Actor and filmmaker Aisha Evelyna‘s new thought-provoking film Alex illustrates the realities of racism that black women face everyday.
Alex is a short film following a Black woman named Sydney on a seemingly regular afternoon, shopping at a hip boutique with her friend Madi. Sydney finds herself uncomfortable as Alex hovers, paying her extra attention in an unsavoury way. Despite this, Madi excitedly goads Sydney into trying a few things on with her.
In the fitting room, a disheartened Sydney tries a “nude” bralette on that doesn’t match her skin tone. Feeling othered, she sucks up her feelings of dismay and leaves the fitting room. All is well as she waits for Madi to get dressed, until Alex claims Sydney’s fitting room is missing an item: the bralette. With the accusation of theft, Sydney’s worst nightmare comes true. Things escalate in a way none of them would have ever imagined, leaving the trio of women forever changed by the afternoon.
Alex recently screened at the 2022 Austin Film Festival in October and at the 2022 Whistler Film Festival this past November.
I had the opportunity to chat with Aisha about exploring the nuances of implicit bias and performative allyship, her biggest challenge in the industry, and what’s next.
Kat: What does it mean to you, to have your feature Alex screened at the 2022 Austin Film Festival and the 2022 Whistler Film Festival?
Aisha: OH MAN. It means the world. I’ve always dreamed of screening work at both Austin and Whistler and to know that I will be screening work at both festivals THIS YEAR, with a newly funded feature– It reminds me that with hard work and consistency, dreams really can come true.
Kat: The feature centres around the story of a Black woman Sydney on a seemingly regular afternoon, shopping at a hip boutique with her friend Madi when things escalate illustrating the realities of racism and what she regularly experiences in 2022 as a black woman. Why was it important to you to tell this story?
Aisha: In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, with all the feeling and the hurt, I was really inspired by how people rallied behind the idea of change– but I also felt that in many ways the support was misguided. Many of us were posting to socials, and talking about the rise of the BLM movement non stop, and I too was guilty of this– but I think within these conversations, though informed, many of us were feeling quite powerless. We also failed to realize this movement is not “new”. Before George Floyd, there was Philando Castile, and before him, Trayvon Martin was murdered. The BLM Organization is almost a decade old. I thought it was important to remind audiences of how deeply ingrained racism has always been in our society, even in places you’d least expected. I used my personal experiences as a window to share that a) racism is not new and that b) in 2022 racism has taken on a different shape. I also felt that making this film was a means to show us all how we can make meaningful change in small ways by simply challenging where our judgments of others stem from. If a judgement is a thought, and we know thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to actions, be they good or bad– My hope is that if this film can intervene with our judgements, then maybe we change change the way we react or feel about others, and this will hopefully lead to people acting from a space of empathy, goodness, and compassion, rather than fear and hatred.
Kat: You hope the film explores the nuances of implicit bias and performative allyship; shifting focus from individuals to a space where we begin to question the overarching systems that we are complicit within. Can you share a little more about this, and what you hope the audience takes from the film?
Aisha: It’s become really easy to be complacent in today’s age when it comes to action around racism and discrmination.We can post a black square to our instagram and a) feel like we’ve made a contribution to something meaningful, and b) align ourselves with the “good guys” who hate racism. I made this film to remind audiences that it’s not so simple. Discrimination still lives in modern liberal circles, and is more difficult to eradicate because this kind of discrimination is more systemic and slight as opposed to overt displays of racial discrimination that most people find abhorrent. I made this film to remind audiences that we are all complicit within oppressive systems, and to ask us to look inward in how we can move toward thoughtful, action based, change when it comes to implicit bias and performative allyship.
Kat: What has been your biggest challenge thus far in the entertainment industry?
Aisha: As a performer it has been a long journey toward auditioning for the kinds of roles that suit me and my skill set, which is partly why I started writing roles for myself. Now, I’m proud to say that the kinds of auditions I get really excite me and feel meaningful, but performing is so competitive. I’ve had many close calls when it comes to really huge roles, and so from here, the biggest challenge that I face is consistently smiling in the face of rejection. Some days are easier than others, but generally I am still exceptionally grateful for where I am today.
Kat: Do you have any role models or mentors that you look to for inspiration?
Aisha: As far as role models- I’m always talking about Michaela Coel because I’m obsessed with her, but when it comes to mentors and people who have helped me along the way I’m struck by my adoration and gratitude to Canadian filmmakers and artists like Tonya Williams, Molly McGlynn, Anthony Q Farell, Liz Whitmere, and my best buddy and producer, Natalie Novak Remplakowski.
Kat: What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2022?
Aisha: Firstly – it’s so crazy to me that we’re now in the tail end of 2022. Jeeze louiseee did it whiz by. I’d say that I’m looking forward to Austin, and Whistler, getting into post on my series THE DROP, prepping for my feature film SEAHORSE, rewrites on my pilot script for a limited series I have in partnership with the Canadian Academy and Warner brothers, and lastly – REST. I’ve been going H.A.M. for the last two years and I’ve accomplished some really great things, but I’m the most excited for a winter vacation in the sun so I can rest and recharge for 2023.