Last Sunday, Niasha and I were fortunate to have a chat via Skype with filmmaker, vlogger, and content creator, Latasha Mercer. Latasha is known more commonly on social media as JustLatasha, with over 10,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel of the same name. Latasha was born in NYC where she currently lives and is filming her web series titled Sit Black & Relax. The show follows its main character, Maya, a black woman whose story is inspired by elements of Latasha’s real-life as a woman of colour. In the series, Maya deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, and relationships while navigating through adulthood in New York. In our discussion, we learned about Latasha’s passion behind filmmaking, the challenges with making a web series on a limited budget, and the importance of black representation and storytelling in film. We also got to talk about Jordan Peele’s new film, Get Out and it’s impactful depiction of the horrors of racial oppression.
What inspired you to get into vlogging and to make videos?
“I wanted to talk about our issues but on a bigger scale,” Latasha explains. “So, I did the web series because it came from a very personal place.”
Latasha told us that much of the issues on race that she covers in her YouTube channel are based on actual arguments she’s had with her white friends in the past. She feels that making creative content can be useful for explaining her point of view about race. She even said her channel has become a useful tool for both black and white people she knows. Her videos have helped them and others to make a positive influence; learn how to build better relationships with one another.
What are some challenges with being an independent filmmaker?
“Honestly, asking people for favors – your friends, your network, everyone becomes really integral and important to helping you get your resources.”
Latasha was candid with us about the struggles to find funding and the ways she’s problem solved production issues to create her web series. She also talked about some people’s willingness to work for free so long as they feel your show is an opportunity for them to showcase their talent(s) and be part of a film project they believe in.
Visibility vs. Representation.
In your experience, who/what do you see that authentically depicts black people in television and film?
This was a topic we talked about with Latasha at length on our Skype chat. Visibility vs. Representation was the concept I used to express my observations to her on how black characters are often portrayed in TV and film.
Visibility refers to how certain film companies may cast black actors but don’t fully develop their characters, or how companies develop their black characters around harmful racial stereotypes. Their appearance on screen gives the perception of diversity. However, their character has little depth or complexity and often reaffirms common racial prejudices.
London actor, Idris Elba, has talked about his career often being cast to play the same drug dealer or thug-type characters in numerous film projects. In an interview on the CBC News show The National, Idris was asked about some of his most famous roles and if he’s been limited to roles that can only be played by a black man. Idris responded by saying how some of his roles are more complex characters than what some may seem to realize and are not simply “black characters”.
Actor Idris Elba talks about the complex characters he portrays and why they aren’t simply black stereotypes – CBC News
Representation is about characters who are played by people of colour that are more developed and display the complexities of their racial identity. These characters may also undergo certain experiences of marginalization in a way that mirrors the marginalization of that same environment or time period.
With Latasha, we talked about how there were certain black entertainers who we worried were being misunderstood or mocked for their performances in front of white audiences. Using the example of SNL cast member Leslie Jones, Latasha explained that she, at times, has struggled to watch Leslie do her work.
“…She’s authentic to us in our space. When white people give her a stage and a platform, I don’t know if they’re laughing with Leslie Jones or at her and that makes me upset…I really want to support her and I really want to see her win but I don’t know if they’re receiving Leslie in the way her comedy is supposed to be received.”
Latasha is not the only one to have shared this sentiment. In 2006, Dave Chappelle went on the Oprah show where he shared a story about a similar experience from working on The Chapelle Show. While in costume, a white crew member laughed at Dave in a way that he said made him feel very uncomfortable. That moment made him realize that certain people are watching his show who may only understand its comedic antics. However, they may not notice or understand the underlying commentary that the show makes on race relations.
However, Latasha does believe artists and filmmakers such as Barry Jenkins, Donald Glover, and Issa Rae have recently stood out as shining examples of black filmmaking in mainstream Hollywood. Their shows and movies tell authentic stories of what it means to be black in various ways that are also engaging for all audiences. Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight, won at this year’s 89th Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as Best Picture.
Has there been any feedback from your followers that has helped you improve your content?
Making a mistake on social media can be embarrassing. Latasha told us she’s had her fair share of mistakes while on YouTube and her subscribers are always there to let her know when she’s messed up. At times, her audience has corrected her on certain videos she’s made regarding issues of racial identity and intersectionality. Her followers have taught her throughout her journey as a content creator and help to expand her boundaries of knowledge. She says, “They’re teaching me too – my [YouTube] audience teaches me just as much.”
Latasha’s willingness to stand corrected has helped her to build a loyal following of viewers who feel they’re being listened too.
Jordan Peele’s Get Out: An Analysis
Earlier this March, Niasha & I saw the movie Get Out made by actor, writer, comedian, and now director, Jordan Peele. The film, which was released Friday, Feb. 24th, was filmed on a $5 million budget and, in less than a month, has already reached over $130 million in box office sales. This makes Jordan Peele the first black writer-director to have a film earn over $100 million in its box office debut. We ask Latasha about some of the observations she made while watching the film herself.
We asked Latasha,
What was something in the film that stood out to you as something you’ve experienced?
She admitted there were far too many (I can say the same for myself as well) but the first one that stood out to her was a scene in the beginning of the movie. The beginning of the film has main character Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, packing for a trip with his girlfriend Rose, played by Allison Williams, to visit her parents outside of the city. In the scene, Chris asks Rose whether or not she’s told her parents that he’s black. He suggests that this should be something worth telling them and Rose responds to him by mocking the idea; sarcastically dismissing it as something irrelevant. Latasha explained to us how Rose’s response here sparks an ongoing trend between the two characters throughout the film: Rose constantly gaslights Chris.
She noticed, at several times, Chris would bring up concerns to Rose about how he is being treated or how he feels while at Rose’s parent’s estate. Each time, Rose would fail to comfort Chris, often questioning Chris’ feelings and making him second guess himself. This puts the burden back on Chris and makes him choose to either ignore the issue or just get over it and not let it affect him. This is just one example of the many subtle and overt race issues Jordan Peele addresses in the movie.
There was much more we discussed on the movie but I don’t want to go into any spoiler territory. If you haven’t already, go see Get Out and then go watch Latasha’s deep dissection of the film on her YouTube channel – spoilers and all. Follow Latasha on YouTube, Instagram (@JustLatasha), and Twitter (@JustLatasha404), and be sure to watch her web series Sit Black & Relax.
Kelechi, Visual Director of ÉZÈ STUDIO
Idris Elba on Stepping Away from Stereotypes – http://www.cbc.ca/news/thenational/idris-elba-on-stepping-away-from-stereotypes-1.3273513
Chappelle’s Story – http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/chappelles-story