The annual New Orleans Film Festival kicks off its 30th year today so all this week I’ll be digging into the films being screened and the people behind them.
All Skinfolk, Ain’t Kinfolk debuted last year at the Doc NYC Festival and has been featured in almost 20 other festivals. Centering on the historic 2017 New Orleans Mayoral race between Desiree Charbonnet and LaToya Cantrell, the film highlights the ups and downs of the race with audio interviews from the voices of New Orleans black women, while at the same time bringing up issues of identity, history, and the relationship between politicians and their community. Last week, I met up with director Angela Tucker to speak about the film, local politics, contextualizing progress, and also some general film geekery.
David Benedetto: What got you interested initially in making a documentary about the New Orleans mayoral race?
Angela Tucker: I’ve been living in New Orleans for almost six years, and I was really intrigued by the thought that two black women were running for mayor. It seemed like such a sort of momentous occasion, and I’d never had that experience as a New Yorker, and so I was interested in talking to people about that. And then also [we were] coming off of this moment where black women did so much organizing around getting people to come out to vote and feeling like we’re being asked as black women to do so much work in terms of the electoral process, but not necessarily feeling like we had much of a voice. So I just started to have conversations with friends of mine, and then it kind of went from there.
DB: One of the things I found interesting was how you tackle the narrative of the race and also focus on centering black women’s voices when speaking about it. How did the format of the film develop?
AT: It happened organically. I didn’t really know how I was going to do it so I said, ‘OK, I’m going to do audio interviews leading up to the race and if I want to come back and do video interviews they’re all kinds of people I know, so it’s easy to do.’ And what I also did was I started gathering all of the debates, all of the PSAs, all of the campaign ads– everything I could [and] just pulling them offline and putting them in a folder. Once the election happened there was a process of going back and looking at the debates and the audio interviews and realizing, ‘Oh! Why don’t we have these women narrate this story?’
I specifically did not interview the candidates because I wanted the viewer to have the experience that a voter has. If you’re a voter it’s not like you get to go up to the candidate and ask them, ‘So, Desiree. LaToya. What are your thoughts on these things?’ [Laughing] You know? So that was a choice— it isn’t necessarily about either of them specifically, it’s more about the race on one level and also about being a black woman living in New Orleans [and] what are some of the things you’re wondering about and [how do those] come into play as you’re deciding who should represent you.
DB: There’s a lot more freedom to that, I think. Like this isn’t the official campaign narrative or something like that. Did you reach out to them after the fact?
AT: I did! LaToya has seen it and really liked it and we had a Zoom call. I’ve tried Desiree, but she’s been harder to reach. I hope to have her see it, but she knows that she can whenever she wants.
DB: One of the things I appreciated about this film was how it contextualizes these events within the larger scope of things. Like, you feature speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer and Barbara Jordan in the beginning and continue to dive into ideas surrounding what exactly representation has meant and what it means now. Could you talk about that?
AT: As a black woman when you’re going to vote you sort of have this legacy of other black women that have run for office, and you’re always sort of thinking about your ancestors. I can’t obviously speak for all black women, but I wanted to show the legacy of black women — not only fighting for the right to vote, but who have held political office. And by showing women who come from different sides of the political fence as it were, it is interesting to see the past, but also to show that as more and more women and people of color in general are running for office, we can’t keep voting and be like I’m just voting for the one black person that’s running. Which is how I really have voted until the past 15 years where I’m [now] voting differently. So I wanted to highlight that because I knew even a year ago when I made this [film, that] Kamala Harris would be running for president. And I knew we were going to have multiple black candidates, so it is kind of a nod to say that we really need to do research to decide who we really think is the best person, not just, ‘OK, I feel like I want a diverse candidate.’
A main theme of the film is what do candidates of color owe to us? That question is one that I asked everybody. We are all different [and] we just can’t assume that because someone looks like us it means that they’re going to have our ideas. Specifically with this  race, in having two black candidates it kind of forced you to get a better understanding of what they were about. But [also] in this race— and in many races in the past and for a while to come— we’re not necessarily able to understand what people’s political views are because of the news and the press not knowing how to handle having multiple black candidates. They’re kind of trying to put them in a certain mold. And, hopefully, we’ll eventually live in a moment where that will step away more and you’ll be able to better understand more OK, where do they stand on the issues that matter to me in a day-to-day way?
DB: Definitely, yeah. One of your narrators says that really well in the doc — ‘What do those people who share experiences that we have owe to us once they obtain a position of power?’ What do they become and what are the standards? Taking a step away from the doc itself, following this race so closely, have your views of Cantrell evolved or changed at all since she came into office?
AT: One of the things that was really tricky about the campaign was that it was hard to understand where people really stood because it got so mired in money that people said they owed or who they were talking to. So when Cantrell was going into office you kind of had a vague sense of what she stood for, but it wasn’t totally clear. And that’s one of the larger problem — how people engage with the candidate. I think that whoever would have won was walking into a lot of issues and the ability to discuss how they were going to handle those issues didn’t really happen. I think in some ways she’s doing well and in other ways she’s trying to navigate a complicated system that’s kind of broken. I mean, time will tell really.
DB: One of the people you interviewed mentioned this — all the candidates talk about how they’re going to fix crime, but are they really? Because you’d have to fix healthcare and education and housing.
AT: Exactly. And that’s the thing that’s really tricky. I’m still figuring that out. I think I need her term to pass to have a better understanding of how she did or didn’t do, but honestly I don’t— in this current climate— know if any candidate or Desiree [if she] had been selected, would have made all of this miraculous change happen quickly. We don’t really know.
DB: I know you’re in the tail end of promoting this film. What are some other projects you have on the horizon?
AT: I have two other things I’m working on. I’m producing a documentary series about housing segregation called The House I Never Knew. We’re still in early stages for that, but we got some funding from Sundance. And I have a film called Paper Chase that’s still in development. It’s a fiction feature film that’s about a teen house party that kind of goes array. And we will film that here [in New Orleans].
DB: What are some movies that are foundational for you or you at least that you wish more people would watch?
AT: I’m glad you asked me this because I was actually buying posters for my office at Tulane, and it made me think about this question! I wanted a poster there that says a lot about what I care about so that when students come in they get an idea of what my deal is. So Killer of Sheep by Charles Burnett is one of my favorite films. He was part of this group of black UCLA filmmakers who were making really interesting work, and it was reissued a handful of years ago, and it’s about this black family in LA with lots of slice of life moments. And it’s really beautiful, and I’ve seen it a bazillion times.
Sparkle— the original Sparkle, I just want to be clear, the one that has Irene Cara. It’s kind of like a Dream Girls-type story-line which is about a young black girl and her sister who are trying to make it in the music industry, and it was one of the few dramas or romances I had seen with black people in it as a child. And there’s great music— Curtis Mayfield does all the music. The Grace Lee Project, which is a documentary this filmmaker Grace Lee made in the early 2000’s, I think? There are a lot of Grace Lees ,so the filmmaker went on a journey to meet as many [of them] as she could, and it’s really interesting because it’s looking at Asian women’s identity, and she was able to incorporate humor and identity and identity politics, and it also exposed me to the prominent activist Grace Lee Boggs who just recently passed away.
I’m trying to think of comedies because I really love comedies and these other movies sound so fancy so everyone’s going to be like, ‘Really, Angela?’ [Laughing] You know, I love Superbad. I’ve seen it so many times, and we were really influenced by it for Paper Chase in this desire to see a black girl version of it. And I still think the Jonah Hill and Michael Cera love story is beautiful. I love that movie.
DB: And finally, what are some movies you’re looking forward to watching at the New Orleans Film Festival?
AT: I am dying to see Waves.
DB: Me too!
AT: Yes! So I am a programmer for the feature length documentaries so I’ve seen all of them already.
DB: Did you have a favorite or one you’d recommend?
AT: This isn’t a favorite, but this is a movie that people might pass by. [It’s] called Homemade which is about a veteran who’s struggling with PTSD. You might hear that and be like, ‘Oh, this feels like something I’ve seen before,’ but the filmmakers had incredible access, and there are these moments that happen in that film that are incredible. It’s a real portrait of a marriage, warts and all. The PTSD is a part of that, but it’s about this couple and how they’re managing that and falling in love very quickly, and it was one of those movies that surprised me and made me say, ‘Wow.’
Angela Tucker’s film, All Skinfolk, Ain’t Kinfolk , will be screened twice during the New Orleans Film Festival as part of the Louisiana Shorts: Sweet Home, New Orleans showcase. The first screening will be at 4:45 PM on Saturday, October 19th at the CAC’s The Ranch and again at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, October 22nd at the CAC’s TUBI Theater. Also, the film will be available to be seen on PBS sometime in 2020. More information about those NOFF screenings can be found here and more about Angela and her work can be found at www.tuckergurl.com.