American Black Film Fest 2020 Women Directors: Meet Chyna Robinson – “No Ordinary Love”

Director, writer, and producer Chyna Robinson made her film debut with “Greenwood: 13 Hours,” a short that won 18 awards. “No Ordinary Love” marks her feature debut. In addition to narrative projects, Robinson has worked as a director on several commercial projects, and recently penned the pilot for a television sitcom.

“No Ordinary Love” will screen at the 2020 American Black Film Festival, which takes place August 21-30.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

CR: “No Ordinary Love” is the story of two women who find their once ideal marriages have taken a toxic turn. Tanya’s husband can’t handle the stress of his career, and their relationship turns from warm kisses and date nights to a fight for her life. Elizabeth has an ideal life, or so she thinks. As her charming husband of over 20 years continues to manipulate her, she begins to think she’s losing her mind.

As the women’s lives become intertwined, they plot to leave, but their escape may be a deadly one.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

CR: I had the opportunity and the freedom to create a layered story about relationships with complex characters that the audiences could relate to. My inspiration for this romantic thriller came as I interviewed 23 women about their toxic relationships and their courageous decisions to get out.

I was also inspired by our executive producer’s passion for the project.

W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?

CR: I want people to think about how they don’t know what another person’s lived experience is, and to pause before judging someone’s situation. Things aren’t always what they seem.

I want them to consider their own intimate relationships in the context of the women and their relationships in the film they just spent an hour-and-a-half watching.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

CR: I think the biggest challenge was the transition from making a short film to making a feature. I anticipated the significant jump in budget, but you can’t understand how tired you are after two weeks of 14-hour days until you experience it. This, after months of long hours in pre-production, and then five to six months of late nights in post-production, is physically and mentally taxing. It is challenging, but it is fascinating and incredible, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made. 

CR: As a Black female filmmaker, we are last on the list to receive money from investors. We have to find a way to make things happen, and that’s exactly what we did.

The bulk of our budget was private funding. My EP and I believed so heavily in this film that we had no problem making phone calls and asking for money, favors, and in-kind donations. If we were to put a number to the favors and in-kind, our budget would look a lot different on paper.

W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

CR: I think it was a mixture of things. I started reading novels in the first grade. I’d get in trouble for staying up and reading with a flashlight under my covers. The adventures and the characters in those books made me want to create my own adventures and characters.

“The Last Dragon” and “The NeverEnding Story” were my favorite movies as a child. I would watch them, and any Michael Jackson video, over and over again.

I wanted to tell those kinds of stories: Black stories, fantasies, comedies, musicals like “School Daze” — the list goes on.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

CR: The best advice I ever received was to finish the script. I’d written a stage play and I got to the end and came up with 20 reasons to not just finish. My mentor at the time told me to finish it and then put it on stage. I did, the audience loved it, and I never looked back.

The worst advice would be to wait until you have the budget you want to make the perfect film you want. I’d still be waiting if I listened to that advice.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

CR: Educate yourselves. You never know when you’ll get the opportunity to step into “the room.” There are so many free resources available. You just have to take the time to use them. It may mean giving up Friday nights, or saying no to taking that trip, but if this is what you want, do it.

Filmmaking is not easy, and it’s not cheap. There are people eating bologna sandwiches and cereal every night to make their films. What are you willing to sacrifice?

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

CR: Just one? Yikes. My favorite films are those with strong stories that live with you forever, but you continue to watch them. The characters are complex and endearing; you genuinely care about what happens to them. Of course, aesthetics weigh heavily as well.

It’s a toss-up between four films that are all the things I love, plus their own special something. The tender simplicity in Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere,” the costuming in Amma Asante’s “Belle,” the culture and scenery in Niki Caro’s “Whale Rider,” and the meaningful camerawork in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “Beyond the Lights” make it impossible to choose.The directorial choices in each were masterclasses for me.

W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?

CR: Life during the pandemic has been interesting. I’m a filmmaker, but I am also a wife and mother. All of a sudden, I had a full house every day. We are quarantining completely so we are together all day, every day. On top of COVID, the protests for Black lives are happening on a tremendous level across the globe. There has been a mixture of good and not-so-good. We have had days of frustration here, but we have also been able to spend more quality time with each other than we have in a while. Bike rides, board games, and puzzles have become the norm in my house.

The race issues that started long before these wonderful waves of protests weigh heavily on me. As a Black woman with a Black husband and Black children, I have a daily burden on me. With tensions growing, that doesn’t get any lighter. I decided a while back to take better care of myself mentally. I unplug when I need to and I escape to my writing more often now. In doing so, my level of creativity has increased significantly.

I also take lots of classes to better myself in my craft, and I catch virtual talks from other filmmakers whenever I can. At this point, I am exploring creative ways to shoot projects in this new normal.

W&H: Recent protests in the U.S. and abroad have highlighted racism and anti-Black police brutality. The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?

CR: Hollywood just needs to make the decision to allow their world to look like the real world. It is proven that people are interested in seeing Black and Brown stories told, and told authentically. For too long we have not been a part of that storytelling. The gatekeepers know what action needs to be taken — and more often than every two or three years. They just have to do it.

August 30, 2020
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