Yo, it's Yayoi! — Watermelon Sushi , Yayoi Winfrey — AAPEX

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Yo, it's Yayoi!

Click Image to Enlarge.

Lots of cool things happened as a result of last year's International Black Film Festival of Nashville, but the coolest for me was meeting Yayoi Winfrey. Here's why.

Yayoi on Yayoi

One of my favorite childhood pastimes was “playing paper dolls” with my younger sister. She and I accumulated them like they were postage stamps. Tagging them with unconventional names like Golly-ah and U-need-ah, we’d also create their elaborately detailed lives.

Most of our paper dolls had lots of siblings, yet somehow they all managed to be fashionably dressed thanks to our proficiency with crayons and scissors. Weaving intricate storylines, my sister and I could pick up wherever we left off—even days later. Looking back now, I realize that we were directing drama through our paper dolls--our “actors”.

Our highly creative mother was a significant influence. Always sewing, crocheting, quilting, painting, woodcarving, writing haiku, or making something, she eventually taught us to make our own paper dolls; and, we’d spend hours designing, drawing, coloring, and cutting out new clothes for them. By high school, I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer.

Yet, I yearned to be a novelist, too. When I was 10, my mother gave me a diary. I’ve kept a journal ever since, and I’ve always loved reading and writing fiction. Back in the day before Facebook, we had pen pals; and, I scoured teen magazines for prospective friendships in England, Scotland, Canada and California. Composing long letters by hand, I’d stuff them into envelopes decorated with my artwork.

At 15, I became a stringer for Datebook magazine and interviewed several British rock groups. I wasn’t paid, but being cool was more important to me at the time. At 17, I was invited by the editor of Teen magazine to move to Hollywood to write, but I was scared.

The mail that my mother received regularly from her relatives in Japan often included vibrant origami paper and manga (comics). Those gifts shaped my artistic sensibilities and helped develop my Japanese aesthetic. My drawing style is linear and my stylized fashion figures look like anime. I’ve always been attracted to bright colors, and in high school was teased for wearing neon and bold geometric patterns. As hard as it was being the biracial child of a Japanese mother and African American father in a predominantly white world, dressing “Mod” while others wore pastel cashmere sweaters was sometimes harder.

I can’t remember a time when my mother, sister and I didn’t create. Even now, my mother paints (mostly landscapes and seascapes) while I prefer stylized computer illustrations. Recently, I designed a line of t-shirts for the mixed-race community. I also plan a comic strip featuring a biracial super-heroine. Like me, my sister also writes, illustrates, and even studied filmmaking at college. The musician in our family, she taught herself to play 12-string guitar as a teenager; and, she and I used to write songs together.

Even though I was born with all this creativity bubbling in my blood, I didn’t gravitate towards filmmaking until 1997 while living in L.A. At the time, I wrote arts and entertainment articles, but really wanted to sell screenplays. I was naïve enough to believe that Hollywood studios would care about my interracially themed scripts.

The first screenplay I wrote featured a tribe of highly intuitive blue-skinned beings and a yellow boy that discovers them. A D.C. friend wanted her actress/producer pal to read it, and traveled to L.A. to make the connection. But our wires crossed, so I wrote another script--Watermelon Sushi. My friend then invited me to D.C. to meet her pal who was in town promoting a film. Accepting my script, the actress/producer summoned us to her L.A. home, but declined involvement. So, I decided to make the film myself.

Loosely based on my life, Watermelon Sushi is about two biracial Japanese and African American sisters seeking their racial identities. While the older sister looks more Asian, her younger sister has predominantly African features. Because people respond to their appearances, the sisters pursue the group that rejects them. Told against the backdrop of the 1980’s hiphop scene, Watermelon Sushi is equal parts drama and comedy with a strong musical center.

After studying at the Hollywood Film Institute and attending dozens of film conferences, I began making Watermelon Sushi with my credit cards. But on day seven of a 10-day shoot, I shut down production. Because of problems incited by the producers, the film lacked production value. Disappointed, I nevertheless felt we’d find investors to finance the film the way I envisioned it. I’d already received the attention of several Hollywood “names”, so I thought that with a newly cut trailer, money for a re-shoot was inevitable.

Ten years later, I’m grateful for all the people throughout the years that have attached themselves to this project. Because of them, we’ve been able to grow the movie into a movement. With so many mixed-race folks now claiming both of their heritages and the election of a biracial president, our issues are at the forefront. The film’s website and my weekly blog have brought contacts from mixies all over the world. I’ve also spoken on panels and at schools about the multiracial agenda. In 2000, for the first time in the history of the U.S. Census, biracial people were allowed to claim both of their races. Before then, on various forms I’d complete, I was allowed to choose only one racial identity--denying the existence of one parent in the name of One Drop Rule.

Although our producers haven’t yet secured a location, we’re currently casting and attaching talent. (Contact us regarding submissions.) What we need to complete Watermelon Sushi is an investor. We have a solid script. We have several well-known rappers who want to be featured on the soundtrack. We have name talent wanting to perform in the film. We have producers in Tokyo, Beijing, Nashville, New York and Los Angeles—and, fans everywhere. We have a chapbook, a novel, and a staged musical. Now, all we need is money.

Film: http://www.watermelonsushi.com/
Blog: http://www.watermelonsushiworld.blogspot.com/
T-shirts: www.cafepress.com/hapateez
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/, go to Hip Hapa Homeez

No comments:

Post a Comment