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Filmmaker Radha Blank Says Lena Waithe Was Her 'Most Important Yes'

"We have to, as Black women, continue to stand by each other. I don't know that I would've made this film if it wasn't for Lena," she says.

Radha Blank is clear on her lane of the revolution. “Filmmaking and storytelling is my activism,” the award-winning director tells The Real Quick‘s Danielle Young during a panel at the ESSENCE Festival of Culture‘s Entertainment All Access program.

Her debut film The 40-Year-Old Version, which made history earlier this year by winning the U.S. dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival, is being produced by Lena Waithe and was acquired by Netflix. Blank’s movie follows Radha, a newly single poet who’s reconciling with turning 40 and rejection until she ignites her first love—rapping.

“I’m just so happy to finally get to share, um, the story that I wrote and created with us in mind as Black women, where we’re centered and we’re complex,” said Blank. “It’s a big deal.”  

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“For better or worse, there’s so much focus on us right now,” she added, referencing the hyperfocus on systemic racism in the news. As a Black filmmaker Blank has to not only satisfy her artistic vision but also question how her work impacts her people’s quest for freedom. 

“And I think as a person making art, I was conflicted about that because I’m just like, how am I showing up for us,” she said. 

She had been trying to showcase a more nuanced version of Black women for six years when Lena Waithe came on board to produce her project. “My biggest and most important yes was Lena Waithe,” she added. 

“I hope that beyond this being a story where Black women centered, you just see this artist on this journey because we go through that too, you know, and, and I hope it’s an expansion on Black life,” she said. 

Blank’s wants the work of Black filmmakers to be able to explore the same ordinary aspects of life as other creatives. 

“I’m obsessed with things like the mundane, I’m obsessed with things like silence, I’m obsessed with things that show us in ways we aren’t often depicted,” she said. 

“I think a lot of times when people get behind Black storytelling, they think conflict equals drama. There’s a certain kind of Black experience that gets heralded. And this to me is about putting a Black story in the context and the canon of classic New York films,” Blank continued. 

“It’s just that typical New York creative self-deprecating artist’s story, just with us at the center. You know, so I’m not, I’m not creating anything new. I think that the lens is different, but I, I feel like this film, the story is familiar to anyone who knows about those New York creative stories.”

“The story is familiar. It’s just about inserting us,” she said.

She is grateful to have the opportunity to insert herself into familiar narratives and wants to see other Black women have the same chance. 

Blank’s added: “We have to, as Black women, continue to stand by each other. I don’t know that I would’ve made this film if it wasn’t for Lena trusting me with my own vision. So my hashtag for 2020 is not just F Corona. It is hashtag #TrustBlackWomen and hashtag #ContinueToTrustBlackWomen.”

The 40-Year-Old Version will arrive on Netflix in the fall.


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