TBB Talks To… Writer/Director Rashida Seriki

Rashida is a BFI supported filmmaker based in London

She is an award winner director with her short The Fence picking up the New Talent Award at the BFI Future Film Festival. Her other work includes Invisible Strings, The Four and Lola. She was also selected to be part of this year’s BBC London Voices scheme. Colby is her latest project which has made its rounds a film festivals including 65th BFI London Film Festival.

Colby is about Colby who is 22, pregnant and rebelling against feeling stifled by people’s expectations of her in her pregnant body.

It was BFI Network and BBC funded project that is also a proof of concept for Rashida’s debut feature in development. The film stars Precious Mustapha (Winx, Netflix), Yasmin Monet Prince (Hanna, Amazon) and Percelle Ascott.

We spoke to Rashida about the film, who she is writing for and stamping out archaic stereotypes of women and their bodies…

Please introduce yourself

I’m a writer/director from London who focuses on writing black people into narratives that have historically excluded us, using film /tv and any kind of motion picture, really, as a tool to confront our realities, normalise our perspectives (as far as I can in all its variety) and entertain/educate with it.e

What word or sentence best describes your life right now?

On the journey.

In Colby, you address some of the fears, anxieties and reactions that come with a young woman becoming pregnant. What conversations do you hope to spark from this?

To reject standard forms of viewing pregnancy. It has women in a straight jacket and I’d like for people to reconsider what is considered appropriate or normal for a pregnant woman, or rather not try to figure it out at all.

Why was it important for you to make Colby, why this story, who is it for?

Colby is part of a bigger story but with the short I just wanted to insert a young pregnant woman into a pre-existing narrative, shifting people’s view of experiencing this story. Boy meets girl at someplace, but oh, she’s pregnant so how will their interaction play out. It is for any and everyone but I also wanted to give young parents visibility.

Precious Mustapha as Colby

Being a writer and director on a project means that you have a very clear perspective of the story and the visuals… Can you talk about how you navigated this… And how you adapted to any unforeseen changes that may have arisen? Who was your sounding board to help you step away and make objective decisions?

Luckily for me, my sounding board for this project was also someone who is one of my main sounding boards in life, the producer Kareem Adeshina. He’s a close friend of mine and I think having started out in the industry together and us having a friendship made the producer and writer/director relationship pretty seamless. The strong foundation annulled any fear of keeping it real. Like, I wanted to shoot on film, and he was very blunt in saying we just did not have the budget for it and encouraged me to focus on the stylistic elements we needed to tell the story and not choose style over substance. Equally, there was a lot he protected me from and chose not to discuss with me during the development and production process so I could focus on the creative.

When we are introduced to Colby she seems to be quite defensive and dismissive we later learn the reason, but why did you choose to portray the character in this way instead of maybe a more outwardly vulnerable young woman?

It was the realistic choice for me. She’s hyper-aware of the preconceptions the vast majority have, the biases that have been normalised in society, so her way of sheltering herself and her desire for autonomy is to be a bit on the defensive. I guess it’s that thing of if you make yourself unapproachable to outside opinion then you won’t get it. That being said, she’s an aggy babe in general, that was one of her character traits. The defensive black woman has been vilified and I don’t like that.

You have a small but great cast that includes Percelle Ascott and Yasmin Monet Prince how did you go about getting the right people cast, what was the process?

It was the right project for Percelle Ascott to come on board as someone I’d been in contact with every now and again for a while. Same with Precious Mustapha, I’d worked with her briefly before and felt she’d be perfect as the lead so I reached out to her. Yasmin Monet Prince was a suggestion from Percelle and then she turned out to be the perfect fit. Nina Jade Jaspaul was a suggestion from Kareem, and she equally turned out to be great. It ended up all being through pre-existing relationships.

The film is a BFI Network and BBC funded project and will be developed into a longer-form project, firstly congratulations and secondly how did this all happen?

It was a feature idea before it was a short film that I’d been developing with the BFI’s early development fund, then as part of that process came the idea to make a proof of concept, introduce the main characters to the world and see if my target audience is receptive to them. We applied to the short film fund, got some money, felt it needed more and the BBC bought into the world and the characters as a standalone film which was great.

L-R Yasmin Monet Prince, Nina Jade Jaspaul & Precious Mustapha – COLBY

What can we expect from the feature film will it be more of Colby’s back story or will we be seeing her navigate life as a mother?

It’s actually set entirely in the hospital over the course of a week so the short is more of a prelude to what comes in the feature.

What about your journey, how and why did you want to become a writer and director?

I always knew I wanted to do some sort of storytelling, whether it was becoming an author or lyricist… but eventually, I chose screenwriting after watching Beasts of the Southern Wild and how that moved me, educated me, and my interest in directing grew from there a couple of years into exploring screenwriting.

Alongside the feature, are you working on anything else?

I’m completing my MA in Black British Literature at Goldsmith’s, I’m near the end of the 2-year journey so that’s taking up a lot of my time. I just completed the Royal Court Writer’s Programme and am writing my first play. I also have some TV ideas in development with production companies but mostly I’m just writing and working towards the goal of getting my first feature done and hopefully a first block directing a TV Series.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…

  • A book you have to have in your collection? The Fat Lady Sings by Jaqueline Roy.

  • A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Can’t pinpoint and this is so nonspecific, but it would be something Frank Ocean or Solange or J Cole or Kano.

  • A film/TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Beasts of the Southern Wild.

  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance, or concert)? Hang by Debbie Tucker Green which was a play about crime and justice, and I was just entirely persuaded. I was like 19 and remember just entirely buying what she was saying about morality and feeling Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s anger and thinking, how did she get there? How was she so viscerally convincing – was it the direction? The script? Just her? It introduced me to the power of performance storytelling.

  • What has made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad and mad go to Boris and his government cooking up new ways to be performers of bad comedy, and glad is just life, it’s Ramadan, I’m a Muslim woman fasting and reminded of my privilege even if it doesn’t outwardly look like it.

Colby is available to watch now on Youtube

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