From a young age, Shayla Racquel explored various artistic avenues. It wasn’t until the tender age of twelve after suffering from a stroke onset by her Sickle Cell Anemia that she found comfort in this new form of expression, film and storytelling. “I got into writing and making music videos with my family but I never really thought of it as film-making, just fun.” During her high school years, her drama teacher convinced her to pursue script writing, ironically during a time when she was focused on acting. Shortly after, she wrote her first script, later performed by her fellow classmates in front of a packed auditorium. Watching the audience react so fondly to the words she’d written made her feel a slew of emotions; a feeling she continues chase. Years later, after keeping up with her home movies and working as a freelance filmmaker for multiple organizations and college events, she went on to create the web series, Quarter Century.
Quarter Century was born in the Summer of 2013. The web series spotlights post-graduation malaise, HBCU connections, and fear of the future. It was her first self-funded production that went on to be a big success, and more importantly, get her into grad school where she would later work on her latest project, Riverment. Riverment is a short film about the evolution of the fight for Black Civil Rights in America and its effects on a family through different generations.
DCWKLY recently sat down with Shayla to talk Riverment, Quarter Century, her hopes for her new film, influences, and her own personal quarter life crisis.
On the Creation of Her Web Series, Quarter Century
Shayla Racquel: Quarter Century came about in 2013 when I was feeling stupid for myself because I was 23 years old and I felt like, you know, I haven’t accomplished anything in life. I was hyperventilating about turning 25 and where things were going. During this time, I went to brunch with a few friends, and we were talking and expressing these same things that I was feeling, and then someone at the table said, “Hey, we should make a web series about this!” I thought, “damn, that would be a great idea”. I told my friend Asia (McFarland; Production Manager for the series) and another friend about it and they took this idea and just ran with it completely. In fact, it wasn’t until the auditions that I realized “Oh, this is really happening”.
On What Led Her to Film School
SR: Another reason why I wanted to do Quarter Century was to have a reel for getting into film school. So when we did that first season, I had used parts of it as my application and I ended up getting into my program at American University. At the time, I didn’t have any other real classroom film-making experience; Quarter Century was my learning process.
On Her First Major Project
SR: In film school, I took a class called “Directing For Camera” and in the class the teacher told us we could take another person’s script and direct our version of their script, or you could challenge yourself and make a new full production: write a script, get it approved, and film it. I wanted to make something. I was in my second year and I didn’t have anything other than Quarter Century that was truly substantial and showed my skill as a writer and director. So I took the challenge, not caring how hard it was and Life’s Checklist was an idea I had brewing a couple months prior. The idea came from conversations with friends about the influx of marriage announcements from people we knew and curiosity over how much these marriages were about the thrill of getting married and the wedding or a genuine desire to be part of this institution.
On How Riverment Came to Fruition
SR: Riverment came about because of my grandmother who was born and raised in South Carolina. Between her and my grandfather, they’d seen so much and came with this wealth of knowledge and wisdom about racism, racial awareness, and civil rights in America. I used to enjoy listening to them talk when I was a kid and this instilled in me my own racial awareness and desire to do something, you know? My grandfather was very militant and started an all black golf club because the golf courses in South Carolina wouldn’t let them play there. My grandmother had her own business and dealt with people throwing bricks through the windows, so hearing that affected me. They took me to marches with them as a kid over the confederate flag; that’s why when it finally came down, it was so inspiring. They’d been fighting for that flag to come down for years! Having that background and having a recent conversation with them about Black Lives Matter and this new level of awareness and social media, where suddenly it went from them wanting us to be aware about racial injustice and our history, to not being bitter or angry at the world and saying things like “we had this fight so that you wouldn’t have to, you shouldn’t be doing this” and it just made me so angry.
I felt like they didn’t understand, but when I took a step back, I realized that they were really traumatized about those experiences and they genuinely feel like because laws were passed, things were better–which they are slightly but we still have a long way to go.
On the Plot of Riverment
SR: Riverment is about the evolution of the fight for Black Rights in America and the generational toll it takes on a family. It explores the differences between the baby boomers of the Civil Rights Movement and the millennials of Black Lives Matter; as well as the traumatic effects of protest, racism, and the murder of black people that affect both of these groups. I mean this is really some traumatic shit we have to go through on a daily basis of being black and I want to really show the trauma we go through on film.
On What She Hopes the Film Can Accomplish
SR: I hate the phrase “spark dialogue”, but I do hope that the film can spark dialogue between the two generations and not make such black and white declarations about either of these movements. I don’t want to condemn the older generation or act like the younger one has the best answers. Ultimately, we’re continuing the work laid out for us by the generation before in the hopes that one day a new generation won’t have to do it.
On the Journey to Film-making
SR: It’s been really stressful, but making any major piece of art comes with so many trials and tribulations. The blood, sweat, and tears that goes behind it is what makes it so beautiful. So yes, I’m having sleepless nights and I’m exhausted but I know it’s going to be a great work of art when it’s finally done because of all this stress. We’re still fundraising and trying to meet our goal; we have a long way to go but I’m confident. We’re currently trying to find a cast and fill a few more roles within the production crew as well; we start shooting late September and when it’s done and it’s approved by the Thesis Board we will shop it around film festivals.
On What She Hopes to Achieve after Film School
SR: I hope Asia’s and my media group [that we’re building for creatives of color] can establish an audience and create strong, engaging content. We want to stay independent and hopefully create a portfolio that gets us enough recognition to be able to work on major films.
On What Inspired This Film
SR: I took African American cinema at Howard which further fueled me into making Riverment. We watched these amazing films like Daughters Of The Dust which uses color so effectively. You can’t really make a black film or protest film without having some Spike Lee influence. Ava DuVernay, of course, was a big influence – we watched Middle Of Nowhere in our class. I’ve been using screenshots from Selma in my storybook for my film as well. Dee Rees’ Pariah was really affecting to me–also she’s a FAMU grad like myself. I love John Singleton and the photos of Gordon Parks, I look at them for inspiration as well.
On Her Style at Large
SR: I’m not sure I have a style yet, not in the way that makes you immediately think that this is film made by me but there’s still plenty of time to find it.
Interested in donating to Riverment? Visit the Kickstarter Campaign, and follow the film’s official Twitter and Instagram!
Want to keep up with Shayla? Be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram!