My earliest memories of the movies were from the summers in Salina. The local theatre would play these Sinbad serials as matinees, and we’d all ride our bikes home afterward and play out in the street. Pirates, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, what have you. E.T. was the first ‘Hollywood’ movie I remember seeing at the theatre; the Goonies was the first film I remember trying to imitate with my friends.
Fast forward to 1989 was the number, another summer. Even in Kansas City, you couldn’t escape hearing about it. One of the best movies of the year was a story about black people, written and directed by a young black guy…
I remember the first time I saw a picture of him: he was a little guy, he wore glasses. I was a little guy who wore glasses; he didn’t look much different than me. As much as I enjoyed movies, never in my wildest dreams, had I thought, “I can do that.” Until now.
A few times in my life, I’ve found myself in the middle of a perfect storm. This would be the first time for me a series of things all seemed to happen at just the right time. First, my generation was the first to grow up with VCRs in our home. (These preceded DVRs and DVD players for any young people who might be reading this.) So if we missed a movie in the theater, we now had the ability to wait a few months and watch it at home. This is how I came to see She’s Gotta Have It, and School Daze.
The other great blessing that fell in my lap was home video cameras becoming increasingly cheap. My father always gave me more than I deserved, but his greatest gift to me was giving me the chance to fail. As I’ve gotten older, I understand that for alot of people, when they’re told “You can’t do this,” “You’re not good enough for that,” that’s it. End of story. They don’t even try to do whatever it is they want to do. I idolized Michael Jackson first, so he hooked me up with the cassette, the poster, the glitter gloves and the socks. Yes, the socks. I’ve always loved dancing, but tragically I wasn’t even passable as a singer until my mid 20s. My first sports hero was Magic. When I was two feet tall, I had a toy hoop in the basement. When he moved up to having a home with a garage, we put a regulation hoop up, and the guys in the neighborhood would come play. I had the most hideous, purple and gold, half varsity letter jacket, half turtleneck, Magic Johnson sweater ever made.
But outside of my historic triple single against Northwest for my 7th grade team (2 pts, 1 assist, 1 steal, I still remember), genetics killed my hoop dreams. When I first showed interest in filmmaking, my father decided to buy ‘the family’ a video camera. I think he used that thing 10 times. Seriously, to this day, I have no idea what my father’s favorite movie is. I know he likes westerns, that’s about it. But somewhere down the line, he decided he was going to encourage me until I figured out what I was good at. And I’m eternally grateful.
The first videos were me, my sister and cousins singing and dancing in front of our grandfather’s house. There’s a pretty good one of me, baseball cap cocked to the side, dancing to ’2 Legit 2 Quit.’ (That video will never see the light of day by the way). I did a little rapping when hip hop started taking off nationally; I started shooting the basketball games when the guys came over. Best Buy sold a little mixer, so I learned how to edit by putting the VCR and camera together and making music videos. I was getting better at it.
And could there have been a better time to be a fan of black cinema? Hollywood had jumped on the bandwagon and I was along for the ride. The main mall in Kansas City Kansas was Indian Springs; I was down there for three reasons: to get an Orange Julius, to see what dimepiece they had working in Harold Pener, and to go downstairs to catch a show. House Party, New Jack City, Juice: I saw all these on the big screen. And it was usually kids like us running the ticket counter so normally I didn’t have a problem getting in. There was one time though: my father had to take me to go see Boyz N Da Hood, which was written and directed by another little brother in glasses, who came from some school in California…
Like I said, it was a perfect storm for me personally. I found something I was passionate about and good at. I loved every minute of it.
And I still do.