Geoffrey Fletcher: Life After 'Precious'
The first African American to win an Oscar for screenwriting says we need more black stories.
GF: There needs to be in general a greater number and greater range of [black] films. I think whatever criticism Precious faced, it would face a lot less if other strong films about different areas of the African-American experience were out there and received a strong release with marketing. Precious is just one African-American story.
TR: You're talking to a group of Columbia University students through the "Discovery the Academy" program. Do you have any special message or lessons for African-American students?
GF: I think that -- and I usually say this in a general sense -- but I always emphasize knowing one's craft and exploring every potential opportunity, taking nothing for granted and proceeding with focus, humility and confidence.
TR: How have those things worked for you in your career?
GF: Over the years I'd heard "no" so many times, but I kept writing on my own time while I took a variety of jobs outside the industry, and I kept making short films and I kept just trying every opportunity. And what I learned through those experiences, even though there were periods of disappointment, was that it was also making me a better storyteller. And so many good things that we bring to our art come from other places.
Those various jobs I had were wonderful, interacting with people who faced everyday challenges and joys. I was an assistant, I was a temporary employee, I had an internship -- that one was in the industry. But I did everything from picking up dry cleaning and tailoring to making deliveries. For a couple of days I was a landscaper, and they didn't even give us gloves. [Laughing.] And I'll tell you, every one of these jobs -- particularly the office jobs, the colorful characters there -- I will never forget. It was real stuff that it's hard to get from just watching films or just interacting with other filmmakers.
TR: What are you working on now?
GF: I just finished directing a film called Violet & Daisy, which will be out in the fall. And I'm writing a script for [director and producer] Doug Liman. It's about the 1971 Attica-prison uprising.
TR: Do you think it will make as big a splash as Precious?
GF: I hope people come to see it because it is an important event in U.S. history, but I never know what will work. My strategy is this: I pour my soul into something and hope people come. If you love what you're working on, there's a great chance other people will, too.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer.