Nefertite Nguvu Shows Every Side of Black Women "In The Morning"
No one can accuse Nefertite Nguvu of lacking commitment. The filmmaker spent years in post-production on her award-winning release “In The Morning” using a combination of crowdfunding platforms and persistence to bypass industry gatekeepers. The film which earned awards at New York’s Urban World Film Festival, Philadelphia's BlackStar Film Festival, Atlanta’s Bronzelens Film Festival and Italy’s Terra Di Siena Film Festival, takes a thoughtful journey through the “interior lives of black women.”
The post-production process may not have been simple but to Nguvu providing audiences with a different experience was worth the price of any obstacles she encountered. “It’s challenging especially if you're making work that doesn't adhere to certain standards” she says. The brick city native seems like she was bred to overcome challenges. The “daughter of the black arts movement” was a Chad student, a participant at Rutgers’ summer arts institute program, in the gifted and talented programs in both the 7th and 8th grades and a student at Newark's Art High School, a prestigious local institution that was once home to Savion Glover, Tisha Campbell-Martin, and Michael B. Jordan. At the time the school didn't have a directing program so she studied theater until she got “bitten by the filmmaking bug.”
She says “one of the things that keeps me motivated is the people in film school, and knowing that the films I make are for people that get to see themselves reflected in the work. To me that's bigger than any temporary setback that I might be experiencing.” While the art of filmmaking fulfills the former poet, whose characters are prone to speaking in an almost lyrical dialogue, she maintains that her work is more about representation than personal satisfaction stating that “knowing that you're making work with a higher objective in mind is really essential. Because if it was about me, I would have given up a long time ago.”
That representation takes form in the finely drawn black female characters “who are stylish in a way you don’t often get to see black women depicted in films” that are present on screen in “In the Morning”. These characters are as soft, confused, knowledgeable, spirited, sleek, and hopeful as they want to be. The most intriguing of these is Harper whose image leaps out from the trailer nearly “floating in a red dress.” She is the “most free spirited of all the women.” All of the characters are marked by being “in a state of transition” but Harper is “really into her own manifestation of her destiny.” Nguvu’s face lights up full of affection for her character saying that she is “not encumbered in the way some of the women are in terms of other people's expectations. She’s like our fairy, our free spirit. I listened to a lot of Alice Coltrane when I was writing her.”
When asked if she felt pressured to depict an image of what tumblr has dubbed the “carefree black girl” Nguvu is quite clear. “I think it’s important to show a variety of images of black women. I think so many times in film we get sort of pigeonholed into very specific themes. Especially in Hollywood, there's very specific archetypes. We’re very rarely nuanced individuals. I loved making my film independently not having to answer to the gatekeepers, making a film about women I knew some who were carefree black girls some who were not but none like women who I had seen before on film.”
Nguvu felt a responsibility to complete such a unique project like this because “I don’t think hollywood is in a rush to make films about the interior lives of black women...that are just about our lives.” She rejects the notion that the black experience is only valuable when it is steeped in trauma and asserts that “we are just as important when we are being human as we are when we are doing other things in the world.”
The former School of the Visual Arts grad is no stranger to feeling marginalized “I started college when I was 16 so outside of being female and black I was also the youngest person”. Possibly as a result of that Nguvu has been intentional about finding and fostering community within the traditionally male dominated filmmaking industry. She worked with cinematographer Arthur Jafa, who also shot Julie Dash’s film “Daughters of the Dust” and Spike Lee’s cult classic “Crooklyn”, but the man who Nguvuv describes as an “OG amazing black cinematographer” was “surrounded by women”. Working closely with the director were “a team of mighty women”. Nguvu shared that working with women “is important to me because I feel like we don’t get those opportunities more often than not and besides being women they’re also awesome at what they do. So it was great to be able to create a space that we can excel at what we were put here to do.”
Part of why Nguvu was able create that space and complete the impressive feat of filming “In The Morning” in a mere eight days was the increase in access to quality technology for creatives. “Technology changing in terms of filmmaking being a less expensive medium certainly helps artists like me” she said “ I think when it comes to music a lot of that technology happened a lot sooner. Artists like Frank Ocean and Chance The Rapper, because of the technology that exists, are able to take a lot more control of their own destiny. I think now that film is changing and the landscape is changing hopefully we’ll see more and more of that.” When she speaks to young filmmakers she tells them “one of the things that I'm most proud of is not giving up.”
The changes in the way that media is consumed in addition to the way it’s created has energized Nguvu who is partnering with AT&T on an original short film premiering soon. She’s grateful that they are “thankfully responding to their consumer and the need to see more diverse and inclusive programing “ and is looking forward to expressing herself in different mediums and exploring new opportunities to connect with audiences.
Nguvu doesn’t attribute the increase in black women in front of and behind the camera that are currently being welcomed by gatekeepers to pure coincidence “I think there's culturally been a shift with everything that's happening in the world in terms of the severe social thing that's been happening”. She calls the uptick in consumer support for independent projects “a reaction to us needing to find those circles and uplift black folks black women in particular.”
No matter what way the tides turn she will continue independently “writing about women who I think are sophisticated, intellectual and verbose." As for Hollywood seeming to (very) slowly wake up to the power that is #blackgirlmagic? She says “I grew up going to African preschools it's never been a fad for me. I've always been brought up with the idea of being proud to be black. So I’m hoping that whatever brought this trend on that it’ll stay forever and never go out of style.”
Watch the trailer for "In The Morning" below.