S2 E19 | Des Gray + J Young ; Smoke + Al Nuke
Big Bank, DJ Scream and Baby Jade are showing love to the Black film industry on this week’s episode of “Big Facts” with guests Des Gray and J Young MDK. Gray, a renowned producer and director of the new film Mixed Girls, stopped by with the movie’s leading actor and musician J Young to talk about her new film and what it’s been like navigating the business as a Black woman. The hosts are later joined by filmmaker Al Nuke and cast members from his new movie Detroit Dreams for a conversation you won’t want to miss.
The videographer, who’s worked with several artists in the hip hop industry, including Lil Baby, Future and Young Thug, wasted no time divulging some of the obstacles she faced as a Black female film director establishing herself in the highly competitive business. Gray noted that one of her biggest struggles has been gaining respect.
“Working in a male-dominated industry, it’s hard for females to be respected because they look at us like, ‘Oh, you’re a female. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Oh, just go sit over there. Oh, you don’t know nothing about this camera. You don’t know anything about this lens.’ But really, women, if we want to learn something, we’re going to go above to study and know about it,” Gray shared.
She continued, “So working in this industry, a lot of times I used to get overlooked because I was a female. I had to work 10 times harder than a male to be respected. So I feel like the respect thing, to me, is so important when it comes to working in this dominant male [sic] industry.”
Gray added, “As a woman, talking to other female creatives out there, you gotta have tough skin. You can’t take things personal. You know, there’s going to be times you’re going to work on something, and someone’s going to say they don’t like it just because they want to hurt your feelings, but you gotta be tough. You gotta stick to your vision. If you see something, you just gotta go after it. Everything else around you should be a blur — and that’s what I did.”
Gray shared that her passion for directing began when she moved from her native country of Haiti to Miami, Florida when she was 13 years old. “I remember seeing a TV. I was just so shook like, ‘What it that?’ It was just looking at me so weird, but it was like my whole childhood I’d never seen a TV,” the filmmaker said of her arrival in America.
“And I was just so amazed with it because as a kid being homeless, roaming the streets of Haiti, and just seeing lights coming through people’s houses — because we stayed in the huts — so, when I’m seeing people’s houses, lights coming through their window at night, I used to wonder, ‘What is that light?’ So, moving to America and seeing that light, I’m like, ‘Man, I want to be that person behind the TV,’” she recalled.
By working with her mother selling goods at a local flea market, Gray revealed that she saved up enough to purchase her first camera and began her creative journey doing photography. The director acknowledged the rare opportunity she’s created for herself and is very humbled by that — even while receiving a co-sign from a hometown legend.
“When I go home, it’s like a big celebration because I literally grew up really poor. So when I go home to my country, they really support me. Two years ago, Wyclef Jean called me like, ‘Hey, Des Gray.’ I’m shocked because he’s a legend in my country and he was like, ‘You know you’re Haiti’s first female Haitian director.’ So he’s like, ‘I’m [going] to support you in whatever you’re doing. I got your back,’” she said.
Gray reflected on her childhood and the lack of support children like her received on the poverty-stricken island, noting that those hard times still push her until this day: “Things I went through as a child [are] harder than what I’m going through right now. That’s what motivates me to keep going.”
Later in the interview, Gray and J Young opened up about Mixed Girls. J Young stars as James, a young Black man who, years after meeting up with a white woman, discovers he has “a 20-year-old daughter who appears to be going down a dangerous path. So, he has to get to know her at the same time he is helping her and learning how to be a father,” IMDB notes. J Young also serves as a co-producer on the short film.
Gray explained that she wanted to show a different perspective on the conversation about Black women, citing that viewers often see the struggles of dark-skinned women but rarely do we hear stories from those of multiple races.
“That topic is so important because a lot of mixed people go through racist issues, you know, they go through that. They might not be light enough or their hair texture might not be straight enough. So I wanted to touch on something that’s gonna create a conversation piece for a change,” Gray explained, noting that as a director, she wants to bring to light “topics that people are scared to talk about.” She added, “Let’s just bring it out and discuss it.”
Later on, the “Big Facts” crew is joined by rapper-turned-director Curtis Franklin, a.k.a Al Nuke, and some of the cast members of the upcoming film Detroit Dreams. They discuss the independent Black film industry, which gave the culture classics such as Love & Basketball, Menace II Society and New Jack City, just to name a few.
Scream expressed that he hasn’t seen those kind of movies as much lately and asked his guests why they weren’t as prevalent anymore and how they were contributing to preserving the genre’s legacy.
Al chimed in, stating that in his experience, bad business dealing and the struggle of being a Black filmmaker have often made the craft difficult. “I’ve been through the wringer where we sell a movie, or we spend $50,000, $100,000 just being a small budget film, and then we give it to this white company and they say, ‘We’re going to give you this … but only if you take this $10,000 now and you’re going to make this…’ And you never see a check again,” the filmmaker explained.
“They just send you a long excel spreadsheet that says, ‘Yo, you still owe us.’ And that was just a real frustrating thing for filmmakers that just had us stagnant for a minute. But now it’s changing,” the Birds of a Feather creator added.
Al claimed the movie Snow on the Bluff faced a similar fate. The film’s crew only received an $8,000 advance despite showing immense success. The director added that despite platforms such as Tubi making it easier for creators to distribute and profit from their work, they still have to be mindful of aggregators looking to make a quick buck.
The former emcee recalled an incident in which he trusted someone to promote and properly distribute his film, but he never saw a dime, noting that the man “went Suge Knight on me.”
Detroit Dreamers details the rise of a young Detroiter (portrayed by Jonie “Smoke” Bothwell) who is trying to make it big in the hip hop game and bring notoriety back to Detroit’s music scene. The group ended the interview by chopping it up about classic films and which rappers from their area are on their radar, discussing names like 42 Dugg, Tee Grizzley, Big Sean and more.
Like always, if you liked what you heard, be sure to stay tuned every week for new episodes of “Big Facts.” Also, don’t forget to watch the latest show above.