To The Girl That Looks Like Me is an experimental poetry piece that celebrates black women, who continue to thrive in a system that was not built for them. This visual poem explores culture, self-love and self-discovery through a string of vignettes that combine dance, folklore, modern culture and spirituality.
Hi Ewurakua, thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during these very strange times?
The beginning of the year was definitely hard. I had a very sick family member and we spent most of the spring praying and crossing fingers. Thankfully, they’re back home and doing great, so complaining isn’t a thing I do anymore. I’ve just been trying to keep busy.
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
Yes! My motto for this year is that this time is a blessing and a curse. A curse because, well you know, and a blessing because it’s forced me to really hone in on my writing. During this time, our access to each other has become much more streamlined. Everyone’s online. So even though we’ve taken away the in-person connection, the ability to virtually connect is everywhere. I’ve been able to “meet” a lot of talented artists, particularly animators. It’s been a real treat to collaborate with them.
Congratulations on having To The Girl That Looks Like Me selected for this year's Raindance Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films?
I yelped when I received the email! I was so excited, and I’m still so excited. Just knowing that my film is part of this line up makes my day. I went on the Raindance website a few days ago and saw the post of my film. It really warmed my heart.
Can you tell me a little bit about To The Girl That Looks Like Me, how did this film come about?
Last summer I was terrified for my senior year because I wanted my thesis film to be really special. With no idea of what story I wanted to tell, I felt pretty directionless. The last time I ever felt like that was in primary school. I found this connection interesting and thought about my time there. The memories inspired me to write the poem, “to the girl that looks like me.” After the poem was complete, it felt as though all the pieces fell in line.
"I know that I’m entering an industry that was not created for my success, and that’s fine."
What was the message you wanted to convey with To The Girl That Looks Like Me?
This film celebrates the beauty and strength of black women, as we continue to thrive in a system that wasn't built for us. I wanted young black and brown girls to take away this simple idea, “there is room for you at the top.” I wanted to celebrate blackness in a way I never saw blackness celebrated on the screen. Kente cloth at the forefront, dark skin as the leading lady.
On making a film like To The Girl That Looks Like Me, how much has your own history and experiences influenced this project?
So much. The poems that the film itself follows are based on my childhood, my adolescence, and the present. The film is a telling of what I learned navigating through predominantly white spaces as a black girl. How I evolved from feeling “less than,” to fully embracing my skin and my heritage. The film is heavily influenced by my father’s country, Ghana, with many of the vignettes containing odes to Ghanaian folklore and dance.
Why do you think it is so hard for visual media to portray black women as beautiful?
I don’t think the problem is that it’s hard. It isn’t. Black women are beautiful. We are strong and groundbreaking and instrumental. I think the problem lies more in who runs this industry. For years, this industry made us believe that the epitome of beauty was white women. When the media pushes this notion down the throats of viewers long enough, they believe it. And when they believe something like that, they don’t think to break the norm. I know that I’m entering an industry that was not created for my success, and that’s fine. Because I truly believe that the way to achieve constant positive portrayals of black women is for black filmmakers to be unapologetic in our storytelling and to just continue to make these films that let the media know we’re reclaiming our stories and putting them on the big screen. We aren’t going anywhere.
In your work, how important is it for you to address this imbalance and to celebrate and champion the beauty that is within the community?
It is the most important thing for me. My passion is making films that represent the underrepresented.
While I was in school, something I quickly noticed was how difficult it was to find black talent for my films. I realized how badly the film community needed space for creatives of colour to gather and collaborate. So I launched, “The Melacast Network,” a platform for people of colour. I think spaces for us to create are so necessary to make sure these stories continue to be told.
What do you think can be done to change the negative way black bodies are presented in the media?
We need black bodies on and off-screen, in positions with decision-making power. It isn’t enough to cast black talent if the writer off-screen is still producing work that portrays negative, stereotypical depictions of us. We should be able to turn on the television and see black and brown faces in lead roles that inspire. We should be able to look at the credits and see a diverse crew. We need three-dimensional characters, not sidekicks. Love stories, not just pain. We need to break the glass ceiling that is Hollywood and arrive at a place where diversity is so normalized that we no longer need to have these conversations.
What was the most challenging aspect of making To The Girl That Looks Like Me?
The biggest technical challenge to making this film was money. The cost of filmmaking is intense, and I simply didn’t have the financial resources readily available to just put down. However, this made me really creative, as I found fun and engaging ways to raise my budget. I hosted open mic nights, self-published my first book, and wrote countless grant essays. Creatively, there was a scene that I really wanted a tarantula for. I refused to be talked out of it, and I got my spider. Funnily enough, I never used that cut in the final edit. But I don’t regret pushing for my spider at all. It would’ve been much worse not having it and forever wondering how different my film would be with it.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
My dad is a big movie watcher. When we were younger we frequented Blockbuster, then Redbox when BlockBuster went under. Every evening we’d watch a new film. I had this obsession with memorizing the entire thing and attempting to reenact it the following day with my friends. As time went on, my friends became less interested, but my obsession never died out. One thing I loved to do was rewrite the leading lady to look like me and talk like me. A lady with thick 4c hair and dark (emphasis on dark) brown skin. Elizabeth Swan became Ananse Annan, the James Bond girls were suddenly thick Ghanaian accented Akan women. When I was younger, doing this was a fun game, but as I got older I realized that it was a real problem that I had to write black women into my favourite films. They should’ve already been there. This prompted my passion for film. My goal was to have black stories on that big screen.
How has your style and approach to your films changed much since your debut short?
During my first 3 years of NYU, I made films that fit directly into the traditional storytelling box. “to the girl that looks like me” was the first time I pushed away from that and it really paid off. It’s the first of my films I truly feel connected to. If there’s anything I learned from this production, it’s to not compromise my vision. During pre-production, many people would tell me to change things. They’d say I should limit my cast or change a scene due to difficulties. In my opening scene, my script called for 6 rows of women with 40 people in the scene total. I was told to take out the scene or bring the cast countdown. I refused. I knew what this scene needed, and I
knew I could make it work. It would be hard, but I knew what was best for my film. All 40 actors showed, and I’ve never been prouder of an opening scene in my life. Going forward, I will always make sure I maintain my voice in all my work, and refuse to compromise because it’s easier.
Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Absolutely. Always. As long as you are staying true to your voice and morals, push the boundaries of storytelling and filmmaking.
Are there any tips or pieces of wisdom you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Don’t compromise your vision, but don’t be afraid to pivot when things change. One of my most beautiful scenes came to us last minute. My original location and cast fell through and we had to find a backup ASAP. We found a gorgeous hill and shot a scene that added so much more to the film than the original would have.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from To The Girl That Looks Like Me?
When I wrote this, I wanted the piece to make non people of colour think, to get a glimpse of what it is like navigating the world as a black woman. But above all, this film is for the black and brown girls watching. My primary hope is that they recognize that their skin is beautiful and that their culture is sacred.