jessica tholmer
March 13, 2015 9:13 am
Here’s a fact: We do not see enough nearly female directors in Hollywood. Here’s another fact: We do not see nearly enough directors of color in Hollywood. I could keep going with facts similar to these, but instead I’ll introduce you to a woman who is trying to turn both of those facts into history. Meet Nana Mensah, a writer, director, filmmaker, and actress, who has just completed a film — Queen of Glory — and is currently in the Kickstarter phase of procuring the funds needed to complete the project. Not only does the movie look smart, and hilarious, and like just the kind of movie we will love, but Nana’s general mission is one that we 10,000% support.

As Nana writes on her Kickstarter page, “I’m Nana (which rhymes with Ghana). In 2011, I (a woman) co-founded a production company with Anya Migdal (also a woman) to make movies (mostly about women). We started this because as a Ghanaian-American and Russian-American respectively, we found a dearth of interesting roles for quirky females of foreign descent. I started to write Queen of Glory in 2012, because I wanted people like us to be visible.” It wouldn’t be possible for us to support this anymore than we do.

Now for Queen of Glory. The movie tells the story of a PhD candidate who somewhat unexpectedly becomes the owner of a Christian bookstore. The dark comedy looks unlike most movies we are used to seeing, and a huge part of that is because women like Nana (who stars in the lead role) are not typically visible front and center as non-stereotyped protagonists. Honestly, it’s thrilling.

I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Nana about her movie, her Kickstarter, and how she expects the world to change.

HelloGiggles (HG): Could you tell me a little more about your production company? Queen of Glory is an awesome project in itself, but it’s pretty awesome that you started a company specifically by women for women. 

Nana Mensah (NM): Surely. Adelos Media was co-founded by me and actress/producer Anya Migdal. We met in New York through the Public Theater’s Shakespeare LAB, and in 2010, she approached me about starting a company. She’s Russian and I’m Ghanaian-American and we were both frustrated with the dearth of roles out there for us. She was often going for “Sex Trafficking Victim” and I was often “Sassy (insert whatever low wage job you can think of here).” We knew that women were so much more than this — we could be complicated, funny, raunchy, intellectual, quirky — and there’s room for all of it. Sexy means so much more than the narrow definition we’ve permitted ourselves– and it can exist without pandering to the ‘male gaze’. Anyway, I had just finished my first screenplay, a historical biopic set in colonial Ghana (I am nothing if not ambitious), and so we sought out a way to make that come to fruition.

HG: What happened?

NM: Absolutely nothing. No one wants to make a $20 million movie set in Africa with Black leads. Or so I was told. And I was like, “why not?” So my mentor, Emily Abt (who won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for her debut Toe to Toe) told me plainly: look, go away and write a manageable story that you can shoot for cheap and see if you can make that happen. That was three years ago.

HG: I absolutely love what your website says about not wanting to audition for the roles that were offered to you. Can you tell me a little more about the frustrations you have surrounding the stereotypical roles that are still being offered to women, most notably women of color? Have you noticed any improvements in recent years, or the same ol’ cycle? 

NM: Oh, I’m thrilled about the progress, I really am: Viola, Kerry, Angela, Taraji, Issa — it is getting done. I’m also aware that contentment is the enemy, and so we have to keep pushing forward and constantly re-examine our conceptions of who a woman can be in film/television, and also who a Black woman can be in media. As far as my audition stories — well, suffice it to say that I knew almost immediately when I started auditioning that there was a problem. That all women, and particularly Black women, were capable of so much more than Hollywood was giving us credit for. So I got a job in a restaurant and started writing scripts, trying to “be the change I wanted to see in the world,” as they say.

HG: Where did you get the idea for the plot line of Queen of Glory?

NM: There were a few threads that intertwined to make Queen of Glory. Firstly, as a child of immigrants, everyone is always obsessed with education, and I thought it would be cool to explore the extreme of that — to see what would happen if a main character sought refuge in academia so as to avoid real life. Can you be over-educated? Next, I wanted to explore the idea of inheritance, both the physical traits and items we get from our families. Aside from that, I basically took everything I wanted to see someone go through and whipped it up into a little narrative; I love family dysfunction, I love navigating class issues (especially among people of color), and I love watching how people cope with their personal failings. So that was the skeleton and my imagination took over from there.

HG: Tell me why YOU think your movie could potentially be a huge deal.

NM: I think this film could be a huge deal because it’s honestly never been done before. A young Black female actor/writer/director with a specific aesthetic makes an indie film? I mean, talk about niche! If I had tried to make this film within the studio system, they would have recast me for Taylor Swift (who I LOVE, no shade! But that’s not the story). I know so many formidable Black female creative minds that are relatively unacknowledged in the media. Actually, I just finished Issa Rae’s new book, and she brings up a wonderful point, which is that those of us in our mid 20s to 30s grew up in a golden age of sitcoms with Black leads. There was Family Matters, Fresh Prince, Living Single, Cosby Show, and those shows were universal — everyone watched them! So we are a generation who grew up seeing ourselves reflected, but now as adults there’s a noticeable absence. Luckily we’re old enough now to do something about it and become our own content creators. And I find that really invigorating.

HG: I see that you have met your goal, which is rad. Congratulations! What’s next for the film? When does it come out, in what form, can we root for you at next year’s Oscars, etc? 

NM: Haha! Yes, we now have a stretch goal of $40,000 we are trying to meet in the next week. Gah! But we have awesome perks to make it worth one’s while, if anyone would like to pitch in. With the stretch goal money, we can begin our marketing strategy, get our poster designed and make ourselves the most appealing package to potential distributors. So plan to see us in the various film festival markets late this year/early next year, and hopefully I can strongarm my way into a theatrical release in 2016!

HG: Anything else you think I / we / the world should know about your film? Anything else you want to say in general? 

NM: This film is about so much more than just the story. It’s about change. I see so many bloggers and talking heads and Black Twitter highlighting the lack of diversity in the stories coming out of Hollywood, well, now is the time to be counted: potential distributors look closely at the number of backers a film has, so I ask all of you Gigglers, even if you just have $1 to give, pledge it to our campaign and be counted! I am incredibly grateful for the wonderful response and attention that our little film has garnered thus far. Thank you so much!

I personally donated to the awesome campaign, because why would you not?! Nana has quickly become a bit of a superhero for me. Instead of settling for stereotypical, empty roles, Nana decided to represent herself in an entirely different light, and as she is doing so, she is making other women (who don’t fit into a perfect media box) visible as well. Queen of Glory also looks hilarious, which is always something I support, but even beyond that, it is a wonderful example of a woman deciding how she wants to be depicted, rather than have the role of her life be written for her.

Remember Nana Mensah’s name. She is already a big effin’ deal.

Images courtesy of Nana Mensah.