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Arts and Entertainment

The horror: Tonya Pinkins helms socio-political terror flick ‘Red Pill’
Movie shows at Charlotte Black Film Festival
Published Wednesday, June 9, 2021
by Ashley Mahoney

Tonya Pinkins directs the socio-political horror film “Red Pill,” which will be shown at the Charlotte Black Film Festival June 15-25.

Tonya Pinkins crafted a horror film to dive into the Black experience in the United States.

Her socio-political horror film “Red Pill” will be featured in the Charlotte Black Film Festival, which runs June 15-25. Pinkins is a Tony Award winner who appeared in nine Broadway productions as well as in TV shows like “Gotham,” “Madam Secretary” and “Fear of the Walking Dead.”

“Red Pill” marks Pinkins’ debut as a writer and director. She also plays the protagonist, Casandra, who heads to rural Virginia with a group of friends to help get out the vote leading up to the 2020 presidential election.

“This was the first time I ever did that many roles on something,” Pinkins said. “Because I also financed the film, I had the final, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on everything. I did not have to cater to anybody's whims or wishes, but I certainly got lots of feedback from lots of people from lots of ages, cultures. The biggest lesson I learned, which I tell creators all the time, is when someone tells you they do not like something about your work, if that resonates with you, then probably you should fix it.

“But sometimes someone does not like something about your work and that tells you something about them.  In my work, I'm not interested in making work that people just sit and smile and go ‘oh my god, have a good time.’ I am interested in making work that makes people question themselves, makes people uncomfortable, maybe irritate them a little.”

The 87-minute film also cast Rubén Blades (“Fear the Walking Dead”), Catherine Curtin (“Homeland,” “Stranger Things,” “Orange is the New Black”), Kathryn Erbe (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”), Colby Minifie (“I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Boys”), Luba Mason (Broadway’s “Girl From the North Country”), Adesola Osakalumi (“Across the Universe,” Enchanted) and Jake O’Flaherty (TV’s “Shameless” and “Lethal Weapon”).

Pinkins won Outstanding Direction of a Feature at the 2021 Micheaux Film Festival in Los Angeles. “Red Pill” has won over 15 awards, including Best First Feature and Best Black Lives Matter Film at the Mykonos International Film Festival, Best Black Lives Matter Feature at the Barcelona International Film Festival, Best Screenplay of a Feature Film and Best Female Director at the Five Continents International Film Festival, Best First Feature at the Lulea International Film Festival and Best Feature at the Amsterdam International Awards.

Pinkins made a point of submitting “Red Pill” to Black film festivals. It was accepted by the Charlotte Black Film Festival, Hamilton Black Film Festival and Pan African Film Festival.

“I wanted to apply to as many Black film festivals as possible, knowing my perspective and my experience is not something all Black people share, and fully expecting every Black film festival would not embrace it,” she said. “I got to have one screening of it with some friends in Mississippi, and I think that there are things in my film that are kind of hush hush, that Black people only speak about privately, and so there is a little danger in it, but at the same time it is also sort of radically in your face. Hopefully it will inspire other artists, like, ‘she did that. She said that. I can tell a little bit of my truth.’”

When Pinkins predicted Donald Trump would win the 2016 presidential election, she was treated with contempt and told there was no way possible. As the 2020 election approached, she turned to art as a safe space to express herself.

“It was actually very frustrating before the 2016 election, because I felt like, ‘are people this blind?’” Pinkins said. “I was so upset. By the time we got to 2020 I was like ‘well you know I already know how it’s gonna go, how can I use my art. Can I make a story and put it in a story and then when people say it’s so far-fetched, it’ll be fine because it’s like I’m making a fantasy story or a futuristic story and that is how people responded to the script, but for me, it was a way to creatively express what I was experiencing.

“I am so grateful that I did it and I think that it's what I need to do going forward with the things that I feel and see. Just put it in the art.”

Art offers a way for Pinkins to cope, but it also tells her what she needs to know about her audience.

“Whenever I am in a tough spot I think, ‘well, what can I make out of it?’” Pinkins said. “Then I feel like the art speaks for itself, so I do not have to speak about it anymore. Either you see it, and it is a fantasy, and it is ridiculous, or you see it, and you are like, ‘oh my God, I know the truth of it.’ The art stands and people's response to it tells me more about them than it tells me about the work.”

Pinkins chose horror as her storytelling vessel for the fantastical element, but also, because it is her favorite genre. She watches five to 10 horror movies a week, sometimes before bed, because they help her relax.

“It should just be a fun scary ride because that is what horror is, but for people who are kind of nerds like I am there is no image or symbol or metaphor in it that does not have meaning and is not rooted in something real. People could do all course on all the symbols and images in the story.”

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