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WiHM: An Interview with Zandashé Brown

Continuing our month of Women in Horror, Dead Celluloid is very proud to present our interview with Zandashé Brown - story teller and film maker.

Film. It’s what you really seem to love. Tell us how you got to the place you’re at now. 

I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller first and foremost. When I was in middle school, I would write these short dramas on notebook paper, draw a front and back cover on printer paper, staple it together and pass it around as a book to other students. It became a “thing” and I would keep dishing out these stories to other middle school students who would wait on sequels and other stories. It was a fun thing to do but it was also a passion of mine.

Another girl started doing it too and the snobby middle-school writer that was me hated her “work” and decided to stop writing for other people because I felt like the quality of writing in our middle school had somehow been diminished. It’s hilarious to look back and see how seriously I took this stuff but it also reminds me that storytelling and entertaining or moving people has always been important to me. I wanted to have written my first novel by age fifteen.

I read a lot of books but I also watched a lot of movies. I joined the film club in high school and decided to try to put on of my stories on the screen just for fun. It took my until I had to declare a major for college to realize that I wasn’t doing it for fun anymore.

How are your connections with your home still with you?

Well I still live in Louisiana so they aren’t very far. That said, I’m a country girl at heart, born and raised in Rosedale, Louisiana - a literal village. I didn’t know I was a country girl for a very long time because I adapted quickly moving into the capitol city, Baton Rouge, and now in New Orleans. But I’ve always been obsessed with the southern Louisiana aesthetic - live oak trees, crumbling plantation homes, open stretches of land, the cypress trees in the bayou and the bright colorful shotgun houses in New Orleans. It’s such a mixture of so many different people and cultures and tragedies that have touched this land. I think the tragedies interest me the most.

I become more and more obsessed with it every time I travel and remember how unique and valuable it is. I don’t only reference home in my work, I source it.

When you’re taking someone else’s work, as a director, how do you process that story, making it yours, but more so, trying to keep the creators original vision?

Thus far, I’ve only ever directed work that I’ve written. It’s something I know that I’ll be passionate about and I can’t work on something without having passion. That said, there are many incredible writers in the world whose scripts I’d be blessed to pick up.

I think, though, that when a director picks up a script and decides to translate it into an on-screen story, the director’s creative vision is the priority. That’s why it’s so important to be able to collaborate with people who’s visions you trust. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t commit to a script if in directing it into a film I had to stray far away from the writer’s vision. When a script is well written, I think an overarching vision will always be present that all responsible creators would respect.

Horror film – Hollywood in general – is still very much a patriarchal business. Do you think it’s being swayed, finally? Or is there a general apathy toward it?

I think the patriarchy is shaking but there’s still so much more work to be done. We always have to be aware of the culture of the day and the performativity that comes out of wanting to brand yourself as a person (artist, entertainer, etc) who is socially conscious and responsible but not necessarily being accountable of that. So when it seems we’re making steps forward or more room is being made for women or people of color or queer people or disabled people, let’s not forget to question intentionality.

More importantly, I believe people on the margins should put more effort into telling their stories as they are - not always as a reaction to the systems that are oppressing them, although sometimes those two are so tightly crossed that they can be hard to break apart.

BLOOD RUNS DOWN was refreshing to me because it’s a story about a Black mother and daughter that not only centers their experience but is encapsulated by it. There is no reference to masculinity or whiteness or anything other than Black women in the movie. It felt good to make something where these characters and I could just exist as Black women.

And on that note, whitewashing is still prevalent. While those on the ground – the actors and some filmmakers – seem to be starting to recognise and address the problem, those behind the money don’t seem to want to. Do you think that there may be changes on the horizon?  

White producers can be as philanthropic and as welcoming as they’d like to be, but as long as they are the gatekeepers, the problem will persist. White supremacy exists in many forms and this is one of them. Changing that course is going to require big things to happen outside of the film industry as well though, as many other factors in living as a white person contribute to producers being afforded these positions and this sort of status. It’s not that people don’t work hard to get to where they are - although that may be the case for some. It’s that there are some challenges that a white person simply won’t have to face in that obstacle course.

I think producers of color are doing the work to build their own without having to ask permission and dismissing the value that we’ve entrusted on so many different companies and award shows and other things that a primarily white industry has deemed important. That’s going to be a slow journey but it’s a very big step.

We want to bring every underrated, lost, misunderstood film to the forefront. What should we watch? 

I’m actually awful at giving film recommendations. I think there’s still so much room for me to expand my palate, which is exciting! I don’t know if a particular movie comes to mind, but I’ll say that there’s a lot of value in 90s teen dramas. I know that’s a hard left, but alongside Wes Craven, John Carpenter, the occasional action film, and Black biopics and sitcoms, that’s what I grew up on. They tend to be pretty popular films so I won’t say that they’re lost or that there’s much to misunderstand. But the JAWBREAKERs and the CRUEL INTENTIONS of the world made for a bit more mature cinema for teenages I think and really spoke to the time. I’ve been reading some great books on the subject so it’s sort of on my mind right now.

You’ve always been interested in horror – listening to your stories about your childhood – do you have a novel in you?

I’ll never say never but I’ve really enjoyed writing stories for the screen and I feel like if I were to attempt to write a novel I’d find a way to quickly shape it into a screenplay before even finishing. That said, it doesn’t seem completely unrealistic for me to make my way back to my original dream. Maybe I’ll ease back into those notebook middle school paper stories first and see where it goes.

For all your work behind the camera, you have ventured in front of the camera. What was it like being on the other side?

I’m not completely comfortable being on camera yet. It’s already such an adjustment to direct work that I’ve written because it forces me to open myself up to people - an entire crew. It’s terrifying putting a thing together and presenting it to other people, essentially saying “here’s what I think is cool.” Because what if it’s actually really lame? Actors have to tap into their emotions and open themselves up in a completely different way that involves freeing their bodies of restrictions and I’m sooo not there yet. But I’m not opposed to the idea. Maybe one day I’ll actually really enjoying hopping in front of the camera. I believe I’m becoming more and more vulnerable as a director but for now, I don’t think I’m anywhere near vulnerable enough to act in the way I’d like to. It’s all a process.

What is coming next for you?

I’m keeping my next project under wraps but I think it’s going to be a really good one. I’ll say it’s an energetic slasher with a very different energy from BLOOD RUNS DOWN. I’m trying to put all the love, time, and care into it that I can so it can be what I’m envisioning. Because if it is, it’s gonna be pretty badass. I’m speaking that into existence.

Thank you for talking with us, Zandashé.

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