Interviewed by Kam Williams
Born in Chicago on
November 23, 1967, Salli Richardson-Whitfield burst onto
the silver screen in 1993 in
African-American Western directed by and co-starring
Mario Van Peebles. Her resumé reveals extensive work
since then in television, film and theater.
Salli starred opposite both Denzel Washington and Will
Smith, playing their wives in the films
I Am Legend, respectively. And she
happily juggles such big studio assignments with
interesting independent features like
Pastor Brown and We the Party.
On TV, she currently
portrays Dr. Allison Blake on the SyFy Network's hit
Eureka, for which she was nominated for an
NAACP Image Award. Her other television credits include
a starring role as attorney Viveca Foster on
Law and recurring roles on
Rude Awakening and
NYPD Blue. In addition,
she guest-starred on the critically acclaimed series,
House, and voiced the character of Elise for the
Salli resides in Los
Angeles with her husband, actor
Dondre Whitfield, and
their two children, Parker and Dre. Here, she talks
about her new film,
I Will Follow, an ensemble drama
* * *
Hi Salli, thanks for the time.
Hi Kam. Happy to be here.
I’ll be mixing in my questions with some sent in by
fans. Children’s book author
Irene Smalls asks: Why this
film? What attracted you to the script?
Well, you don't pass up roles that give you the
opportunity to stretch and to grow. For black actresses
in Hollywood, these kinds of parts are few and far
between. Our writer/director,
Ava DuVernay, did a
beautiful job of creating a multi-dimensional character
that shows a black woman at a crossroads and how she
keeps her balance when the unexpected happens in life.
The film explores love, loss, loyalty and life in
general. I couldn't pass it up, even though it scared me
a little. I wondered, "Could I do this?" I'm glad I
stepped in and tried. I'm very proud of what we made
with this film.
Harriet Pakula Teweles says: A 'surprising thirst for
life' that follows after the death of a loved one seems
so different from the reports of depression and loss of
interest in life that so many people experience. How
I Will Follow
I Will Follow is a celebration of life. Sometimes when
you lose something, you understand its value more than
when you had it. The same is true for life. When a
loved one passes, there are mixed emotions and a thirst
to live one's own life more deeply can certainly be
How did you prepare for the role of Maye?
It was tough. From the time I first met
director, to the first day of shooting was only a week,
if that. It was a very fast, very creative, very organic
process. My manager pushed me to dive in with both feet.
The director knew what she wanted. And with the
encouragement and the support of both, I decided I was
going to give it my all—and I did.
What would you say is the film’s message?
I hope people come see
I Will Follow
opens on March 11 and find their own lesson in the film.
It will speak to everyone differently. That's the power
and the magic of film.
What was it like working with
She is wonderful. Very focused. Like I said, she knows
what she wants. Every director, believe it or not, does
not have a clear vision. And without a clear vision, the
captain can't steer the ship. She guided the ship
smoothly. She was kind and patient and encouraging, but
very clear on where we were all going. She was also very
open to ideas. She certainly didn't seem like a
first-time narrative director. She has a bright future.
What challenges did you face in shooting a full-length
feature film in just 15 days?
Indies are always an extra challenge. The time is
shorter because you have less money to spend and fewer
days to shoot. But our set on
I Will Follow
harmonious and very familial. The feeling we created
together offset the lack of a big budget. So yes, there
were challenges, but they only brought everyone closer
together, which I think you can see from the final
Attorney Bernatte Beekman asks: What role did the
African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM)
and its grassroots distribution play in your decision to
participate in the project? Would you like to produce,
I didn't know about AFFRM before I made the film. I
learned about it after. I think it’s brilliant and much
needed. AFFRM is a new way to distribute black
movies—not just for our film, but for other quality
black indie films. They've gathered the nation's finest
black film organizations together to release a first-run
film simultaneously in theaters nationwide. AFFRM's
I Will Follow
is the first grassroots national theatrical
release powered completely by community organizations.
It’s a game changer, and I'm proud to be involved
far as directing, yes! I am directing already. I helmed
an episode of my show
Eureka that will air this coming
season and I'll be doing another next season. I love it
and plan to direct much more.
Larry Greenberg would like to know what the difference
is between working on a TV series like
serious film like
I Will Follow.
Eureka is a blast.
I Will Follow fed my soul. Both are necessary and
positive. I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to
work in both worlds.
Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you
wish someone would?
That's a good one! Gosh, I wish I had one. I feel like
I've been asked just about everything over my career at
some point or another. But that’s a very good question.
The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
Yes. We all get scared. But that's the time to be brave,
push on, strive for your goals and push past what scares
The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
Yes! My husband, Dondre, and my two children make me
incredibly, incredibly happy. Plus, I get to go to work
doing a job that I love. I'm very happy and grateful.
The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you
had a good laugh?
I was just on The Steve Harvey Show and on The Monique
Show doing press for
I Will Follow, and they both
had me in stitches.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
I have one cheat day every Saturday. And on that day,
I've been known to settle down with a whole pizza!
Guilty pleasure, indeed. But then I'm back to being good
Thanks again for the time, Salli, and best of luck with
I Will Follow.
Thank you, Kam! I hope folks come out and support this
lovely black film starring myself, Blair Underwood,
Omari Hardwick and Beverly Todd. We need everyone's
support to make it a success!
* * * *
Bittersweet Drama Chronicles
Day in the
Life of Grief-Stricken Caregiver
I Will Follow
Film Review by
For some reason, most
movies aimed at African-American audiences tend to be
either over-the-top comedies or morality plays too
melodramatic in tone to be taken very seriously. Flying
in the face of that trend is
I Will Follow,
one of those refreshingly rare treats which simply
presents black folks in a recognizably realistic
fashion, ala such similarly understated classics as
Eve’s Bayou (1997),
Nothing But a Man (1964) and
The Visit (2000).
Written and directed by
Ava DuVernay (This
Is the Life),
I Will Follow
Richardson-Whitfield as Maye Fisher, a successful makeup
artist who put her career and her man (Blair Underwood)
on hold to attend to a beloved Aunt (Beverly Todd)
battling cancer. Amanda had served as an inspirational
role model for Maye during childhood, which made it easy
for the grateful niece to resolve to return the favor at
her hour of need.
The film unfolds in L.A.
over the course of just 24 hours right in the wake of
Amanda’s funeral. At the point of departure, we find
Maye preparing to vacate the house she had rented for
them to share since it had always been her Aunt’s dream
to live atop breathtaking Topanga Canyon. While packing
up their belongings, the grief-stricken caregiver pauses
periodically to reminisce about the fond memories
triggered by this or that item she’s wrapping.
However, between those
evocative flashbacks, she has no choice but to attend to
a variety of mundane matters like terminating the
television satellite service and directing the moving
men. Proving even more disruptive of Maye’s mourning
process is the arrival of Amanda’s absentee daughter,
Fran (Michole Briana White), who only showed up to
collect her inheritance and to blame her cousin for her
estranged mother’s death.
“She wanted trees. She
didn’t want to fight, or chemo,” Maye matter-of-factly,”
responds. But her heartfelt explanation falls on the
deaf ears of a witch who insensitively demands, “I want
my mother’s stuff!” before storming out.
At the end of the day,
exhausted and drained, Maye finally finds a shoulder to
lean on in tow truck driver, Troy (Omari Hardwick. And
before the sun can set on this compelling,
character-driven drama, she has to reassess her own
relationship priorities as she contemplates dating a
sensitive brother despite his modest means.
Congrats to Salli
Richardson-Whitfield for delivering a career
performance, here, and to Ava DuVernay for shooting such
a thought-provoking meditation on mortality in just a
couple of weeks and on a micro budget. Excellent
(4 stars) 88 Minutes
* * *
We Don’t Have to Ask Permission
Interviews Ava DuVernay
See it. Then buy it.
Ava DuVernay a few years back in Philly at the Black
Lily Film & Music Festival. I was there hawking copies
The Message. Ava was screening her first
This Is the Life. She stopped by my small
table. We chatted and she mentioned her film was also
about hip-hop. Word? She was one of few people who
purchased a copy of my book. So naturally, I remembered
Fast forward. To
say DuVernay has been busy this past year is an
understatement that warrants head jerks. In addition to
running a successful film PR business, she’s directed
three films including BET’s
My Mic Sounds Nice and the 2010 Essence Music
I Will Follow,
her first narrative feature which she wrote, produced,
directed, oh and self-financed, will be released in AMC
theaters. She’s releasing the film through an initiative
that she cofounded.
African-American Film Festival Releasing
Movement (AFFRM) is a theatrical
distribution collective dedicated to black
independent cinema. The collective will
theatrically release quality independent
African-American films through simultaneous
limited engagements in select cities.
inaugural presenting black film
organizations are Urbanworld Film Festival
with Imagenation in New York, Pan-African
Film Festival in Los Angeles, ReelBlack in
Philadelphia, BronzeLens Film Festival in
Atlanta and Langston Hughes African-American
Film Festival in Seattle. If you’re in any
of these cities, be sure to see
I Will Follow
during its run.
Proceeds from the
releases go back to the festival organizations to help
sustain them and their preservation of black films year
round. AFFRM will release two films a year.
I Will Follow
stars Salli Richardson-Whitfield as a woman who must
close one chapter of her life in order to move onto the
next. Reviews for the film have celebrated the movie’s
quiet power—refreshing storytelling in an over-the-top
blockbuster era. About the film,
Roger Ebert said, “I Will Follow
is one of the best films I’ve seen about coming to terms
with the death of loved one.…it isn’t sentimental, it
isn’t superficial. It is very deeply true.”
I had an
opportunity to chat with the smart, funny, and
down-to-earth DuVernay about film publicity,
distribution, and why you can (and should) embrace DIY
(do it yourself).
* * *
Felicia Pride: What was your
first introduction into film?
I’ve been working as a film publicist since 1995. I went
immediately into the studio system, then went to a big
agency and really loved it. When I was in the studio
system, I worked on six films a year if that. At the
agency, it was more like six films a month. It was much
more fast-paced and I loved the energy and vibe. I
opened my own agency in 1999 and worked on
Scary Movie. Here was this film with a black
director that was satire and a spoof. People didn’t know
what it was. I was 27 years old and trying to build
campaigns around films that were niche and mainstream.
That became my specialty. I went on to work with
television and film projects like
Cop Out, and
Felicia Pride: At what point
did you want to start making films?
In 2006 or so, I started getting interested in
filmmaking. It became my own kind of hobby. I was always
around great directors and became interested in what
they were doing.
I made my first
This Is the Life about a group of people
I grew up with. It’s a small, handmade documentary that
didn’t cost a lot of money to make. I knew that no one
was picking it up and putting it in theaters. Maybe we’d
get a DVD deal or sell it off to cable.
Those were your options.
Instead of selling the DVD rights, I did it
myself—packaged and distributed it. I made more money
than the deals that I was offered. Companies take your
DVD rights for 20 years. We made back our money in one
year doing it on our own. We sold it to small hip-hop
and record stores. Then we got it on Netflix and iTunes.
We did get a Showtime deal that I orchestrated.
I want to stay in
the self-distribution realm. I see my non-black
counterparts embracing the DIY movement. I don’t see too
many black filmmakers doing it.
Why do you think that is?
They may not know it’s possible. It may be a matter of
education. I see the studio stuff, the black indie world
and I see the white indie DIY world. Black and Latino
filmmakers haven’t embraced it at the same pace.
Filmmakers who deal with specific communities are trying
to create these communities. We have niche communities
ready for the taking. We can literally tap into large
audiences who love black romances or just love black
At what point did you feel there was a need for AFFRM?
Right after I finished the
This Is the Life run in August 2009, I
had long list of notes in my Blackberry. I had just
successfully self-distributed my documentary, put it in
theaters, got it on Showtime, on DVD, and festivals and
was thinking of the next film.
I started shooting
I Will Follow
in November 2010. I just looked at my bank account and
that was the budget. And I knew I was going to
self-distribute it. But then I thought, why would I do
this with just my film? Can we do something that will
sustain itself and would support other filmmakers? It
became bigger than my film. We should create something
for other filmmakers to tap into. And after five years,
we could have released ten films. It’s really kind of
groundbreaking and outside of the studio system. We
don’t have to ask permission.
We can embrace DIT—do
it together. We can join with robust film festivals and
organizations to put a film out together on the same day
in our particular market. We can get our people out for
a couple of weeks to support this film, just as small
studios like Magnolia do. I can secure national
publicity; a lot of indie films don’t get that. Then it
goes to DVD.
How are films selected?
They’re curated by the festivals. There are no better
people to select the films than those who get tons of
submissions and watch hundreds of films. They see
everything and can say, “This is special; this is a
filmmaker we want to support.”
How can others support AFFRM?
We’re a small team of five people. Anyone out there who
can lend their creative talents to the process, I invite
them to contact
us and let us know what they can help with.
But we really need
people to come and see the films. If people don’t come,
companies won’t want to support us; filmmakers won’t
want to be a part of AFFRM. Please come. This isn’t an
ego stroke for me. Come and participate.
You’ve promoted big budget films and independent films
like your first one, This
Is the Life. Are there promotional
activities that work for both types of films?
The campaign I ran for Dreamgirls was
different simply because of economics. We secured
national publicity—high level reviews, magazine
features. I married that with advertising, promotions,
and street teams. It’s a wall of noise hitting you. All
For I Will Follow,
we don’t have that kind of money. We don’t have a lot of
money to buy ads or put out street teams. We have been
able to secure publicity which helped to get companies
wanting to donate spots. A black owned company has
agreed to give us a gang of ads and editorial because
they loved the idea of AFFRM, and love black film. They
appreciate our images and wanted to invest in this
movement. That’s what we need—that kind of support to
match our black creatives. We have to bring audiences
and creatives together, but the business needs to come
into play too—business people who have assets. It takes
How do you run your publicity business and make films at
the same time?
I got a team that works on the DVA Media + Marketing,
and I have teams for the films. I have one central
person, Tilane Jones, who acts as a liaison between both
and helps to keep everything running. Last year, we did
a lot less films on the agency side. We worked on Invictus and Cop
Out and I started directing My
Mic Sounds Nice while cutting I Will Follow.
We did the Essence Music Festival film and publicized
three titles for Warner Brothers.
I work to make my
films and to self-finance them. They’ll have small
budgets—the price of small cars. It’s really low-budget
filmmaking. A lot of people are doing it well. I don’t
know if we’re doing it well, but we’re trying.
And you’re doing.
My goal is to make one movie a year. I made three movies
last year. Because I am in the industry, I sat in those
rooms. I know the system really well—what it requires,
what it takes from you. I prefer independence and being
my own boss. I haven’t worked for anyone since 1999—it’s
just what I prefer. I’ve pitched studios. If a studio
came to me with a great project, I’d probably consider
it; I just don’t prefer it.
I’m about getting a
little bit of money, making a picture, and getting it
out to people. To me, there’s no romance in saying that
it took seven years to make a film. That’s not sexy to
me. I’m trying to get to another way—scratch out a path
that allows me to be able to do it without asking
Felicia Pride (@feliciapride)
is the founder and chief content officer of BackList.
She wrote the production notes for
I Will Follow.
* * *
Alliance to Aid Films by Blacks—by Michael Cieply—7
January 2011—Ava DuVernay, the filmmaker and
publicist, imagines a time when black-theme pictures
will flourish in places where African-American film
festivals have already found eager viewers.
Fifty such cities
would be an ideal black-film circuit, Ms. DuVernay said.
In March she will start with five. . . . The plan is to
put black-theme movies in commercial theaters, initially
from the independent film program recently begun by the
AMC theater chain, for a two-week run supported by
social networks, mailing lists and other buzz-building
services at the disposal of allied ethnic film
Those who make
specifically black-theme movies, she said, should
realize that “no one is ever going to care about their
film except the people it’s made for, which is, black
folks.” According to a 2009 survey of moviegoing
compiled for the
Motion Picture Association of America,
African-Americans, about 12 percent of the North
American population, accounted for only 11 percent of
ticket sales and less than 9 percent of frequent
moviegoers. (By contrast, Hispanics, who make up 15
percent of the population, bought 21 percent of tickets,
according to the study.)—NYTimes
posted 5 March 2011
* * *
God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man
A Saltwater Geechee Talks About Life on
Sapelo Island, Georgia
Cornelia Walker Bailey
been said that the Africans who were brought
to the United States as slaves were
completely stripped of their native culture.
But pioneering scholars such as
Melville Herskovits have disproved this
in academia, while the literature of
Zora Neale Hurston and
Ralph Ellison has also debunked this
persistent myth. Living proof of that fact
Sapelo Island, a South Sea island off
the coast of Savannah, Georgia, where West
African traditions persist despite
considerable odds. This vivid memoir by
Cornelia Walker Bailey, a lecturer and
tour guide on Sapelo Island, transports the
reader to this enchanted land of miracles
is a self-described "Geechee," a descendant
of Islamic African slaves taken from
modern-day Senegal, Sierra Leone, and
Liberia (she traces her family lineage on
the island back to 1803). In
God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man,
the author brings alive a land where black
people speak an African-based Creole
language, believe in "mojo" (the American
equivalent of Haitian voodoo), and who work
to keep their culture alive.
"You can think of
the Africans as being victims, and in a sense they
were," she writes. "But they were also great survivors.
If they survived the Middle Passage, and a lot of people
didn't, then they survived everything thrown at them.
They were determined people." Thanks in large part to
Bailey, this determination lives on. But her book, which
recalls life on
Sapelo Island from the 1940s and rings with the same
ebullient language found in
Toomer's Cane, also serves as a warning,
noting that outside business interests and the
disinterest of the youth threaten the very existence of
their ancient ways. "We need to be proud of our
ancestors from slavery days and of our old people who
went through modern hardships and to learn from them
that if you believe in something, strength comes from
that." With this book, she hopes to pass some of that
strength on.—Amazon.com Review
* * *
Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered
the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It
By H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign. The Economy
* * *
The Last Holiday: A Memoir
By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * * *
update 2 March 2012