‘Lemon’ Director Janicza Bravo On Navigating The Industry As Woman of Color [Interview]
Janicza Bravo: For sure. So, I’ve been working and filming as a filmmaker for the last five and a half, six years and you’ve probably noticed, and I by accident kind of ended up in comedy. I come from theater, all of my work is theater, I mostly direct classics. Was very dramatic, or at least like dramatic on paper, with like some humorous undertones. And so, when I was trying to make transition to film and start writing for myself, I found that I was always writing comedies, but like not on purpose. I didn’t mean to, I set out to write drama and then it would end up being funny.
And I also tended to be working in this like, kind of this conversation of race but race through white people. I don’t think it was like, not on purpose, it was like that’s just the thing I ended up writing, I ended up always, like, when I worked with actors of color, people of color in my films were always incredibly innocent and gentle and then the white people were incredibly violent and aggressive and it wasn’t conscience.
It was like that was the thing that I kept gravitating towards and it was probably three or four films later that I was like, ‘Oh my god, my work seems to be like this.’ It was actually a friend who pointed it out—he’s a playwright—he was like, ‘Your work is like this dissection on whiteness,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, it is! Oh my god!’
And then I was like, what am I doing? I started to ask myself about that because I was writing the thing I needed to be working on or the thing that needed to come out of me, this is what I’m feeling, this is where I’m at. I don’t know really why I was doing that. I mean, I guess it had to be with my own sort of processing of whiteness. I tend to be a lone black person in a lot of white space. I am constantly navigating white space and feeling like a bit of a foreigner, an alien, or I’m always in the minority and I guess what I wanted to be engaging with or in a conversation with was how I saw whiteness. How I saw white people together.
I mean, white for me is not invisible and white for me is not the norm. Right? Like, I live in a black body, so, I can’t explain exactly why I arrived at that, but, it was definitely the thing I wanted to be working on.
What’s funny is, my work after this is not about that, so I think I had my chapter…I mean, not that I fully understood it or explained whiteness but I think I’ve spent my time in that place… All of the work leading up to that has been this kind of conversation of, I guess how I see the other half, the other side. It’s weird for me to ask this, but are you of color?
OKP: I am. Yeah…
JB: I ask that only because people of color, what you just asked me, the first question you asked me, all people of color, or I should say most people that I’ve engaged with who have color be they audiences or be they writers, see the film in the way that I see it. And I have found myself having to explain the racial aspect of it to white people where they’re like, “There’s something about race that feels bad, but I don’t understand.”
I am grossly generalizing. There’s plenty of people who have got the movie and don’t feel attacked by it, but for the most part, it’s curious to me that people of color seem to get it right away and I’m like, is that just like because we get it? Maybe it’s because if you’re trying to have this conversation, if you’re explaining whiteness, or I as a black woman is saying this is how I see whiteness, male whiteness, this sort of like, male, violent aggression, this kind of like male muscular-ness that says I deserve what I want and if I’m not getting it, then that just feels unfair. Maybe it’s hard to like that without feeling attacked, I don’t know. Anyways, sorry, I went on a tangent…
OKP: No, no. Not at all. It was just so fascinating to me, kind of watching it unfold because, you know, like I was saying, I’ve never really seen that before. I’m sure, I don’t have to tell you this, you know the indie film world is extremely white and so…
JB: [Feigning shock] Wait, what?
OKP: I know, right? Like, breaking news. But, yeah, whiteness is always seen as neutral, it’s always seen as the default even when it’s not and so when I was watching this movie, you see the comparisons on how Isaac’s family interacts with each other versus how Cleo’s family interacts with each other and it was such a stark contrast because there’s the hostility and the passive aggressiveness so you see where he gets it from.
Whereas Cleo’s family, even the way that both of those scenes were blocked, you know, Cleo’s family, everyone is more at ease with each other, they’re outside, there’s lots of gold colors and they’re actually talking to each other, whereas Issac’s family, they’re in this confined space and everyone is just so brittle. That was really a fascinating comparison. And also, it was just funny to me just to see the off-the- wall things that he says to Cleo, because it’s just like, have you been around black people? What are you talking about?