During childhood, we idolize superheroes and those with supernatural abilies— but rarely do we see brown faces reflected back at us in films and on TV.
As a way to subvert the continued erasure of Blackness when it comes to with superhuman abilities, we’ve created #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy as a way to celebrate ourselves and the things that make us extraordinary. With The CW’s Black Lightning and Ryan Coogler’s much anticipated Black Panther both set for release in 2018, things are slowly beginning to change. Black TV & Film Collective founder Huriyyah Muhammad decided she didn’t need to wait for anyone. From a simple idea about a Black mother and son with superpowers, she birthed the stunning web series, Keloid.
The series follows Keloid (David Nixon), a teenage boy with telepathy, teleportation and telekinesis abilities. He can also control electricity. (Think Storm with a mix of Professor X, Nightcrawler and a dash of Harry Potter.) Keloid comes from a long line of gifted human beings including his mother, Marielle (Aba Woodruff). Though he desperately tries to control his abilities, he hasn’t quite mastered them, and a series of events forces Keloid and his mother to flee from their home, a pattern that has haunted him his whole life. Ahead of the season one finale, JETmag.com caught up with Muhammad to chat about her narrative directorial debut, why she was inspired to create the series and how she captured all of the dope special effects.
JETmag.com: Where did the idea for Keloid come from and what inspired you to tell this story on film?
Huriyyah Muhammad: Keloid was created directly to increase awareness about the Black TV & Film Collective, a non-profit organization for TV and film professionals of color based in NYC. In 2016, we began talking about the idea of launching a network dedicated to showcasing the work of our members. We definitely wanted drama, some comedy, a thriller or two, but we also knew we wanted to represent for all the sci-fi and supernatural fans of color out there. At the time we didn’t have any scripts that we were ready to produce. So I sat down and wrote Keloid. I started with a nugget of an idea. What would the relationship with my mother and my brother be like if the family had super powers? I remembered how my brother was as a teenager. He wanted to go out in the world and explore. My mother wanted to keep him home safe. They butted heads constantly because of it. Over 20 BTFC members came together to make the show happen, some even using vacation time from work so they could be a part of the shoot. Many members also worked in post production.
JETmag.com: There are quite a few special effects in the web series. How were you able to capture telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis and electricity while still adhering to your budget?
HM: We were lucky when it came to the special effects. Our editor, Logan Dobbs, was truly committed. He turned down all other jobs while he worked on Keloid pro bono for months. Our collective is truly a special place, and it evokes this type of dedication among members and artists. With Logan leading editing, we worked in collaboration with a VFX team lead by Bashir Hamid. Also, I have to mention that early in the process we attracted the attention of a VFX Supervision who advised us how to easily capture different effects during filming. We were blessed by the fact that our whole post production team came on board pro bono or nearly pro bono because they believed in the mission of the Black TV & Film Collective and because they loved Keloid. To keep the costs down we looked for ways to capture the visual effects on set through action and simply add layers during post production to make them more believable. Our cinematographer, Snyder Derival, was also familiar with VFX so he helped a lot in designing the shots that we could get on set that would make the VFX post work much less time-consuming. An example of this is the teleportation. Keloid, his mom, and Detective Blake can “jump” which is what they call teleportation. We shot this on set by filming the character in the spot where they start, in the spot where they end (after the jump) and filming the set without them in it. With these three shots, they can be merged during editing to look as though someone appears out of thin air, which is what teleportation is.
JETmag.com: What was your casting process like?
HM: I REALLY love our cast. The biggest challenge was finding our leading actor, Keloid. We held several casting sessions until David Nixon walked into our office. I realized right away that David was perfect. He had just turned 18, looked 15 and had the perfect mix of fear and vulnerability borne of inexperience that Keloid possesses naturally. He was also just a good mannerable kid —you know raised right. Aba Woodruff plays Marielle. I’d worked with Aba years before in a directing lab, and when I was writing Keloid, I had Aba’s voice in my head the whole time. In addition to being an amazing actress, Aba has two sons, and I knew that she could naturally relate to what Marielle was going through. A lot of Marielle’s character is based on how stern my own mother was. She only had to say things once to get us to listen. My mother was old school and disciplined us in that way. I saw a lot of my mother in Aba when I looked at her. We truly lucked up with casting Frederic Jean, Jessica Fontaine, Kenna Jackson and Reynaldo Piniella and Vince Edgehill. Even the youngsters Brooklyn Boy, Amare Diaz and his actual mother Stephanie Annette, all just came in and blew us away. The casting was actually the easy part and the cast truly makes the show.
JETmag: What do you hope for Keloid overall as word continues to spread?
HM: Right now I’m hoping that fans of the show and the Black TV & Film Collective will support what we are building for ourselves. And that they will donate to our crowdfunding campaign so that we can have a second season. I self-financed season one on a couple of credit cards. I’m still working down the balances, so that’s not an option for Season Two. [Laughing]. Honestly receiving the support of our community who speak with their wallets will mean a great deal to us. Although Keloid was a series I wrote on a whim the characters came to life on the page in a way I didn’t anticipate, and things just started moving – crew, cast, resources. I hope that the series entertains and also attracts more members and resources for the Black TV & Film Collective. It is our offering to the growing call and response for more stories about Black families and Black characters that are more layered, more complex, more grounded in the everyday reality of our existence as human beings on this Earth and beyond. Black people can be superheroes, planet-hopping cowboys and more. Whatever the case, our stories should be told from our own truth, not an outside perception. There is a line where Marielle says, “I can’t be your friend, I have to be your mother. I have to see around corners that you can’t see around for yourself.” I hope audiences feel our intention and support not only a story like this, but our organization.
JETmag.com: As we move forward in what’s been a called a “renaissance” for Black cinema why is the Black TV & Film Collective increasingly important?
HM: We are stronger in numbers and stronger when we work together. We don’t have to wait for a guy in a suit to give us permission to tell our stories. Working together we can make anything happen. Keloid is an example of that. You will see and hear much more from the Black TV & Film Collective. We hope that our community supports us in the work we are doing. It is so necessary to control our own images. We are much more than what we see portrayed in the media currently. By empowering storytellers of color, we are empowering warriors to go out in the community and speak our truth – as complicated, lovely, funny, dramatic and bold as we are.
Watch the first episode of Keloid below.
Check out the rest of the season here.
Support season two of Keloid here.