Critically acclaimed playwright Somalia Nonyé Seaton has branched into the filmmaking space.
Her debut film A Response To Your Message was inspired by the resurgence of BLM protests. The film features an open letter from Seaton, to her white friends and colleagues who got in touch with her in the wake of George Floyd’s death and is read by actress Susan Wokoma (Truth Seekers, Enola Holmes, Chewing Gum).
A Response To Your Message is a ritual film, exploring the many depictions of free Black Womxn. They are dancing, running, relaxing, existing in motion, reclaiming space for joy, and tenderness. The film features over 45 intergenerational black womxn, including actors, artists, dancers, and performers, and is a visual celebration of black womxn engaged in Joy As An Act Of Resistance.
We spoke to Somalia about the film, its message and how it both bridged and broke the gap between some of her closest friends …
Hey Somalia, please introduce yourself?
British born, Nigerian Jamaican, Londoner. I tell stories, some for stage, some for screen.
Share a word or sentence that best describes your life right now …
Your work has been mostly in theatre, what made you want to explore this topic through short film?
In a lot of ways, it was pretty organic, I didn’t give it a huge amount of over intellectualising. It needed to be experienced in this medium. I trusted that. The many restrictions of this time have meant that I, like many have needed to push further outside of my comfort zone, I don’t know if I would have made my first film this year if it wasn’t for the circumstances we all find ourselves in.
Your letter really beautifully sums up so many feelings that I’ve had over the past few months, was it cathartic to write?
Thank you. Honestly, it really was. I don’t think I fully understood how integral it was for my healing over the last few months. I wrote this during an (unplanned) three-month break from talking to some of my closest white friends. The paradigm shifts this year meant that new language needed space to form before we spoke, as I say in the film, in a lot of ways the old world has been set alight. We could no longer speak with the language of the old world. I needed incubation. I wrote this for myself, an amalgamation of some of my feelings and thoughts, and some I had intuited for and from others.
I actually wrote to three of my white friends in September, breaking my silence. Two of them had really taken that opportunity, to further investigate whatever they needed to, in order to show up as, even more, evolved members of my soul family, and I theirs. The third ‘friend’, along with her family members sent me the vilest and emotionally violent response, which I am so grateful for actually, because my word, imagine bringing that energy along for the rest of your journey? I refuse to share the contents of that message and experience. They were mad that I had burst their ‘Good White Person‘ narrative, I suggested they stay mad.
Susan Wokoma delivers an excellent performance, reading your letter with raw emotion – how did you cast her?
The wonder and Magick, that is the most generous, loving, and caring Susan Thee Wokoma. I met Susan when I had been burned by one agent and was looking for another. She didn’t know me, but she slid into my DMs and offered help and kind words. I share this, because to this day that’s still what she does, she pays attention to those around her, always looking for ways to Pay It Forward, to remind those privileged enough to know her that she will extend her arms and her heart in any way she can. This process was exactly that. I’d written this letter, and I shared it with her as a friend, and she responded by recording a voice note of her reading it out loud and text it to me. She had connected with it and felt moved to speak it out loud. From there I couldn’t hear it in any other voice and was so humbled that she gave of herself and her time to do this for me and the film. She’s a true champion.
The film is undoubtedly heavy in terms of subject matter but a lot of the visuals are really joyful, how important was it for you to depict Black Joy onscreen?
The heaviness comes as a result of existing in white-majority spaces, that require us to quantify our existence. It’s damaging, and it’s boring. I stay screaming, Joy As An Act Of Resistance, all day every day. Our nervous systems deserve it. Black People deserve it. Black Womxn deserve it. Our nervous systems need conscious interruptions to the systemic violence we consume and experience on loop in the west, as a people, and I wanted to create something that could soothe us, visually.
A lot of the film takes place outside, in nature, is there a symbolism to this or was it a product of restrictions at the time of filming?
We deserve the space and time, to respond to the wild calls from our ancestors, and wander out into the wilderness, to reconnect with the mystic vibrations of nature. We deserve that. Nature gives us so many answers when we allow ourselves space to get still, go inwards, and listen. In the film, the omnipresent young black girls lead us deep into the wilderness to unearth all that we have buried in order to survive spaces that have excluded our blackness.
From the contents of your letter I can see that you share some of my cynicism about white people’s summer of anti-racism this year, though in spite of this do you feel hopeful about the future?
Oh, I am eternally hopeful. This is a time of abundance. Yes grief, despair, heartache, and uncertainty exist, though this is a time of abundance also. We as a global community continue to organise and galvanise. We’re not playing. Old structures are being burned down, and people are pulling up, dragging their own damn selves, unlearning, growing. There is a lot of work to do, yes. And also, We Move.
At the end of the film, you tell us to release our jaws, drop our shoulders, and take a deep breath. How have you been making space for relaxation in this ridiculously difficult year?
It’s a journey. I start fresh each day. I believe in the importance of rituals, and allowing room to respond to my needs on each individual day. Some days I want to meditate morning and night, some days I want to journal, spend time with my ancestors and tarot cards. Some days I want to give myself Reiki, and other days I want to eat a whole box of chocolate and stay in bed. My aim is to continue building my toolbox, dipping in and pulling out what my body, mind, and spirit need on any given day.
Covid-19 has obviously had a huge effect on the arts, do you feel like it has impacted your own creative expression?
I don’t believe it to be possible, for it to have not. It’s a devastating time, though this is also exactly the time that artists call each other to arms.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
- A book you have to have in your collection – Candice Brathwaite’s I Am Not Your Baby Mother.
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date – There isn’t one. There is, however, an album that defines the soundtrack of my current cycle; Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged No.2
- A film / TV show that you will watch whenever it’s on repeatedly – I don’t really watch things repeatedly. I like closure 😉
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you – Panto with my Grandad, and I cannot remember which one, though what’s most integral about this was the fact that I was introduced to live theatre via my Jamaican Grandfather, amongst a sea of white faces. We giggled loudly the whole way through, I remember looking up at his cheeks.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week: Sad– missing my nephew’s third birthday in London, because of COVID. Glad- That I had space to take really long walks this week
A Response To Your Message is available to watch online at www.aresponsefilm.com or on socials @aresponsefilm on 1st December