To all you Hip Hapa Homeez in the house, do we have a special treat for you this week! Perhaps you’ve already heard, but there’s a documentary about the biracial experience that is causing controversy on every side of the mixed-race experience. For one, the title “Biracial: Not Black, Damn It” has created huge debates. Below, we speak to director Carolyn Battle-Cochrane about her life and what inspired her to make this movie. Scattered below are photos of Carolyn along with promo pieces for the film.
Q: Who are your parents and how did you grow up?
A: My father was a cotton-picking, cussing, pool hustling turned professional tailor black man from the South. My mother is a proper white woman from Boston who feels that certain etiquettes are always required. The extreme differences in their life experiences and/or lack of experiences made for an interesting behind-closed-doors-highly-dysfunctional reality show. I was one of the biracial folks who always knew I was walking the tightrope. My community constantly reminded me I had a white mother, and my father reminded me that "the white woman" was my mother.
I recently completed my memoir, "Private Conversations" telling the story of my extremely "different" parents (culturally) and my personal story about being biracial. Currently, I have two chapters on my website: www.battlecatt.com
Q: What’s your filmmaking background?
A: When I decided I wanted to make films, my daughter still lived at home. It was a serious choice to fall back from making the kind of money I was at the time and take a lesser position so that I could go to school. As a single parent, I had a talk with my daughter about cutting back. She said she was down with my choice to work full-time weekends while I took independent studies at the New School for Social Research in New York, as well as workshops and classes at NYU and several other film outlets. I was fortunate enough to make a great student film, which opened doors shortly after I left film school. I got a job as a consultant at Disney and was able to make a film that was used for cross-platforming business units into working together. Before the Disney gig, I had been in and out of Hollywood from NY because of a few scripts I had written. I got a call from an NBA player at the time who had read my script. He thought it was a hit and wanted to get me connected. We took meetings and I realized I had a lot to learn. I was not willing to compromise the storyline when the executives running the show had no idea about the world I was trying to bring to the forefront. Not much has changed. As people of color, we have few storylines. My scripts are about chicks that might be mixed or might not be, but have lived beyond the stereotypes. So the scripts are dusty, but still stories untold. That led me to making my documentary series. I decided I was going to do a project that I bankrolled that no one was going to control, but me. The money ran out, so I started selling a life from the past: LV's, Pradas, mink coats, diamonds. $350,000 later, part 1 and 2 are complete, and I am $150,000 in debt--but, still shooting and editing, still self-financed.
Q: What’s surprised you the most about the people you've interviewed for your documentary?
A: That almost everyone has the same exact answers, that everyone felt so alone, isolated, even when they had siblings. Often the topic, the confusion, was/is never discussed.
Q: What’s disappointed you the most?
A: I can't think of anything disappointing about the interviews I have done. The closest thing to a disappointment is one chick I interviewed went really personal, dropping info that was shocking. She matter of factly mentioned that feeling so alone being biracial had turned her into a heroin addict. The experience with her after she chose to unleash the demon was a disappointing saga. I have decided that will not be an interview that I will put into the series. I have probably 20-30 interviews I will never use; too dark, too sad. I don't want a series that is only about the blues.
Q: How about what pleased you the most?
A: Pleased me the most is how open, easy and free the flow is when we're talking about "our" story. The element of knowing each other even though often it is a new relationship, and how healing it is for almost everyone that does an interview. Usually what they have to say has been laying heavy on their chest and unloading that burden is amazing to watch. The transformation from being in pain and then not is mad cool.
Q: That title upsets a lot of people who are not mixed. Was that intentional?
A: The title came from a place of pure honesty and frustration. I was tired of the arguments about my identity: 'No, you're black, you look black, your father is black, yada, yada.' I had no idea the impact the title was going to have, both positive and negative. I'd like to say for the most part it has been a much more positive response than negative. I get letters and emails from monoracial folks both black and white that thank me for telling the truth and keeping it real. After really pinpointing who has the biggest problem with the title, I have found that it is a small group that is still living the One Drop lie. There are people who like things the way they are for a number of reasons, and they would still hate the project regardless of the title, but this title got folks talking and that is what is needed. If we are not talking, we are not learning about each other. I do find it hysterical when folks suggest I should change the title because I might possibly hit a broader audience. Part one of this project was done a year and a half before it got any love. It just had another title, and no one was interested. That title opened the door.
Q: You have a huge Facebook following. Is social media a good platform for mixed-race agendas?
A: Social media is good for any agenda, that's where the world lives and plays and learns, but, yes, mixed-race issues can have a platform without asking for permission. It is still a hard knock-knock to get the doors open in mainstream America so this allows the support, the conversations, the unity that wasn't available years ago. Eventually, the doors in mainstream media will open. It's just still an uncomfortable subject for whatever reason. I personally do not get it, but I am told folks are still not ready. That's why they have deemed Obama the first "black" president. 'Bulloney' is all I can say.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your documentary? Any future plans?
A: Hit mainstream and turn it into a television series. Multicultural/multiracial America is huge (and growing) and the interesting, funny, heart-provoking stories need a forum to breathe, to be told in truth, to be heard, to be documented.
I have plans, blueprints, and I am in constant motion to bring them to light. There is always something on the horizon, but I do not want to shoot myself in the foot by running my mouth before its time. I most recently got my first syndicated film review, which got me on Rotten Tomatoes and that was a great feeling. When I saw the review on the same page as three studio films, it was a ‘wow’ moment.
Thank you, Carolyn. Check out the multiple trailers for the documentary series at the official website: www.battlecatt.com
Also, remember to join our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook where we post info about multiethnic and transracial adoptee communities. You can also “like” our Watermelon Sushi fan page which helps support our film, Watermelon Sushi. Purchasing a Hapa*Teez t-shirt will also assist in the production of our film, and you’ll receive a rear-crawl credit for your help. Just drop us a line a firstname.lastname@example.org so we can spell your name right.
As always, it’s been real.
Your Hip Hapa,