Co-Author of ‘God’s Nation’ Shaye Ogbonna Discusses the Energy of Making Artwork  Activism  

On the heels of the 2016 election, Shaye Ogbonna and Julian Higgins linked at an occasion for a movie Ogbonna was engaged on. Though they each attended the American Movie Institute on the identical time, they’d by no means met. 

The previous classmates mentioned how disillusioned they had been with the present state of affairs in America and shared a need to make artwork their activism. That dialog was the genesis of their writing partnership and their movie God’s Nation, an excellent suspense/thriller starring Thandiwe Newton (Westworld, HBO). Newton performs Sandra Guidry, a university professor in an all-white city sucked into an escalating confrontation with a pair of white hunters who trespass on her land. Ogbonna and Higgins’ script is an adaptation of “Winter Gentle,” a brief story written by James Lee Burke. 

A couple of days after experiencing God’s Nation on the Sundance 2022 movie competition, BGN had the consideration of talking with Shaye Ogbonna through Zoom in regards to the crafting of this unimaginable movie.

A lot of God’s Nation is felt reasonably than defined. How had been you capable of construct the story in that manner?

After I’m writing one thing, I at all times ask myself, “Does this character really feel actual? Does this character really feel lived in?” With Sandra, I’m engaged on acquainted terrain. I used to be raised primarily by Black girls and have a singular perspective as a result of Black girls are the individuals who have most affected me. When Julian got here to me with the thought to make the lead character a Black girl [as the character is not in the original short story], I keep in mind the dialog. We had been at a brunch spot, and I obtained up excited and simply walked round. I actually couldn’t sit down. I wrote Sandra with a way of humanity and connection. For instance, the thought of her grieving is one thing that I needed to bake in as a result of grief is a common expertise. It’s a manner for the viewers to narrate to Sandra earlier than she goes on the journey of the movie.

Julian informed me earlier than you began writing the screenplay you talked about it for six months. Why was it necessary so that you can create the bond in that manner? 

Basically it was simply us speaking about what pursuits us, framing out what we wish to put on the market. I really like this sort of collaboration. Julian and I found that plenty of our course of is dialog. We’ll discuss for hours and hours and days and days earlier than we really sit down and write one thing. Within the revision course of, after we know a scene isn’t working, we’re affected person. We’d change one line, however that one line transforms the complete chemistry of the scene. Clearly, we take our egos out of the combination and have the endurance to have the ability to collaborate as a result of these conversations are very important to the method. As soon as Thandiwe got here on, she grew to become a part of that course of. She grew to become a part of us — she grew to become the third thoughts, the third author. We had conversations to ensure that her to make the character her personal and evolve our course of.

How did the character Sandra reveal herself to you? 

I’m a giant fan of Westerns, and there have been these iconic touchtone components of Westerns that known as to me, like being on the homestead, folks, farming, and doing bodily labor. We see Sandra chopping wooden; we see her having the ability to deal with herself alone. She is simply not the stereotypical girl character on this setting. She’s not the spouse, or the lady in misery. Sandra’s nearly a protest character. From the second she seems on display screen, she’s subverting your expectations, going in opposition to what you’d anticipate from a lady character, particularly a Black girl character on this setting. For lots of people, that rubbed them the incorrect manner. Simply the thought of her present on this manner on this panorama, but in addition clearly, her not being afraid to face her floor and to guard her land and her property in opposition to the intrusion of white outsiders. Lots of people had been postpone.

I’ve at all times needed to jot down Black characters in these settings who’re free, characters which might be identical to, “Yo, I don’t must justify my existence to you. I don’t have to do this. That is my land, that is my property, I’ve a proper to exist. I’ve the correct to make my very own choices. I’ve the correct to be the very best model of myself that I presumably may be, and I don’t need to justify myself to you.” 

I don’t know if the character revealed herself to me; the character was already in me. She’s primarily based on my experiences rising up in Atlanta across the girls in my household. We’re very a lot about, “Get with us, or get out the way in which.” That’s the way in which we do issues. We’re not the one ones. Cities like Washington, DC, Chicago — we’re all so dynamic as a result of we all know who we’re. We all know our energy. We’re not afraid of it. That’s why even via her grief, even via the conditions, Sandra is aware of who she is and she or he ain’t afraid to let you know. 

It doesn’t rub me the incorrect manner. I like it. If I didn’t write this movie and I noticed this movie, I’d cry as a result of I lastly really feel like, “Sure! Now that may be a girl that I do know, that may be a girl that I’ve skilled.”

I liked how putting a Black girl unapologetically in her energy with out utilizing her sexuality was intimidating to all the white males on this movie. 

I completely assume we’re talking the identical language. That was on my thoughts after we had been writing and particularly after we had been filming it. In cinematic historical past, Black girls on this scenario are going to be checked out via a sexual lens. There’s plenty of misogyny there, and also you noticed it a bit of bit within the scenes with appearing sheriff deputy Wolf [Jeremy Bobb, The Outsider, HBO] and positively with Samuel [Jefferson White, Yellowstone], the youthful brother hunter. Generally it goes zero to sixty actual fast with him. However most individuals on this panorama view her this fashion. It was 100% related as we had been penning this script.

What proper now’s bringing you probably the most pleasure?

My manifesto as a artistic is to point out these dynamic portals of people who find themselves usually dismissed and marginalized within the movie trade. What has introduced me probably the most pleasure lately was your evaluation of God’s Nation. You mentioned [basically], “Solely a Black man who has an amazing relationship along with his mama would be capable of write like that.” I don’t assume something nicer might be mentioned personally or professionally about me in life so that basically moved me. That’s it. I’ve performed my job. 

God’s Nation, starring Thandiwe Newton, directed by Julian Higgins and co-written by Shaye Ogbonna and Higgins, premiered on the Sundance 2022 movie competition.


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