TBB Talks to Cornelius Walker star of Oscar-nominated short film Black Sheep

Cornelius Walker is a writer and director, known for short films A Penny For Your Thoughts (2011) and Father of Man (2017).

The short film ‘Black Sheep‘ directed by Ed Perkins is an adaptation of Walker’s experiences as a child. After the high-profile killing of Damilola Taylor in Peckham South London, 2000, Cornelius Walker’s mother in attempt to escape the violence, moved the Walker family out of London an estate in Essex.

However, without realising the Walker’s had moved to an extremely racist area resulting in young Cornelius being subjected to violence and racism. In an attempt to survive being singled out he chose to assimilate by bleaching his skin and wearing blue contacts. Filmed in the same locations where the real events took place 15 years ago, Black Sheep stars adult Cornelius retelling the story non-actors reenact key scenes of his experiences.

A touching and brave story, TBB Talks spoke to Walker about his film and what it was like going to the 2019 Academy Awards…

Introduce yourself …

Hi there, I’m Cornelius Walker a director, writer and all-round filmmaker I also consider myself a creative as I Iove so many aspects of art.

Jumping straight into it, the short film ‘Black Sheep‘ based on your experiences was nominated at this year’s Academy Awards, tell us what Black Sheep is about?

Black Sheep is about my childhood in Essex from the ages of 11-14. The documentary goes into my experiences has a child and what I did in order to fit in and adapt in a racist Essex neighbourhood.

Why was it important to bring this experience to life?

Because racism is always dealt with from the outward perspective and rarely from the internal . The pain racism causes the mind and the subconscious. I felt it was important to bring empathy to the subject of racism and share my experience hoping it will resonate and hopefully spark a conversation.

It takes some bravery to admit that you were vulnerable to the extent that you tried to change your visual appearance, this isn’t common for boys or men to admit… could you expand on this?

It was the hardest thing to do for me because I love being black, I love being Nigerian and I didn’t want viewers thinking I hated being black or I hate my race. I wanted to be vulnerable because I believe real art is drawn from vulnerability. Racism has internal effect and I just wanted to speak on it. As a man, I’ve always found it difficult to express my thoughts and feelings but I’ve learned keeping it bottled up doesn’t work for me as it eats away at my mind. I have a group of friends who make it easy to express myself and I’ve realised it helped me mentally, being free to express my feelings and I prefer to live that way.

How did you meet the director Ed Perkins and what was the involvement of the Guardian?

I met Ed Perkins through Ade Hassan. Ade became a neighbour at my office at the time. She saw my deep passion for film and suggested I meet her husband’s best friend who happened to be Ed. We met for coffee and that was the start of it all. We shot the interview first and Ed met with Charlie Phillips from the Guardian and after watching the interviews he believed in the story and brought the Guardian backing.

From 'Black Sheep'. Photo courtesy of Charlie Phillips.
From ‘Black Sheep’. Photo courtesy of Charlie Phillips.

Can you tell us about how you and Ed worked together to bring such a personal and sensitive story to life? What was the collaboration process?

Before Ed and I started filming we built a friendship. It was a lot of meeting up on a social vibe and talking about random things until bit by bit we started speaking about film. Ed understood the vulnerability of the story and how hard it was for me so he really asked for my thoughts on the visuals and made sure I was comfortable. It was a collaboration but also a friendship with mutual respect. I found it easy to work with Ed because we’re actually very similar he’s like a mentor/ big brother to me. He took this story on like it was his and that meant a lot in the collaboration process.

As mentioned, the film was nominated for a Best Short award at this year’s Academy Awards, where were you when you heard that it had been longlisted and then shortlisted?

I still can’t believe it was nominated. It feels like a dream truthfully. The Oscars have been on my mind ever since I started film. So I’m humbled and truthfully just want to create more work to get back to the Oscars. I was actually at work, in the middle of a pre production meeting when the nomination was announced. I had to hold all my emotions in to focus on the meeting as soon as the meeting was done I ran outside and screamed then later in the day my colleagues at work surprised me with champagne which I very much still appreciate.

Did you go to the Awards?

Yes! I hate dressing up smart but I made an exception for the Oscars. It was such a surreal experience. I met so many people I admire. Regina King, Mahershala Ali. I went to some of the after parties. I still can’t believe it.

If you could speak to the 11-year-old you who experienced such pain, what would you say?

It’s hard when I think about it, all that pain made me who I am. As much as I wouldn’t want to suffer that again. All that pain made me who I am. But if I could go back I would say you’re loved, you’re smart and daddy loves you he just has a bad way of showing it

What’s next for you?

What’s next for me, wow hard question. God is always in control but I’ve been talking to him and truthfully I would just like to create more. Start working on my feature film, get that into production, TV shows I would love to create and direct. Truthfully I have so much in me and I pray I just get to share that with the world. I just want to create and direct.


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