Channing Kennedy of Colorlines spoke to Keith Josef Adkins about his Web series, The Abandon, a tale of five black men who leave the city on a weekend camping trip, only to find out via Twitter that aliens have landed back home.
Its pilot episode launched around Christmas, fueled by an $8,000 Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. Here's some of what the writer-director had to say about how an all-black cast can "take race away," how his childhood informs his material and what he thinks Django Unchained signifies for Africa Americans in today's entertainment industry.
On the significance of having a cast made up of black professional males:
It's a two-part answer. One, there's so little representation of black people on TV, period. But even when you think about thrillers and sci-fi and horror, the black person — particularly the black guy — is usually killed off first. So for me, the part of me wanting to put black people central to this story, it's just to allow, you know, black characters to be central to the story!
The second part of the answer is that it's the world that I know. I'm putting myself and the people that I know on-screen. It's not like I'm literally sitting down and saying 'I want black people,' because I don't always wake up and say 'Oh, I'm black!' I'm writing, and that's the voice I'm writing from.
And for me, because the central characters are all black, it takes race away. When everyone's black, you're not worried about who's black or not. You're invested in who they are, and in what's happening to them. That's my attempt with the series.
On the real-life experiences and social commentary behind mass abductions and alien invasions:
… And in the midst of all this conservatism, my mother was so different from everyone else that she was also deemed ‘alien.' So I grew up under this, with everyone watching everything she did and said; whether it was about marriage, whether it was about travel outside of Ohio, everything was suspect for her. And as an extension of her, I saw myself as being alien.
… I think it's a perfect formula for a story about some other entity trying to take over. How does one survive that? Whether it's religious, political, social, ideological … sci-fi allows for me to give voice to that without spending a lot of time talking about it didactically or being preachy about it. You understand what I'm saying? It's all there, being channeled into this series. And there's more to come in the next episodes…
On what African Americans in the entertainment industry face in 2013:
… The challenge is that because of this aggressive movement towards so many different things in our society is happening… Well, one example is Django Unchained. It's a fantastical tale about the horrors of slavery — I guess — written by a white man doesn't have any direct connection to slavery, from what I understand and from what he's said. So it's a filtered, imagined, romanticized, fetishized version of slavery, which I think is very dangerous. I mean, it can be very entertaining for some people, but for people who are really invested in authenticity and in providing truth, in society as we move into the year 2013, it's challenging. And then we have seven other films about slavery coming out soon, for the most part written by white screenwriters, though a few of them are written by black directors. That, to me, is challenging. There's nothing wrong with it, but we need more narratives from black perspectives, and to trust that the black perspective can be layered and not monolithic, that it's not one story …
Read more at Colorlines.