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Tonya Pinkins, a Tony award winning veteran of nine Broadway shows and on-screen phenom, will be screening her debut feature film RED PILL this evening in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
The Black Wall Street Times spoke with Pinkins before the one night only screening tonight at The Aperture Cinema.
Well before rioters attacked the Capitol in 2021, Pinkins could see the writing on the wall. After an illustrious career as an acclaimed and world-renowned actor, Pinkins decided to get behind the camera for the first time and tell her own story.
Pinkins debut feature film RED PILL was shot in 2019 yet foreshadowed the January 6, 2020 insurrection and much of what is happening politically in the United States today.
When asked about her ability to conceive of a project like this before life imitated her art, she responded, “Our life depends on it, we have to be aware of reality. We don’t have the luxury of living in an illusion that everything is alright. For them, everything may be alright, but for us, it’s always precarious.”
As a woman who recently portrayed Emmet Till’s grandmother in ABC/HULU’s Women of the Movement, Pinkins understands American racism uniquely. In a role which she described as “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” she also states she felt an increased “responsibility for the art I put into the world.”
Once busy moving from set to set, Pinkins states the early pandemic allowed her, like so many others, an opportunity to sit and reflect on her life as well as the next phase of it. “My creative instinct was to always be the creator and the pandemic gave me an opportunity to focus my attention inward rather than focusing outward in getting other people’s attention,” Pinkins notes.
Even after an illustrious career which has included a wide range of roles from All My Children to The Walking Dead, Pinkins still felt like she was on the outside looking in when it came to being taken seriously as a television director. For over three years Pinkins worked to establish herself as a TV director before figuring, “I better hire myself.”
Pinkins explains it was the best decision she could have made, “It became a blessing because if someone would’ve given me a job, I would’ve spent time building someone else’s castle instead of building my own.”
When asked about advice for aspiring Black filmmakers, Pinkins dropped jewels of wisdom gained over a career of seeing and doing it for herself. “Research. Read. See who has come before you. People have made films on their Iphones. It’s been done before. Just do it, instead of talking about, do it. See how your story affects other people.”
She explained, “When it’s in your head, nobody can participate with you except listening to your story but the arts are a collaborative work. So get it out of you in a tangible form that allows other people to come together and support you. Many hands make light work. The end product will be greater than all the parts that brought it together.”
Pinkins also came with the recommendations. Right now, she is “loving, loving, loving RRR” and would like to see a similar epic story of resistance cover the Haitian Independence Movement, led by Toussaint Louverture in the late 1700s. Highlighting the power of Black creativity across the Atlantic, Pinkins also enjoys the South African TV series entitled “Justice Served” which inspires her to one day create content on the continent.
Inspired by many but confident in her own abilities, her first film is already off to a hot start. Along with a near 5-star Amazon Prime Video rating, RED PILL has also won over 20 international awards including The Reel Sisters of The Diaspora, Micheaux, Hamilton Black, Anatomy of Horror, Charleston Black film Festival, Mykonos and many others.
When speaking of RED PILL, Pinkins says she hopes “it’s a conversation starter” for those who watch it. Pinkins elaborated, “I hope it inspires people to think about what they want out of this American experiment. Do they want to fight for it or do they want to go and live somewhere else in this big wide beautiful world where they’re celebrated rather than just tolerated.”