A graduate of Seton Hall University, Hisani DuBose spent years performing as a dancer and singer before turning to screenwriting. Her musical "Different Kinda Blues" opened at Seton Hall University before moving to a professional regional theater for a month of successful weekend runs.
Ms. DuBose studied at Frank Silvera's Writer's Workshop in Harlem and at an intensive screenwriting workshop run in Manhattan by the Writer's Guild of America. Since, she has directed three short movies, written feature-length screenplays, and produced a few documentaries.
As an Associate Programmer at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center she produced dozens of community performances with major international artists including jazz artists like Paquito D’ Rivera, Hugh Masekela and Babatunde Olatunji. In collaboration with Grammy and Tony nominee Reg E. Gaines (for ’Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk,’ Hisani produced a choreo-poem called, ’Brick City Blues.’
She is also the founder/director of the NJ Movie Maker's Network, a state wide service organization for New Jersey-based independent filmmakers. Here, this critic's choice for the best black director of the year discusses her brilliant, thought-provoking documentary, The Vanishing Black Male.
The Vanishing Black Male Interview with Kam Williams (KW)
Hisani DuBose (HD): With over one million African American men being incarcerated, there are fewer walking around. Also, with the homicide rate for black males between the ages of 14-24 being so high, and disease taking out so many of our men, that has reduced their population. They are not becoming extinct but many are vanishing. I read in a newspaper article that according to the last census African-American women in urban areas outnumber their men by 20-35%, depending on the location. Of course, the census is never 100% accurate but this does bear looking into.
KW: How did you come up with the idea of making a movie on the subject?
HD: I was reading a publication for Black women. There was an article about relationships where the writer was saying she told her teenaged daughter that she may have to resolve herself to the fact that she may never find a husband or life time mate because there are so few Black men. I found this very disturbing and began to wonder if things had really become that drastic. Then I began to really listen to what Black women were saying. A friend of mine in L.A. said the situation was so desperate that many well-known Black women in the entertainment industry were trying to find men on-line. It was at this point that I decided to shoot the documentary.
did you decide to interview an assortment of people, men and women,
doctors and ministers, politicians and professors, students and community
activists, police and firefighters, etcetera?
HD: I wanted to talk to African-American men and get their point of view. I was not interested in making a "battle of the sexes" type of documentary. My production team and I wanted to produce something that was meaningful, as opposed to sensational. We wanted people who have been directly or indirectly working with the problem, and people who have thought about solutions. We included a few females to talk about how the issue affects them. We felt it was important to have a young, African-American male seeking answers. I was working with Melvin Jackson, Jr. on another project, so I called and asked if he would be our on-camera interviewer and he agreed. Everyone we spoke to was eager to talk about this subject. We could have interviewed people for two months because there were so many willing. We only had two days to shoot so we chose those who could fit into our schedule. As it turned out, they were all wonderful and informative.
you think their voices add up to deliver one clear message,
collectively? If so, what is that message?
HD: Yes I do. The message is that the problem is very complex. The last part of the documentary dealt with solutions. There are many things that need to be done. However, the overall consensus was that the family is where strength, determination and spirituality originate. Therefore, the whole idea of family must be reinforced.
KW: Who is your favorite interviewee, and why?
HD: The phenomenal thing is they were all my favorites. Everyone had at least one great moment. Dr. Duane Dyson tells us how people who have been shot enter his emergency room screaming and yelling, so no one should believe that anyone is bulletproof. Sgt. Delacy Davis talks about how it is easier for a woman to find someone to sleep with than to find a man to help raise her male child. Darryl Jeffries asks where the idea that "keeping it real" means not doing well in school came from, and why it's accepted. Dr. Robert Johnson surprised us all when he said that Black men have the highest death rate from suicide in the country once they included "death by police."
there a point of view you failed to present? For instance, did you
encounter gangstas who defended the thug mentality?
HD: At screenings, a few people thought we should have included the brothers in the street involved in being gangsters. That would have been important, but we could not include everything in one documentary. This could be a series, since there are so many elements that impact upon the problem. Who knows, if this one does well, perhaps we can convince someone to fund a series where we can include every element.
KW: What is the intended audience of this picture?
HD: When we were shooting we had African-Americans in mind, primarily, hoping to generate discussions and provide a number of solutions. Comments from non-African-Americans who have seen the documentary have shown us that anyone who wants to understand other people will find it informative. A white gentleman who attended the initial screening told me not to limit presenting it to African-American audiences. He was from a single-parent home, and could relate to many things said. He thought it could help everyone.
do you expect young black men who might see themselves in some of
the self-destructive behavior being discussed to react to a movie which
suggests that they might have taken an entirely inappropriate path in life,
especially when it includes comments from a doctor who says their fates are
sealed, if they couldn't read by the fifth grade?
HD: We are very interested in getting the documentary to young African-American males and making sure they have the opportunity to participate in discussions after screenings. We are dealing with many levels of distribution and of course we need commercial success, but our efforts do include opportunities to hopefully touch the people being discussed. We have already arranged a screening with the Job Corps in Edison, New Jersey. They plan on showing the documentary in two parts to allow in-depth discussions between the young males and the school's staff. We must not forget that young African-American women need to be involved in these discussions also. They will eventually be mothers with sons, and they impact on young men's behavior.
KW: What do you want the effect of your film to be on the culture?
HD: Children are not born wanting to be thugs, illiterate, hopeless or victims of their environment. Adults have to understand that while we are all human and will definitely make mistakes, our behavior affects children. They come here like a blank piece of paper and in the early years we fill in the blanks. I hope the documentary will encourage people to be more caring, understanding and pro-active. A friend who is a psychologist told me that over 50% of the males in prison have been physically, mentally or sexually abused at some point in their lives. As I said earlier, we need a series to cover everything.
long did it take and how much did it cost for you to make this
HD: We spent a month in pre-production, two days shooting and three months in post-production. Initially, we had no money for production, just my meager funds. Everyone felt strongly enough about the project to wait and get paid on the back end. So I sent for Melvin, put him up and fed everyone. In order to raise money for post-production, I made up brochures asking people to contribute $40 or more and, in return, they would be included in the credits and receive two tickets to the premiere. I raised about $1,500.00 this way. Then a friend came on as Executive producer and brought in some money. All together we spent about $20,000.00. Since we had no money for the production, and our camera operator also did sound and lighting, we had a lot to clean up in post.
KW: Was it hard to raise the funds?
HD: Absolutely! I circulated the fund-raising brochures by attending all types of events where I could network and pass them out. I must have talked to 1,000 people, personally, and sent out over 800 emails. The return on that was $1,500.00. I was surprised at how hard it was to get $40 out of people. That is why I appreciate those who did come through. The other side of it is that I am always trying to raise money for projects so many people probably ran for cover when they saw me coming. Our executive producer was a tremendous blessing. The money she brought in made it possible to complete the movie and have a little left to for promotion.
KW: Who inspired you to become a filmmaker?
HD: I started out singing and dancing, then moved to being a playwright. I was interested in writing movies but needed to learn the craft. The late Claude Brown, author of the novel, "Manchild In the Promised Land," was a strong influence. He helped me understand that I was a storyteller who used many media’ music, movement, writing, etcetera. I was accepted into an intense 9 week screenwriting course that was sponsored by the Writers Guild of America, East and the Writer's Voice in New York. The instructor, Henry Miller was a godsend. He helped me understand the process. I am indebted to Spike Lee for writing books that talked about his filmmaking process and included scripts. I am first and foremost a screenwriter. I was forced to learn producing and directing in order to get my projects done. It was not until I attended a series of sessions on digital movie-making presented by the Independent Feature Project in New York that I saw an avenue to produce my work. So my influences have been many. The first movie that really got me excited and made me think about making movies as a child was, "The Long Ships" which starred Sidney Poitier. I had never seen such a beautiful black man with so much power in a movie. Of course, when I grew up, I realized that he was King of the Moors but he was the only black Moor.
KW: Who are some of your favorite directors?
HD: Thomas Carter, Spike Lee, Kevin Hooks, Jonathan Demme, George Lucas, Oliver Stone, Mira Noir, Martin Scorsese, Kasi Lemmons, Akira Kurasawa, M. Night Shamalan, Ossie Davis...
you see yourself as a documentary moviemaker, or are you interested
in making dramas and comedies?
HD: Definitely dramas, perhaps comedies.’ I have screenplays that I want to produce or have produced. This documentary kind of fell in my lap, and since I was able to produce it with no money, I moved on it. I have done documentaries for local organizations and an arts center I used to work for, so I had the opportunity to learn the process. Perhaps this will open doors for my screenplays to come to life.
KW: What are your screenplays about?
HD: One is about a woman who has fought hard to keep her son from becoming a victim of their urban environment, but eventually crosses a line that may cause her to lose everything including her son. Its called, "Nobody Will Know." Another deals with the whole issue of outsourcing and down-sizing. It takes place 25 years from now when a union leader is trying to get laws passed to prevent these practices, because they have created so much unemployment that the middle-class is gone and the majority of the former labor force is suffering. The third one looks at a problem that plagues African-American women especially, uterine fibroids.
KW: Would you like to produce one of them next, or write something new?
HD: I would definitely like to produce one of my screenplays next. Of course, I am always in the process of writing something new.
you think that you could make a movie for a major Hollywood studio
without compromising your values?
HD: Everyone has to compromise. The question is how much and how far one is willing to go. At the Black Movie Awards Cicely Tyson said something profound. I'm paraphrasing, but the essence was that what you do stays on celluloid or DVD forever, so we must be careful what we put out there. We should not compromise values for money because money will come and go but images last forever. I agree with her.
KW: I know you're presently a professor. Do you enjoy teaching?
HD: I'm an adjunct at Bloomfield College in New Jersey, teaching screenwriting. I love it! I don't want to leave this world not sharing what I've learned so this is a great opportunity to share. Teaching also helps me stay on top of my game because students ask probing questions.
Would you like to leave it behind in order to pursue filmmaking
HD: I am a full-time filmmaker. I only teach four hours a week. I strive to be a full-time filmmaker who actually makes enough money to pay my bills and can invest in not only my projects but in others.
advice do you have to any aspiring directors who would like to
follow in your footsteps?
HD: Before you jump into this business, be fairly clear about who you are, your values, and develop a spiritual base. There will be times when no one can see where you're coming from and all you will have is the faith that your hard work and prayers will bring your vision to life and sustain you. Also, learn as much as you can about your craft.. Stay open to learning constantly about everything. It's all relevant. The more you know, the better equipped you are. Never stop learning, never stop asking.
KW: How can people see The Vanishing Black Male?
HD: Anyone wishing to purchase the DVD can do so by going to our internet distributor's website: http://vanishing.indie-dvd.net . The cost is $14.95 and any sales will help make it possible for us to do future projects. When you find independent movies you like, it's important to support them by purchasing the DVD's or seeing them in theaters or film festivals. Please, do not buy bootleg copies of anything. That hurts the artists.
KW: Do you have a website?
Do I Have to Be a Starving Artist in the 21st
Century? by Hisani Dubose - Book Review