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First time filmmaker wants to create 'authentic stories with Black actors'

Sacramento filmmaker Imani Mitchell recently debuted her first film during a virtual premiere.

SACRAMENTO, California — ABC10 is highlighting local African Americans in the Sacramento area for Black History Month. 

In 2020, we spoke with Sacramento filmmaker Imani Mitchell who had recently wrapped her first independent film, "Whirlpool." The movie, shot in Sacramento, features an all-Black cast and a multi-cultural production team. Mitchell said she is determined to create more nuanced roles for Black actors. 

Recently, Mitchell debuted the film during at a virtual premiere. We spoke with Mitchell about her creative process and what's next.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.  

How did you come up with the idea for your film?

The idea came to me three years. I was lying in bed at night and the idea of the film just popped into my mind, especially being a mother with a young child. I started to envision what if something happened and the mother passed away and the child is taken. My mind started going and from there I started creating the characters and the film. I stuck with it and wrote the script.

Have you always been a filmmaker or is filmmaking new for you?

Definitely something new. I started out as an actor in theater. I then started acting in film, but found there was a lack of diversity, a lack of roles available to Black actors and the characters lacked depth. A lot of the roles I'd get called for were either extra roles or background roles, but in theater I was being casted in leading roles. At that time, I thought I'd love to create roles for Black actors that I'd want to do. Things that have some meat to them or some grit to them, so that was a main motivation for "Whirlpool."

Last time we spoke, you just wrapped filming and were gearing up for a screening in Oak Park, then COVID-19 happened. How were you able to adjust your plans?

COVID did change things. It even delayed some of the things on the post-production end. In my mind, I'd always envisioned having a couple of screenings at the Guild and the Crest. That all went out the window. The cool thing with the virtual premiere is that we were able to have 10 times the amount of people that we could have had with an in-person screening just here in Sacramento. We were able to have it seen by so many more people. The reception has been really good. We received very positive feedback from people, saying they felt emotionally impacted, that they related to some of the characters, that they were moved or cried. 

Why was it important to feature an all-Black cast in the film?

From a representation perspective, I only want to create stories for Black actors and I also want to tell stories where it could have been a white family or Latino family because the events/issues within this film are not particular to race or culture. I think that's a big part of being Black in general. Obviously, we are Black people and we have things that impact us as Black people and things we care about. But also, we're people so we experience love, loss, betrayal and many other human emotions that a lot of other people can relate to. I want to continue telling these very relatable and authentic stories with Black actors but maybe not always the story revolves around a specific Black issue.

Now that the film has premiered, what's next?

I submitted to about 12 film festivals: Black film festivals, international film fests, women's film festivals and first time festivals. I'll be getting notified over the spring and summer. I'm excited. It will be cool to see what opportunities come from that. 

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