follow in his footsteps. I do not want to be confined but I want to make films about anything I want to.