In a new docuseries, Yale filmmakers assert that Black stories matter
“What’s in your cup?”
“How did you get here?”
“Describe one of the things in your cup as a chocolate dessert.”
These are a few questions that repeat throughout season one of the Yale docuseries, “Now, In Color,” a non-fictional exploration of the Black experiences of six Yalies, created by Yale undergraduate filmmakers J. Joseph ’19, Clark Burnett ’19, and Karnessia Georgetown ’19. Watch all six interviews from season one on their website, or on their YouTube channel.
In these Yalies’ “cups” — the things that they hold close and dear — are family and love, painting and reading, humor and church, chocolate and hip-hop. They’ve come to Yale from places near and far. Jemimah Orevaoghene has lived in Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa while Isaiah Genece is from Long Island. Leonard Galmon, a New Orleans native, survived Hurricane Katrina, and Anita Avery Norman is from Memphis, Tenn. by way of Little Rock, Ark. Katerra Logan describes her role within the Black Church at Yale as a “Chocolate Thunder from Down Under dessert from Outback Steakhouse,” and Dasia Moore could “relate her family to an Oreo cream pie.”
When the final question is turned back on Joseph and Burnett, who reunited this January to make a second season of “Now, In Color,” they smile. Amani Hill ’20, the new “Now, In Color” publicist, jumps on the prompt: Describe the making of “Now, In Color” as a chocolate dessert.
She compares making the docuseries to an ice cream sundae bar where everything — the ice cream, the sauce, the jimmies — is chocolate: “You never know what’s going to happen on a shoot, what you’re going to throw in and what the person you interviewing will bring, but at the end of the day, it’s always going to taste really chocolatey.” Burnett says for him, filming the series is a KitKat bar — “for the simple reason that I’m a really picky eater but love KitKats.” Joseph thinks creating “Now, In Color” is a Lindor Truffle. “It has that same unique formation – the hard shell outside but then a crème filling — which makes it a little tricky to bite into, a little tricky to put together. But at its very core, it’s silky smooth, just lovely and refreshing.”
The word “refreshing” is exactly what the filmmakers say they hope their take on the Black experience — or experiences — will be for viewers. On their website, the creators describe the mission of the series: “By exploring the stories of Black students on Yale’s campus, ‘Now, In Color’ counters the media’s traditional and monolithic construction of what it means to be Black … The series aims to showcase, to the world, the breadth and depth that is Blackness.”
Black stories matter
“We like to point out that the impetus to create ‘Now, In Color’ didn’t follow from any one specific event,” says Burnett. “It came from a climate of misrepresentation or misunderstanding of Blackness that we’ve seen throughout history, in the media, but then, as we began to work on the series, we found different concrete moments of motivation. I usually point to the summer of 2016 — before which we had already shot our first interview — when certain events, like the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, reminded us of the importance of what we were doing. Even quite recently, with moments like the one last month when the President called these countries [in Africa] ‘shitholes,’ I’ve felt like the work we are doing to show the Black community in all its diversity has direct utility in our current political context.”
According to Hill, this representation of diversity is useful for those inside the Black community, too. “We feel that it’s important to remind people that their Blackness and their experience of Blackness is always not the same as other people’s,” she says, “For at a time when we as a community need solidarity and unity in order to persevere, it’s essential to understand our differences in order to find our sameness.”
“Now, In Color” was an outgrowth of Joseph and Burnett’s friendship. The two connected early in their first year through a friend of a friend over pizza. “When we got to Yale, we were all immediately enchanted with the Black community and how thriving it was. We loved all the wonderful, talented, creative people we were around,” Joseph adds, “so really, we just wanted to share those stories.”
Both became involved in the Black Men’s Union at Yale, the BMU, where they sat on the publicity committee. “That’s when ‘Now, In Color’ started to take shape,” says Joseph. “We really wanted to focus on telling stories, making the project about individuals first. We always want to make sure we mention Karnessia at this point because although she’s no longer attached to the project, she was instrumental in making season one happen the way it did. It was with her guidance as producer that we sought to expand the project. She helped us realize that it didn’t just have to be members of the BMU.”
“We are planning and plotting to get our work out there further and farther, especially in the hands of Black kids,” says Joseph. “It’s super important for us to share these stories with younger members of our community because if there’s just one kid out there who decides, ‘I’m going to apply to Yale,’ because of this series then we’ve done our job.”
In addition to demystifying the Yale students’ path to success, the series has also helped debunk oversimplifications about an entire continent. Burnett recalls a particularly moving response he received to season one. “A relative of mine called my mother to get my phone number, so he could call me. He had just seen Jemimah’s episode, and was really impressed by her. He said, ‘This is what people need to see. I feel like they have all these misconceptions about Africa, but this episode will help.’ He was just really, really excited.”
High production value matters
There’s a synchronicity between the sound, look, colors, and music in each “Now, In Color” episode. Using two simultaneous Blackmagic cameras — one for the front-on shot, the other for the close-up, handheld profile — the filmmakers deliberately constructed an “intimate space for intimate interviews,” in the words of Joseph. Burnett explains, “When we conceptualized the project, we knew we didn’t want it to be somebody just staring at a camera and reading a laundry list of their accomplishments. We wanted it to be an intimate discussion, which is where we got the mug and the hot chocolate and the fireplace” for their season one production design.
“I can’t talk enough about us developing the aesthetic,” continues Burnett. “I love how much work we put into trying to achieve something with high production value. That was completely intentional — shout-out to the CCAM (Center for Collaborative Arts and Media). Part of the intentionality behind it stems from the fact that we wanted to show what we students can do while working independently with university resources. But the other reason for putting so much time and effort into the look was to make sure that the production value reflects the beauty that is Blackness.”
The filmmakers did not work alone. They would like to thank Karnessia Georgetown for producing season one; Risë Nelson, the director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, for helping make the Afam House available for them on short notice to shoot season two and for helping them to get media training; the Afro-American Cultural Center for allowing them to shoot there; the Yale Black Men’s Union for financial support; Myles Cameron ‘19 and his producer, Frankis, for the intro sequence music; and the CCAM, formerly known as the Digital Media Center for the Arts, from which they received the 2016 Interdisciplinary Arts Award, which helped to fund the production.
Season two will premiere by the end of this spring semester and be available online at their website and on their YouTube channel thereafter. Currently, the filmmakers are “looking to get the series into the hands of younger members of the Black community, not just at Yale but the Black community at large, including the New Haven Public Schools.”