Actor and filmmaker Aisha Evelyna joins us on Close-Up Culture to chat about her short film, Alex.
Alex follows an unassuming Black woman who ignores an uneasy feeling during a lighthearted afternoon with her friend at a hip boutique. Until she can’t.
It is set to screen at the 2022 Austin Film Festival and the 2022 Whistler Film Festival.
Hello Aisha, welcome to Close-Up Culture. First off, can you tell us what led you to filmmaking, and what you’re passionate about as a filmmaker?
I fell into filmmaking by accident. I went to theatre school and trained as an actor. After I graduated, I was frustrated with where I was in my career and I just wanted to show the world I could act. At the time, I figured that if no one was going to cast me to say so much as two lines, that I’d just do it myself. BUT what I think now, five years out from that time, was that I was so lonely and dying to be a part of a creative process where my contributions felt valued. So essentially now as a filmmaker, programmer and performer, I’m passionate about reminding audiences of the value that is inherent to the stories of people who live on the margins.
What led you to write Alex?
It was my buddy, co-producer, and cinematographer on the film – J Stevens actually! In 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder I was feeling all kinds of things, as many of us were around the world, and J reached out to me. J was angry, and they wanted to use what they had at their disposal to empower marginalized creators and help to inspire change. As longtime fans of each other, we started dreaming about what we wanted to see, what kind of work excited us. After a few meetings, I had a beatsheet, and then we had a script! And then after writing a couple of grant applications, we had a film.
The film centres around Sydney but, as the title suggests, this film is about Alex. Can you expand on that and the dynamics at play in the film?
I wanted the title of this film to point to who this story is really about – and it is indeed all about Alex. After reading an article about Nick White’s White Lotus, he mentioned that it’s very easy for those with privilege today to annex themselves from the conversions about discrimination because their actions and views do not align with the overt depictions of racism in the past. What I hope to point audiences to today is the fact that racial discrimination is multifaceted and can also oppress with a more modern shape–one that doesn’t always need bad actors to be conscious about how they’re complicit.
You also play Sydney in the film. Did you bring your own experiences into the performance?
My portrayal of Sydney is drawing on personal experiences of feeling othered, especially in spaces where I am shopping. My hope was to a) centre her emotional experience while b) allowing the audience to be a passive observer in what is happening. But, even though my personal experiences and what happens to Sydney are important, for the purposes of this film, I thought it was more important to show audiences how slight microaggressions can escalate. And how easily our thinking can become discriminatory when we do not question where these beliefs come from. We’ve all been indoctrinated by a system of oppression in some way or another, be it how men perceive and perform masculinity, to short, concrete lies like Black people steal.
Alex will screen at the 2022 Austin Film Festival in October. What do you hope audiences take away from film?
I hope audiences leave questioning how we judge others and where we get these judgements from. These judgements are short circuits that we lean on when we feel unsafe, and—when we don’t think about the actions that they steer us into—these belief systems also have the capacity to do harm. So, I guess I am just hoping that audiences leave with more questions about the story and about themselves than when they first sat down to watch the film.
I believe you are in development with a feature film. Can you reveal anything about that?
Yes! I’ve been working on a feature called SEAHORSE for the last little while. I can’t share much about it right now. I can say that we have the greenlight and we will be shooting next year!
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
So I have a small body of work coming up that I am really proud of: I have my own show – THE DROP, and I’ll have a movie soon, and a limited series SALLY in development, so I’m really trying to remain grateful and take stock of the present moment. When it comes to future ambitions, I plan to keep working as an actor, writer, and director, creating meaningful work that centres those on the margins. I hope to keep pushing boundaries as a multi-hyphenate filmmaker, and I hope to have fun doing it!
Follow Aisha on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/aishaevelyna/