Director Naomi Grant paints fearless pictures for artists with a vision
Naomi Grant is a writer, filmmaker and freelance journalist living and working London
Last year, Grant was one of five unsigned British directors to win a place on Three Minutes – Crack Magazine’s incubator scheme funding five music videos by rising talents. The scheme is produced in association with our production company Ground Work and made possible by Burberry, Shure and BFI NETWORK. The project has also received funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.
By no means a complete newcomer, Grant’s filmmaking endeavours started at the age of 18. Now 23, the past five years have seen her lead multiple projects which offer intricately-sketched portraits of the Black female experience. Through her work as a founding member of the artist collective, LAMBB (Look At My Black Beauty), Grant uses the medium of film to explore the themes of womanhood, Blackness, and their intersection, seeking to “redefine images of Black and brown people in the media, by creating content that authentically represents their stories, and provides a platform for their voices.”
Her contribution to the Three Minutes music video scheme stands testament to her merit, and sees her develop the rich, dream-like quality which has become synonymous with her identity as a filmmaker.
© Jerry Dobson
At age 14, Infinite Coles made his debut at the Wu-Tang house, where he performed a rendition of O’ Holy Night to an audience compiling members of the infamous rap group. Crediting his uncle and visionary leader of the group, RZA, for inspiring his music taste, Infinite’s own soul-stirring releases reflect the soundtrack he grew up on: from Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye to more recent artists such as FKA twigs and The Internet.
Undergirding Infidel is a narrative of suffocation and strife, but it is ultimately a sense of triumph that prevails. A choir of backing singers reinforces Infinite’s hypnotic vocals which, despite their mournful tone, deliver the defiant message: ‘I’m not gonna hide’. “Naomi understood the assignment!” Infinite told us via email, “When we spoke I told her exactly what I wanted and she shared her vision and it all just went perfectly together. I really appreciate her artistry and I appreciate her taking the time to listen to what my vision was. That’s important to me… Naomi is everything and more.”
Shot in a cavernous warehouse setting, the Infidel music video is a poignant depiction of the journey to self-discovery and the confusion and isolation that come with it. Watch the video in the player above and read on to find out more about the project from Naomi herself.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into filmmaking?
At the age of 15 I discovered [African-American filmmaker] Ava Duvernay. She really inspired me because, although I had always been intrigued by filmmaking, the idea seemed very far-fetched for someone like me. I wanted to find my footing in the industry without having to follow a path that society already had laid out for me. So, when I was 18 I took a gap year and made my first documentary which explored the issue of colourism in the UK. Seeing the impact that the documentary had on its viewers, and gaining an appreciation of film’s capacity to break through barriers, was ultimately what sparked my lasting interest in direction.
Can you tell us a bit more about LLAMB, the artist collective you form part of?
Funnily enough it began as a hair brand. My sister and I would just post images of Black girls with natural hair – something we noticed was quite rare at the time – and gradually it grew into a platform for people of colour to tell their stories. So often we hear our own stories being told back to us, our culture being commodified and repackaged as something else. LAMBB grew out of a desire to create a space for people to regain autonomy over their personal narratives.
Let’s talk about the music video you directed for Infinite Coles. This project was pretty different to the stuff you’ve previously worked on with LAMBB. How did you find the switch-up?
Yeah, it was a major switch-up. It was really cool to have the chance to work alongside a producer who could coach me and help me refine my ideas. It was also crazy to arrive at the set and see all these people from different departments creating this world that I, myself, had imagined.
How important is it that people can detect your artistic identity in the worlds you create through film? For example, does it matter to you whether or not someone who consumes your work is able to say: ‘that’s a Naomi Grant piece’?
Definitely, and that visual identity is something I’m still trying to carve out. In the past, I’ve felt a lot more comfortable working with my own writing, so directing the Infidel music video gave me the opportunity to be guided by someone else’s lyrics and really hone in on my visual style. I wouldn’t want to limit myself by it, but it’s certainly important that my own identity is reflected in the work I produce.
What was your personal response to Infidel when you first heard it?
I was very moved by it. When I first listened, I heard a lot of pain. But, after a while I began to get a sense of overcoming and celebration, which definitely fed into the music video’s narrative.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the music video. Apart from looking to other filmmakers like Duvernay, what does the planning process entail for you?
For the most part, I’m driven by the song’s content. I began by listening to it on repeat, scribbling down all the words and themes that it evoked, and ultimately letting this imagery inform my direction. The opportunity to release a director’s cut also gave me scope to hone in on my personal response to the song’s narrative.
As a viewer, I was definitely struck by the interplay of the video’s slow-moving, sensual aspects, and the sense of entrapment lent to it by the (literal) smoke and mirrors. Can you comment on some of the technical decisions you’re most pleased with? Let’s start with the lighting.
I wanted the transition from the cold blue tones to the warmer yellow tones to contribute to the interplay between these themes of isolation and glamour; pain and overcoming. I also chose the yellow light because I love the way that warm tones compliment brown skin, and because it highlighted the humanity of the protagonist, who is a mother as well as a pole dancer.
Reflecting on it now that it’s come to an end, what was your favourite part of the entire process?
It would have to be the final stages. Although I fed off everyone else’s energy throughout the process, I barely even sat down! It was hard for me to be excited until I could see that it was all coming together. But when it did, it was incredibly gratifying.
What doors do you feel Three Minutes has opened for you?
I’ve participated in quite a few schemes which are aimed at young people, but this one felt different. The support felt really genuine and I’ve received a lot of aftercare since. I’ve always been somewhat hesitant to claim the role of director because, as I said before, I’d never really seen many directors who look like me. Seeing so many people invest faith into one of my ideas has been a huge confidence boost!
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I’m actually working on another short film at the moment which I hope to release on Crack Magazine next month! Keep your eyes peeled for that.