S&A: You’ve hinted at the Swarm being the focus of a future film project. Tell me about that.
TN: Yeah, that’s in the works. I’ve got a script called Brooklyn Is Masquerading As The World. [laughs] I do want to be one of those people who puts the Swarm on screen. Because it just doesn’t exist. You don’t even have Swarm musicians who are highly visible. Every time I play the movie, people ask me what’s that first song. It’s a Janelle Monae song, 57821. But there are people who don’t recognize it.
One thing about the Swarm is that it doesn’t identify as the Swarm. They don’t want to be a part of a group or a scene or whatever. But I think it’s beautiful. I’m proud that I’m in this thing, and I’m a part of this sort of demographic. I think it’s a wonderfully positive and beautiful community that is dope. I didn’t create it or anything, I just started calling it something. Other people call it other things.
I do believe in cultural nationalism, that we just need to prolifically make our own stuff for our own people and we’ll be alright. Sort of the microcosm of globalization is happening in media, where everybody loves Transformers, and everybody’s going to go watch Transformers, but that’ll take the place of you going to see that thing that is you, that reflects you and your culture. I think that breeds something like the Swarm and our cultural nationalism in a specific way. So it is important for me in my future movies to make stuff that is us and markets to us.
S&A: Tell me about your experience at NYU.
TN: Because of my work in film I was always in the film school and interacted with a lot of the people there. I used to work in the production center and took film classes, so I think a movement is happening from alumni of NYU. When I got there, it was very clear. In my year, there was Nikyatu [Jusu] and Yvonne [Shirley]. Those are my sisters. And we’ve all known each other since we arrived, and even the years before us, Darius [Clark Monroe], Daniel [Patterson], Dee [Rees], Keith [Davis], Rashaad [Ernesto Green], Alrick [Brown], I could go on and on. It’s definitely a community. I think that’s the point and the nature of any professional school.
I went to the art school, and I considered going to film school but I didn’t apply because my misconception was, they’re just going to teach you how to use the camera, and I felt like I knew that. So I thought our school was about art making and the film school was about filmmaking; it is, but also what it’s about is introducing you to the industry and interacting with it in ways that are going to make you successful. I feel prepared for success in the contemporary art world, but when I graduated I did not feel prepared for how to interact with the film industry. Luckily I’m in this community of people who know how to interact with it, or at the very least are experiencing it the same way I am.
S&A: How important do you feel it is to foster those relationships later on, after graduation?
TN: It’s the most important thing. There’s a reason there’s Roc-A-Fella Records and Young Money Cash Money. There’s a reason why they all came in with a team. I’m not co-signing any of these people aesthetically or artistically, but just saying that their way of dealing with the business is to enter into it as a set of voices. That was a lot of the energy around us collectivizing Cinema Stereo. It was obvious that there are very few of us out here, and it’s extremely important that we not only talk to each other, but share resources, and make sure that all of our stuff is getting made and there’s grease in those wheels.
Because somehow that continuity hasn’t happened with that last movement [of black filmmakers]. There’s a little bit of a void in there. And our perception is, it’s for lack of enough voices at a certain level to put that hand down and pull us up. There’s Spike [Lee], and there’s a super-human effort being made on his part, and there’s some others. But looking at the future, we all want to have not only our own careers, but when my little brother comes along and he’s got his feature script ready, I want to be able to say “I’ll produce it,” and have it mean something. I think a lot of [our generation] feel we’re left to figure it out on our own.
S&A: What are your thoughts on where black cinema is headed in the U.S. now, and where do you see yourself within that?
TN: We’re definitely undergoing a coloring of the United States, not that it wasn’t already that way. We’re lucky, I think, in America, that we’re only a European country from an economic perspective. I was listening to CNN the other day and somehow they started playing 50 Cent as the intro music to one of the news programs. The Rolling Stones is playing; that’s just Muddy Waters with a white guy singing it. The stuff that makes up America generally, that’s valuable culturally, is African or indigenous. Not to say that Europeans don’t have a contribution, but to say that the landscape is this Eurocentric thing, I think is kind of fatalist and inaccurate.
Really it’s just the economics, in the fact that there’s a whole lot of white people, and they’re going to go see The Hunger Games if there’s a white girl in it; if there was a black lead, they probably wouldn’t go see it. So it’s just clunky realities like that as opposed to, “If you make a black thing, will it be able to sell.” Because hip hop has proven that you can make the blackest stuff of all time and anyone will like it; the whole world will love it and patronize it.
Where I fit is, I feel like [the industry] is already ours. We made it, on some level. I feel at this point it’s more about control, and infringing upon those spaces that are not us, which is the economic side of it. And making sure that we have a stake in places where the decision-making happens. And I think that will follow what’s already happening, which is a movement of people in my generation deciding, “I’m going to make what I want to make. I’m not going to make Blindside. I’m just not going to do it.” That’s also going to require so many of us making films that whoever they call to be the actor in a Blindside will say, “I’m not going to do it because I’m doing Terence’s movie,” “ I would never even consider that because I’m doing Steve McQueen’s movie.”
S&A: How soon do you think we’ll reach that level?
TN: Pretty fast. Because I think one of the bigger things holding us back is a culture of methodically making movies. And also just the nature of filmmaking, like why [the dynamics of] hip hop didn’t happen in the film industry. There were a few hundred rappers in 1980 and now there’s two billion, and why hasn’t that happened in film? Because being a director is the hardest work of all time. Even being a terrible director is extremely hard work, and there’s no easy way to get rewarded for it monetarily. So if the question is, when is the tipping point going to happen, it’s going to happen when people are just like, “I’m going to make it, come hell or high water this year, and then next year I’m going to make another one.”
S&A: What else is next for you, in terms of new projects?
TN: I’ve got a feature narrative I’m trying to shoot in the next year. The title of the movie is The Lobbyist, and it’s a surrealist dramedy/thriller. I play a con man.
Many thanks to Terence for sharing his thoughts.
For more on Terence Nance and his projects, visit his website at terence.mvmt.com
Or his film, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, at oversimplification.mvmt.com
* By Terence’s definition, The Swarm is “a demographic with 5 criteria for inclusion. They are not mutually exclusive. 1. The Swarm consists of people who are of color or culturally of color. 2. The Swarm consists of people who went to a four-year university, most of whom graduated. 3. The Swarm consists of people who work in a non-corporate environment or aspire to do so: Education, Philanthropy / Activism, Art or Film, Government. 4. In New York City, The Swarm lives in Bed Stuy, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, and Crown Heights, and to a lesser degree Flatbush, Washington Heights and occasionally Harlem. The Swarm NEVER lives in Williamsburg, “The City”, or Queens, unless they are originally from one of these places. 5. The Swarm consists of people who largely deny that they are in The Swarm… The Swarm is BEAUTIFUL.”