By Lisa Naut
Simmons alumna Alysha Menakaya, class of 2013, recently had her directorial debut with her short film “We Are One.” She was a double major in Communications and English before leaving Boston to pursue her dreams in LA.
“We Are One” is a film that explores the topic of police brutality and systematic racism. Through its use of a powerful narrative, hypnotic music, and specific color coded visuals it captures the attention of the audience. The message the film proclaims is the need to “wake up” to the reality of the world that we live in. It promotes unity because the problems others face impact all of us. This short is available for streaming on Youtube.
After watching the video, Menakaya spoke to the Simmons Voice about her experiences working on the film as well as the impact Simmons has made on her life.
1) As an alum, how has Simmons influenced you in your career path? Do you find yourself recalling messages you learned from this community?
There aren’t a great deal of Simmons alums in the film industry, so it feels cool to be blazing the path for more Simmons women. I have to give a shout out to Professors Andrew Porter and Judy Richland, who always encouraged us to have business cards, an elevator pitch, and a resume on hand at all times. I think little things to boost your confidence go far in an interview.
Professor Kelly Hager always encouraged us to know classic literature as well as what’s trending. I try to adapt this concept in all work I take part in. I may quote Shakespeare and Beyonce in the same line, for me it’s a win win, and I reach a wider audience.
2) What inspired you to become a director?
I was the eldest of three. My sisters were my actors, my dancers, my muses. We grew up in quiet town, with a one-hour-a-day allowance for the TV. Our creativity was a way to escape from the boredom, and the awkwardness of being the only black family, or mixed family, for miles. My father is from Nigeria, my mother is white American.
3) How long did a project like this take?
The shoot lasted 5 hours, and then it took us a few months to get the buzz out, then our trailer, and finally the full film.
4) Clearly this short film carries a message that is incredibly relevant; do you have a plan on how to share this video with a wider audience?
We plan on sending the film to producers, actors, and directors we are already associated with. The film will be admitted into a number of film festivals, and we hope to reach only publications like Blavity and Saint Heron.
5) Do you see media, film in particular, as a powerful tool for commentating on social issues? If so, what makes it so effective?
I don’t think one medium is better than any other. I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to end racism in America. How you go about doing that is your own journey, but I think it has to go further than a few tweets and memes. Reminding someone of their humanity is what makes any form of art more effective.
6) Have there been any difficulties/obstacles you have faced in entering the film industry or producing this short film?
I don’t know if it’s LA culture- I’m from New England- or if it’s our generation, or what, but people are very unreliable. If you’re getting into the film industry, don’t get your heart set on one writer, one actress, one director, and always have a back-up plan! I cannot stress this enough. The film industry wants you to be multifaceted, but it’s hard to do everything yourself. I love working in film because you get to create a family on set, and it’s so powerful to work towards the same goal.
I worked very closely with my sister on the project. We got into so many fights, mostly in discussing creative control over the project. I’m very happy about our results, and we’ve since settled our differences. Working with family can be tough, but it’s almost always worth it.
7) Do you have any particular filmmakers who inspire you or any whose work you find similar to your own?
Kahlil Joseph, Barry Jenkins, Quentin Tarantino, Hayao Miyazuki, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson… unfortunately NO WOMEN! But that’s why I’m in Hollywood, right? I’m trying to change the industry.
8) What was your favorite aspect about making this film?
I loved seeing the kids have fun. Most, if not all, of the kids in our film, about 30 kids on set, were of color. It felt like their time to shine. They don’t get to see people like them on TV, so it was amazing to give them the spotlight. It was magic.
9) Is there any advice you would give Simmons’ students? (This could be in general or advice on being activists for human rights.)
In Boston, people get really fixated on where you went to school, your GPA, blah blah blah. What people want to see is your work, your energy, and the confidence you bring to your work.
10) What are your plans for future projects? Are there any currently in the works?
I’m actually in the works of creating another short film, I’m very excited to share it in December. I plan to grow my production company, Live And In Color Productions, and hopefully see some Simmons women on my staff!