With more than 250 submissions (which we are still combing through), HelloBeautiful is ready to launch our “Ladies First Film Series!”
The goal of our new series is to amplify the voices of talented and emerging storytellers who have something meaningful to say about what it means to be Black and female in this world and the issues we often face in society.
Our first film comes from HelloBeautiful’s very own contributing writer Kellee Terrell.
Just in time for Halloween and the first anniversary of the #MeToo Movement, Terrell’s Blame is a supernatural drama that tackles sexual assault in the Black community.
This award-winning thought-provoking short asks the following question: “What would you do if you found out that your son was a rapist?”
Blame centers on Jason, a young working class father, who finds out that his recently MIT-admitted son and his friends gang raped Lala, a friend who lived next door.
Given that Lala killed herself shortly after the attack and that the only proof of her assault is a video on the son’s cell phone, Jason finds himself in the midst of a moral dilemma. Haunted by Lala’s ghost, he spends the day deciding whether to delete the video to ensure his son’s promising future or turn his namesake into the police.
Blame is a complicated and powerful tale that embodies how sexual assault, victim blaming, race and upward mobility collide.
We sat down with Kellee to discuss what inspired this film, why we need to have more informed conversations about rape and consent in the Black community and why she loves the horror genre.
HelloBeautiful: So, Blame is amazing, but pretty heavy. Why was this the film you wanted to make?
Kellee Terrell: Thank you, thank you.
So I made Blame as my thesis film for my MFA from film school. So with that, I knew i wanted this project to make a real bold statement, to have something important to say and make people think. That’s what I do as a journalist with my articles and op-eds, so my art shouldn’t be any different.
At that time we were developing ideas for our thesis scripts, the Steubenville rape trial has been going on and I remember watching it on the news being so disturbed about how the folks in this working-class town rallied around these football players and blamed the victim. I was disgusted.
But it haunted me. And I found myself wanting to understand how in towns like that one, where all of the hope is planted in these boys, how easy it is to turn one’s back on the actual victim. I just wanted to know how these people were and Blame was born out of that curiosity.
HB: It’s interesting that you made Deb, the mother, the one who did the victim-blamed, while the father was more empathetic to Lala being raped.
KT: I did that intentionally. I think we often believe that men are the only ones that victim-blame, slut shame or protect violent men. But that’s just not the case. Just go ask Lil Mo or Remy Ma or all the women that still defend Bill Cosby and R. Kelly.
We all know a Deb that for whatever reason has internalized sexism and has been trained to protect men and boys at all costs, even if that means throwing Black women and girls under the bus. On Twitter, we call them the “Pick Me” women.
But I also want to say that in Blame, despite all of her ugliness, Deb is still this layered and complicated character. This is a woman who had her son when she was only 15, sacrificed her dreams to give him a better life and I believe in her mind, was fighting for her son’s life and for everything she gave up to not be in vain. So yeah, it’s complicated.
And while I personally can’t stand Deb [laughs], it’s important as a director to not judge your characters on the page or on set. My job is present a robust and nuanced story that allows the audience to make up their own minds about what they think about this family and their actions.
HB: Given that you made this film a while ago, it’s still so relevant. Are you surprised by that?
KT: Sadly, no. Sexual assault has always been in our lives, from slavery to present day. It wasn’t like when I made this back then, I was like “Well, now, we never have to talk about rape again. Problem solved!”
We’ve seen with the Cosby trial, and R. Kelly and the #MeToo Movement that sexual assault is a persistent act an violence that affects almost every woman. You know, I don’t know a woman who hasn’t been raped or doesn’t know anyone who was raped. And yet, as a community, we still don’t talk about it enough. We act like this is a white person’s issue.
And when we do talk about rape, the conversations are often riddled with such hate for women or serious misunderstandings about consent, it’s mind boggling. But I will say, we’ve taken some steps forward, but we have a lot of work to do. I’m just proud that Blame can be part of that progress.
HB: Blame didn’t have to be a horror film. It could have been a straight up family drama. Why the supernatural element?
KT: So for me, Blame had to have a supernatural element. I’ve been a fan of horror films since I can remember and when I got to film school, it became clear that I was meant to make scary art and to make horror that has a social message.
Having LaLa be that spooky element was important to me. Not only did it raise the stakes for the father, but I think it captivated the audience, making them lean closer into the story. But most importantly, Lala being this silent ghost, represents the reality of how too often rape victims don’t have a voice, or silenced and aren’t always seen by those around them.
HB: Jason Blum, the head of Blumhouse Films and a producer for Get Out recently came under fire for tone deaf comments about how there aren’t many women directors interested in horror? Any thoughts on that?
KT: Uh yeah…He’s dead ass wrong. [Laughs] There are plenty of female directors, especially Black women and women of color, who live, breathe and create horror films. Most of that work may be short films like Blame, but we’re here, trying to either get our first features made or be considered to work on features.
But to say that there’s a lack of interest on our side quite frankly pisses me off. It also shows how often men, especially white men who are gatekeepers in this industry, are so out of touch about the talent pool out there. They just hire who they know and who they know is usually men, mostly white men.
And yes, I saw that he apologized and met with women directors to make some type of amends. But I’d love to know how many of those women in that room were women of color. If anyone knows, come holler at me. Because if white women are having a hard time breaking down doors in Hollywood, you know how hard it is for folks like me.
HB: So, what’s next for you?
KT: Well, I just moved to Los Angeles in October to finally get serious about my film career. I would love to write for TV…TV is where it’s at. My dream would be to write for Jordan Peele’s new Twilight Zone show or The Walking Dead or Claws–I can do more than horror too now! [Laughs] I’d also really love to work on the show Pose. It’s so amazing, it’s one of the best drama on TV right now.
But until i get staffed somewhere, right now it’s about doing the work. Finishing my scripts, getting my portfolio together, getting stronger as a writer and strengthening my skill set. Right now I’m working on the rewrite of my Black lesbian horror ghost script called Gemma. It centers on Zora, a Black lesbian grieving the death of her pregnant wife. She moves into an isolated rural Wisconsin farmhouse and befriends a lonely female ghost haunting the estate. The two grow close over time, but the spirit lashes out when the woman finds a new girlfriend.
HB: That sounds pretty dope!
KT: I think so too. [Laughs] It’s just an exciting time right now. I’m optimistic about what my future holds.
Follow Kellee on Twitter @kelleent.
BEAUTIES: Our next Ladies First film will drop in a few weeks, so stay tuned….