Nefertite Nguvu is the mastermind behind In the Morning, a film about the emotional journeys of nine friends in Brooklyn over the course of one day. Nguvu got inspired at a young age, growing up in Newark, NJ, watching the works of Kathleen Collins, Gordon Parks, and more, to share art through film.
Following graduation from the School of Visual Arts, Nguvu took a detour from her dreams and worked other jobs, but she couldn’t shake her true passion. After finally quitting a sustainable 9-5, Nguvu’s journey as a filmmaker began. It took a few years to complete In the Morning, from fundraising to production, but eventually her work of art premiered at the Urbanworld Film Festival last fall, and will premiere on Saturday, March 28 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of its New Voices in Black Cinema series.
The Hollywood Shuffle caught up with Nguvu to chat about her passion for film for storytelling, and more.
Tell us about yourself and how you fell in love with film.
I’m from Newark, New Jersey, born to two Black Nationalist parents in the ’70s. That’s why my name is Nefertite Nguvu. I hated it when I was younger, but my dad was in Amiri Baraka’s organization and that’s where the name Nguvu came from. Everyone at the time was denouncing their slave names and taking on new African names and Nguvu was the name that Mary Baraka gave to my father, and so that’s where that name came from. That being said, my background is in arts via poetry via the Black arts movement. I came up in that and would be in the Baraka basement all the time at poetry reading, so my mom was taking us to see people like Sonya Sanchez. I’ve always been in and around the arts. It started there and then there’s this Black film festival that my mom would take us to every year and I saw a film there by Gordon Parks called The Learning Tree. I was really young but it just stuck with me and I think that’s the first time I got bitten a little bit. I didn’t know exactly what it was. It just had this huge impact on me. Then a little later in life and Spike Lee started making films and I knew this was what I wanted to do. I went to film school but unlike most of my classmates, I was not living off my parents’ money so I couldn’t take an internship at MTV for no pay. I had to get a real job. I took a long detour after graduating film school. I was working in totally different fields just because I really needed the money and I didn’t really see a path for me to be able to make films. Then I realized 10 years later, oh, you have to create that path. It’s not going to be made for you, and so here I am.
What is In The Morning about?
In The Morning, I think, the truest thing is about its intimacy. It’s about nine friends who live in Brooklyn and how their lives are all interconnected but really, deeply and at the core it’s about intimacy. It really is about these people who are struggling to a certain extent with their relationships and how to find their own place in the world and who they are in terms of the relationships that they’ve made with one another.
Why did you choose to focus on 30-somethings?
I’m in my 30s and I feel like, when you’re in your 20s, you have this really grandiose vision of what life is supposed to be, what you’re going to do and be and who you’re going to marry and all these things and what you will and will not do. Then by the time you’re in your 30s, life has just shown you something different and you have to be able to make concessions of this. There are quite a lot of films that are really dealing with contemporary adult life. It’s like a lot of films about relationships. They’re like these fairy tales, it’s like boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. That’s not really in reality for most of us. You know what I mean? I really wanted to make a film that was engaging in a deeper conversation about intimacy and about relationships.
The Brooklyn backdrop in this film reminds you of when BK was cool, when it still had soul.
I love me some Brooklyn! I feel like I came of age as an artist in Brooklyn and I went to film school at SVA in the city and while I was there I was living in Brooklyn and it was around the time when the poetry scene was really happening.
Yes! Brooklyn before Girls, trust fund babies and luxury condos ad nauseam.
That Brooklyn, exactly [laughs]! I lived there for a while and then I moved for about five years to California and then three years to Miami. Then when I came back to Brooklyn I was literally on Dekalb Avenue. I was like, “Where the fuck am I? What is this place? This has nothing to do with the Brooklyn I left eight years ago. This is so vastly different.” I wanted to pay homage to the community that I once had in Brooklyn and to the types of women that I know who made it what it is.
What advice do you have for filmmakers about how they can hit their marks when it comes to crowd funding?
The first thing I would say is check your pride at the door. It’s hard. I think one thing about it that I think a lot of people don’t realize is that you really … It’s not something you can just throw up a KickStarter video and sit back and see what happens. You really have to be engaged with it. You have to be on it every day, sending individual emails to every single person you’ve ever known from that in your life. There was one part … I was actually given really great advice by Numa and Dennis [from Black & Sexy TV] and they were the ones who told me this: You really do have to work it and you really do have to stay engaged with your community, the people that you are reaching out to.
What void do you hope to fill when it comes to telling black stories, particularly for black women?
I think for me I’m really interested in ordinary people and in our everyday lives. It’s just like, I feel like oftentimes in the Hollywood system it’s like we’re not worthy of a film unless it’s about us being heroic in some way or some tragic act of violence. It really is just about the everyday life. There aren’t really enough stories about just the regular lives about intimacy, about our feelings. I just feel like our lives are as worthy of being explored when we’re just being human.