A conversation with Hollywood’s most invigorating and mysterious talent
by Clarissa Garfunkel
There are things you can only spot in the most clichéd of places. You find a writer in a coffee shop or you find a young artist in a record store, but I was a bit surprised to be meeting her at a tiny Turkish food truck on a chilly day. In Berlin. She looked up at me and smiled with a mouth full of shawarma. “I’m fucking hungry”, she mumbled, licking the sauce from her lips. “I’m always fucking hungry.” She laughs and asks me if I want anything. I said no, but she insisted I had a dönner sandwich; it was worth it.
Coming off an incredible albeit entirely predictable Oscar win for her debut movie at the tender age of 22, it was hard to imagine just how much she had sky-rocketed since then. She isn’t your average filmmaker and we should have known from that “cheeky” ass shake in her sheer, diamond-encrusted tulle dress from Valentino as she mounted the stage to unceremoniously accept her award. Maybe she knew something we didn’t. Since then, she has written and produced a full season of her own show; a grizzly, dirty perspective of black femininity designed to “piss the world off– mostly racists.” And now, she’s nominated for a slew of Emmys she says she won’t win, but she’s celebrating nonetheless. “I’ve been drunk for like the past six weeks,” she says, “too many parties.”
You seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. Everyone’s wondering what’s next.
I have a lot, like a lot coming out soon. I’ll have like three projects dropping next year.
Is there a season 2, somewhere in there?
[Laughs] Everyone’s so desperate for season 2. I have so many things in my head I feel like I might slip and tell everyone what happens next.
Do you have people who make sure you don’t slip up?
Yeah, they rush in and erase people’s memories, like in Men In Black.
Tell me about your first movie, you never told anyone what that ending was about and there’s a lot of theories as to what that could mean for the overarching themes of the movie.
I don’t know. I think it means different things to people depending on what you want to see. I thought it was entertaining. I don’t like to write boring shit, I like things to be complicated.
So what do you say to people who criticise you for minimising violence?
I don’t think I minimise things. I think people have a problem with me saying that violence can be aesthetically pleasing. Like on film. I’m not saying you should get in a fight, but there’s fucked up people like me, that find that kind of shit entertaining. Mel Gibson does that quite a bit. You know, there’s a bunch of white men sitting around putting together gory war movies but no-one says anything because “they’re respecting veterans”. People don’t want to see girls fight that way.
Do you think you’re playing into negative stereotypes of black women?
I think I’m playing off of those. I’m very into subverting themes of pre-existing genres. Like, I’ll take a stupid rom-com that everyone knows and loves and use some of those tropes against themselves. It’s funny to me. It’s funny because nothing is just one thing, you know? Like, there’s a lot of chivalry in older rom-coms but it’s also sexist.
You tend to focus on very serious themes but you always throw in something funny, or satirical, and everyone who works with you says you’re incredibly hilarious—
Yeah, I try to be the loudest laugh in the room. I love making people laugh, especially when I’m saying some uncomfortable shit
Like sex jokes. I talk about sex a lot.
Some people think you’ve taken it too far, at least in the show.
That’s funny. I haven’t even started yet.
Why do you think the show is so polarising?
Easy. There’s like… one main white character and she’s a fucking bitch. White people don’t like that. Plus, it’s juxtaposed against a lot of black women being aggressive, making jokes about white people and slavery and racism and the government. These are all just things I think about in my head, also based on conversations I’ve had with my friends. We take the piss all the time, just because we’re black doesn’t mean we’re miserable, sometimes we just throw our hands up and say fuck it.
What do you mean?
Like, there’s things we get pissed about and there’s things we’re tired of being pissed about. Like racism.
I wrote a review of your first season and I called it a piece of work that would revolutionise black TV. A lot of people think it’s very different from what traditionally has been available and its format too feels unique, how do you accomplish something like that? You’ve said you’re very involved in multiple aspects of production.
Yeah I do a lot of things, I never fucking sleep when I’m working on that show. We try and make it looks like a movie, sometimes it feels like a webshow with how ridiculous the dialogue gets. Its intentional, I’m like, pulling your mind in different ways kind of, because some scenes are so tense and shit but then you’ll have a little break where the characters are complaining about how they can’t scratch their crotch in public.
You wrote the whole first season yourself.
What’s behind all the weird dialogue?
[shrugs] Girls always be thinking of weird shit in their heads but we don’t say them out loud. I’ve always been tired of it, and the way my head works is, I’ll be having a conversation with someone and be thinking, I can’t be the only one that just plays with my arm hair, and I’ll want to say that shit out loud, because even if everyone is like huh, I still said it you know?
If your main aim is to shock people, how long do you think that’ll last?
I feel like I could on for a very long fucking time to be honest.
I know a lot of shit that people would be interested in and shocked to hear and everyone that knows me knows that it’s just a matter of time before I start running my mouth.
Does this have to do with the disagreements with your production company?
Yeah. They tried to cancel the show like four times. They wanted me to have more white characters, I said fuck that. They sent memos round, calling me a bitch, a slut, they said some really creepy things too. They tried to steal my script, throw me out and then blackball me.
Was this before or after the Oscar?
After. No-one in this fucking industry has any respect for me anyway. They didn’t really want to give me the Oscar, or even nominate me, they thought I was misogynistic and they didn’t want the youngest black woman to win that award to be fucking… like Candace Owens or something.
So how did everyone feel about you at the Oscars?
I almost didn’t go. Not that many white actors and producers and stuff wanted to talk to me really, they kind of felt awkward about me being there, what with me being an immigrant and stuff.
People usually have a better position career-wise after winning an Oscar.
White people. Lupita didn’t get another leading role for like… what 4, 5 years? Anyway, once the script for the show got into the briefing room they started trying to kill the show. Even while we were filming they tried to kill the show. They wanted to fire everyone without pay right before the holidays. I went ballistic.
What would you say is the root of the differences between you and the execs?
They’re fucking racist. I have a bunch of friends that work with me behind the scenes, talented fucking people, but they honestly think that we don’t know what we’re doing. Which is bullshit, obviously. They don’t like that I handpicked a bunch of unknown black actors, they wanted some more big names so the show could sell itself because they were planning on giving me a shit marketing budget. I mean, they gave me a shit marketing budget.
Would that explain the trailer?
I mean yeah, kind of. We had like, no fucking money to promote this show. I had practically scraped for a teen tiny increase in the production budget. But I know that most of our viewers are black, and black people will watch shit with black people in it. So we dropped that trailer and just used social media and boom, everybody was talking about us and the execs were like oh–
What’s the hardest part about working on the show? You said you never sleep, everyone on the show says the same thing.
I usually start the day with a large coffee, bigger than my fucking face. Then I’ll be drinking monsters throughout the day, it’s really unhealthy. But I also didn’t sleep a lot during production because I would show up at the crack of fucking dawn, I’m not a morning person. I would supervise like the set-ups, the dressing of the scene, talk with my DP about what we want to achieve that day, talk with the actors when they start to show up. We’ll do a quick rehearsal, if it’s a scene that needs blocking or choreographing we’ll rehearse that. But I’m in a lot of meetings, so I have to go do those. In the nights, I’m writing. But most of the time I’m exhausted while doing it. The hardest part about working on the show, is when I’m filming and I get a fucking phone call from the execs complaining about some shit. Really, it was like war every day.
You’re even busier now, I hear. Isn’t that why you came away to Germany?
I actually was busy in London for a bit. I came to Germany to relax. But yes, I’m way busier. Ever since the show, everyone wants me to do something. There’s all these scripts and projects in my email and I’ve looked at some of them, some of them are trash. But I will be hopping on some of them in, like a not-helicopter kind of role and some of them I’m getting off the ground with other people. I still have to write my own shit though. I have to bang out like three screenplays this year because after this year, it might be a while before I return to my own shit. I mean, I still have to go back to the show.
And what about the show? You’ve been renewed for season 2, but it took a while. Do you think you might get a long run?
We’re definitely not going out after two seasons, that’s bullshit. It’s the number one fucking show in the world, you said it yourself, there’s nothing like it and we’ve worked so hard. I have like so much evidence of all the illegal shit they tried to pull to bury this show so… I’m not worried.
So what happens now?
We have almost 30 Emmy nominations for our first season, nothing happens. I won.
this is not a real interview