Written by McKenzie Clarke.
CMB Productions Founder, Cedric Beal, sat down with writer and director Yaw Agyapong and executive producer and star Devin Richardson to discuss the process of filmmaking and the importance of giving back. Their film, The Birth of Deceit, will premiere at ABFF. Here is an excerpt of their conversation.
CB: What were the biggest challenges you had in creating this film?
YA: Budget. We thought it was gonna be enough, but unfortunately it wasn’t. A lot of food runs. I as a director didn’t have any assistance. Devin was also helping out on set as well as executive producing and acting.
CB: What was it that you looked for when it came to picking the talent for this film?
YA: I wanted to get a black woman with a natural hairstyle…You saw why in the film to play on a lot of stereotypes and a lot of racism and things like that...I also wanted to get a black woman that had an innocent look to build empathy for her… very naive and gullible. And of course good acting..
CB: Within the writing process, were you writing this imagining how a black audience would react?
YA: No, and that’s the thing about filmmakers and writers in general, but when I write my movies, I don’t make it for a certain crowd reaction. I tell black stories, or just stories in general where generally people would react. You know I’m gonna react to racism. I’m a black man, and I’ve experienced a lot of racism, so I put my heart into it not just aiming for a certain reaction…So I just write it where I know I will get a reaction from people cause they experienced it. As opposed to “How are the black people gonna react? How are the white people gonna react?” I don’t care how you’re gonna react. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t. But I know that when you leave the theatre after watching my film, you’ll remember it…Everybody thinks differently as a human, I just told stories that connected with us as a people and what we went through.
CB: What was your intention in making this film?
YA: [Deep Breath] Oh, there’s so many angles I could hit. To wake black folks up and let them know that you are enough. You don’t need to try to change your body, your hair, especially y’all sisters too. You don’t need to try to change your body, your hair to appease people or to fit into a certain category. You know what I mean? Things like that. So, that was number one...Two, I would say that racism is alive and well. Racism is very real, dude. It’s very real, and stories like this exist.
DR: As far as intention is concerned, as far as bringing to light issues in the black community in a contemporary setting. So, you have the issues of the black identity with the hair, you have the issues with the black mental health…Slavery…the police intimidation and brutality. These are themes that are touched upon in the film in a more contemporary setting, and dealing with the younger people. So I just feel like it was unique in that sense.
CB: Do you feel as if they put you in a box and limit you when they say, “it’s a black movie?
YA: That’s 110% correct. And there’s two sides to this pill. Where it’s a black movie, “Yes! You have to pay your respects. It’s a black man that created it, a black man wrote it, a black woman played it…” But don’t label it as a black movie to insinuate that it will only appeal to black people, that it's only good for black theatres. A black man created a film that can appeal to all people. Black Panther was one of the highest grossing Marvel movies, and a black man made it, but it appeals to everyone…We’re not monolithic. Our film and art is not just limited to one crowd, and that’s basically what I’m trying to say when I’m saying that. Black art appeals to anybody. If you [felt] pain before, you’ll understand…, and if you don’t, then maybe you’re one of the people I’m talking about in the movie.
CB: In the future, how do you plan on giving back?
DR: We talk about that every day! I’ve only known Yaw in person for, like, two years, man, and one of the things that we were just immediately able to come together on is how we wanna be able to give back. Not just domestically, but internationally. This guy and I always trade ideas back and forth about building schools in Haiti and Jamaica…To be honest with you, man, I’m 29 right now. It was only when I was 22 when I realized there was a Black Wall Street. And I didn’t learn that in my school, only in my barber shop….So I’m big on, you know, changing the learning process. I’m all about investing in our communities that have been downtrodden and overlooked for decades. And this whole thing with gentrification, and people getting moved out of the neighborhoods that have been here for decades. It’s insane how we have consistently been displaced, you know, our entire lives. And I just wanna make a change not just on a domestic level, but an international level too. There’s so much work to be done, and I’m so committed. I will not leave this planet until I’ve made a difference for our people.
YA: Films are just a stepping stone. An eye opener, a conscious awakening. With those funds, we wanna build schools, but what I also want to do is create a Big Brother-Father program where I can go into inner cities and things like that, impoverished communities, and those that don’t have a fathered home, and do a summer camp with Devin and the team and teach kids about art and film. A lot of problems in the black communities is that our parents don’t have enough, not all of us, but our parents are living in impoverished communities so they have to work two, three jobs and don’t have the time to educate us on the opportunities that await us in this world. So we always get pushed in one area and sometimes it leads to the street cause you gotta support your family and things like that. Cause that’s what’s around you. So Devin and I and our company can present to these people, “that this exists.” The same things Nipsey was trying to do before he passed away. Technology, science, recipes, art, music. You know you don’t have to be a doctor. There’s other realms. Cause you know we’re always forced in one area, and we never get the opportunity to choose, and that comes from lack of funds. So we can create funds with these films that we’re making, and that’s exactly what we wanna do.
CB: “Decent” and “Passivity” are keywords in your film, can you speak on that?
YA: When you’re not taught your history, and where you come from, the language you originally speak, or what happened to you and your people, you follow any leader that comes in your life. That’s why a lot of people turn to gangs cause it’s a form of family…So if you don’t have anyone to lead you in the right direction, or explain your history, or why you should do this and not do that, you just follow the first thing you see or feel comfortable with…
CB: What would be some guidance that you would give to young creatives chasing their passions?
DR: It really just comes down to wanting it. How bad do you want it? Are you willing to put yourself out there for multiple positions, multiple roles, multiple auditions? How bad do you wanna keep going for it?...Go for it, go for it. Don’t quit… Nothing in life worth having comes easy. So with that understanding, that mentality, at no point in time can you ever quit. Man, go for it.
YA: There’s nothing different that we’re doing, or that I’m about to say that people haven’t heard before. Therefore, I say that to say this. At a certain point you have to stop being inspired, and inspire. So me telling you what you should do, you’ve heard it a thousand times. If your test is coming up and someone tells you to study, you knew that before they said it. So at some point take your own actions instead of always looking for guidance… This is what I tell people. Number one make sure your mouthpiece is on point. What does that mean? Learn how to communicate with people. Corporate doesn’t mix with street. You cannot use slang terminology. You have to learn how to communicate with people. You could be the smartest man in the world. If you don’t speak, no one’s ever gonna know it. You have to learn how to talk to people, tap into different personalities. How do you learn how to talk to people? You can take a program called Toastmasters (link) in New York City or look on YouTube for communication help, or stop surrounding yourself with like-minded goals. Also, make friends with people that are either wealthier than you, smarter than you, or have some type of advantage that you do not have so that you learn those things and doors open. Too many times, naturally as humans, we like to surround ourselves with people that are less than us or doing worse so that we feel better about ourselves…Most of us wanna be the best amongst an average group of people. Start with being the stupidest one in your circle, the poorest one in your circle. That way the people you’re around are higher and you can reach higher. And grind. Stop at nothing. Whether your mom, dad, sister don’t support you. Stop at nothing. Sometimes family is worse than friends. It’s not always family that’s gonna support you. Be prepared for the troublesome things that are going to occur cause it ain’t gon’ be easy… Utilize the social media that’s out there today, they ain’t have that back in the day. The YouTubes, the Instagrams. It’s there! To make money, to be good at what you do, the tools are there. It comes down to the human being. If they gettin’ up at 5 a.m., you gon’ have to get up at 2 a.m. Hustle. You have to grind if you really want it.