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In honor of Black History Month 2021, SYFY and Tongal, a global community of content creators, invited six Black animators and filmmakers to create video shorts that represent their experiences through the lens of science fiction and fantasy.
Starting Feb. 1, these six shorts will premiere on the SYFY network and be posted on SYFY's Instagram and Twitter handles throughout the month — and beyond. To further celebrate these original shorts, SYFY WIRE got in touch with the creators in order to break down their work and take a closer look at what inspires them. Next up is Adante Watts, creator of "Faceless," a short that captures the struggle to get movies or shows with Black characters at the forefront greenlit — and how that feels. Here's what Watts had to say.
What still needs to happen to make you feel as though Black experiences and stories are truly represented in genre, and how have your experiences with representation shaped this piece for SYFY?
The fact that press coverage for certain movies and television shows will come out with headlines such as "[Actor] Cast as First Black [Character] in [Movie]" is indicative of the fact that, while we've come a long way in terms of Black representation on screen, we still have an even longer way to go. The foundation on which this industry is built stakes the claim that mass audiences aren't interested in the stories that Black people have to share, especially when it's Black people doing the sharing. Somehow, this belief still holds true, despite the fact that it has been disproven time and time again. Look at the commercial success of a film as unapologetically Black as Black Panther for example: It shattered more box office records in its opening weekend than most films even come close to doing in their entire theatrical runs. But Black Panther is an outlier; the veins of "Old Hollywood" still run pretty deep.
Many large studios — entities with the power and influence to support Black stories and present them to larger audiences than the filmmakers might otherwise have access to — still don't want to "bet on Black," as it were. It is this same reluctance that prevents the creation of opportunities for Black people to be seen or to have their voices heard, and it is the lack of provided opportunity that forces us to go out and make our own (oftentimes to the chagrin of our white counterparts). Black filmmakers like Jordan Peele, Kevin Hart, and Will Packer are excellent examples of this. They built their own empires because the existing institutions weren't interested in what they had to say, and they built them on a foundation of understanding that one cannot tell stories based on experiences with which they cannot relate. That's really where it starts: The involvement of people who can speak for the experiences of your characters and the story you want to tell. It's that insider perspective, the insight of someone who's lived through an experience, that truly makes a story engaging.
This idea of "cultural invisibility" is one of the primary sources of inspiration I pulled from when writing "Faceless." The need to conceal certain aspects of yourself in most situations, like wearing a disguise (a "mask," if you will), the constant feeling of not belonging, and the fear of danger that could ensue if you're discovered to be an imposter. It's the superhero alter ego that none of us asked for. All the while, the real superpower is our ability to shut out pieces of ourselves day in and day out, yet somehow find a way back to being whole when all is said and done.
Watch "Faceless" below and find more of Adante Watts' work on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Check out it and other creators' shorts on the SYFY network and on our YouTube as they premiere throughout Black History Month.