Looking to demystify those heinous stereotypes that allowed folks like Justin Bieber to make racist jokes, filmmaker Mya B’s latest project aims to wake up the masses around the world. Afraid of Dark explores the history of masculinity within the Black consciousness by breaking down two of the most ambivalent stereotypes used in mass media: the “Mandingo” and the “Brute.”
After successfully funding her project through Kickstarter, this Brooklyn-based creativist has circumvented the major hurdle that stalls most projects from hitting the big screen. Luckily, we were able to get some of her time to talk about Afraid of Dark, her origins as a filmmaker, and what advice parents can take away from this project to use with their own children.
What was the first film that you saw that inspired you to become a filmmaker?
The first film I saw that made me want to be a filmmaker is Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. At the time, I was already in film school, but it inspired me to want to do it foreal-foreal.
What did you believe were your options when you first graduated from college?
I graduated from Columbia College Chicago and, of course, like every other filmmaker, I wanted to go to Hollywood and conquer the world with films. However, I went off to the Peace Corps as a Producer in the East Caribbean right after I graduated. I started thinking more about changing the world with films — exposing cultures, truths, and Black experiences.
Your work has profiled the rigors of being a quote-unquote minority in America. What were the lessons you learned from projects such as Warrior Queens and Silence: In Search of Black Female Sexuality in America that you applied to your Afraid of Dark project?
I learned lessons in terms of tightening up my production and finding a team to work with. As a filmmaker, the more films you make, the better you become. In all these films, they are my personal journeys in some way. From trodding Rastafari, to being a Black woman, to having a Black son, I learned through making these films that everyone is different whether based on their upbringing or their own personal discovery.
I love interviewing people because I am able to uncover truths and share honest dialogue between people. I learned the lessons of integrity and how important that is as a documentary filmmaker.
The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, and others within the Black community re-ignited the discussion about how much a Black life is worth. When it comes to Black masculinity does your film tackle how much the community itself values its own life?
My film does tackle how much the community itself values its own life by discussing how some people buy into those stereotypes about themselves, which is why there is Black-on-Black crime. Some Black men believe that they are “angry” or “violent” and glorify that in rap music, in gangs, and with gun violence, etc. These things stem from men who don’t see their own light. This part saddens me the most because we are killing up each other and it’s because no one is taking us seriously or even seeing that what’s happening to Black men is a problem.
Black parents are especially stressed with having to raise their children in America where there are so many distractions. Are there any specific examples in Afraid of Dark that highlight solutions for parents?
Personally, I share my feelings about having a Black son and how at times I worry about him because of his skin color. However, my son counters that by saying he is going to live a long and prosperous life. That was a special moment to me as a parent because oftentimes we put fear on our children and want to protect them from the world, but we end up scaring them, shielding them too much, or just straight-up numbing them.
We have to not let our fears become their fears. We have to allow them to live life to the fullest un-afraid. I don’t want to raise my son to be scared of anything except God. We have too many good men in the trenches, trying to fight the good fight. I encourage any parent who loves their child or just loves children to “get up and stand up” for their rights.
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an in-depth piece for The Atlantic arguing the case of reparations which caused a lot of discussion. Do you believe closing that wealth gap within the Black household could change the direction of how Black men interact with the world?
I think that closing the wealth gap within Black households could change the direction of how Black men interact with the world for sure. One can witness this by looking at Black male celebrities like Jay Z or Kanye West. Why do you think so many of our youth want to be a “rapper” or “entertainer” when they grow up? It’s because those examples are seen as world travelers and are able to interact with it from a different place.
You have some White families with old money that have been handed down from generation-to-generation in this country as a result of owning slaves. There is a huge disparity of money in our communities. There are people who aren’t able to afford college or even think about it when you are trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents. A lot of Black men cannot get jobs even though they followed the rules of going to college or because of having a felony for doing something stupid one time. Black men have to be able to provide for their families and make money.
For the parents reading this article wanting advice on how to raise their own children, what takeaway from Afraid of Dark can be applied to parenthood?
I would say when parents watch the film they can takeaway a few things as a parent. 1) Raise your child to not fear anything. We most definitely need those next-generation Malcolm X’s and Marcus Garvey’s in the world. 2) Give them room to grow. 3) Pass down a business to them. This way, we are able to keep our future generations employed and independent from working for anyone. Allowing your young to create their own income from your hard work is a great advantage. 4) Teach them their history. They should be proud about being Black. That power that they feel can not only empower them to accomplish anything, but they will value the life of others who look just like them.
Afraid of Dark will make its premiere on June 13 during the 2014 Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival at Brooklyn’s Long Island University.