Can You Add Another “Nigga” Please?

It’s been four years since the debut of Nigga… Nigga… NIGGA!, the comedic short film that follows the journey of two high school graduates who lose their college scholarships over their use of the N-word. So… in essence, the title seems fitting, right?

Well, about that shit…

I dodged using the word “nigga” in the film’s title like a boxer dodges an opponent’s jabs. Only, one final attempt caught me dead in my jaw and rocked me down to the mat in the last round.

There were many reasons I didn’t want to see “nigga” in the title. Primarily, I thought including that word cheapened the film and hurled the impression that it was not a serious work of art.

So why does the film have not one, but three “niggas” in the title? Good question. In order to see why, let me Taylor Swift my relationship with the title right here, right now.

Firstly, Nigga… Nigga… NIGGA! is a student film; in fact, it’s my thesis. The film school I attended tries to operate like the “studio system,” where they have the final approval on every aspect of production, including the title.

It was a week or so before the film was going to debut at my graduation. Time was running out. I had designated and ditched over a dozen titles when I finally found one that I thought was so fitting, clever, and strong – I now forget what it was, but I was thrilled to have one I liked. However, to my surprise, I found myself alone in a room with the dean, associate dean, and the festivals director discussing the problems of what? My title.

“This doesn’t work.” “It needs to be more edgy.” “You have an edgy film. You need an edgy title.” Etc.

Mind you, before this, I had never spoken to the dean more than two minutes at a time. But there I was, in a room with him and two other middle-aged white guys, for about two hours discussing a movie about “nigga.”

I wondered why they were willing to spend so much energy on it. My mind drifted to the negative, thinking my film was intentionally being sabotaged.

Then I thought, “Mike, calm down, it’s just a film. They’re trying to help it be the best it can be.” Then I thought, “You know what? Maybe they’re prepping my film for the gala!” (As I know it, the gala is the “elite” fundraiser for the film school, in which the “money people” pick the “best” films out of the MFA graduating class to screen at the evening showcase with special invited guests. The selected filmmakers are also privileged to attend a private mixer/dinner where they meet the “money people” and discuss how great their films are. The school makes it seem very prestigious and therefore, it’s a highly coveted position in which to be.) “So, that’s what they’re prepping my film for?!? Hell fuck yes!!!”

After a long discussion in that room where hope for my film being chosen for the gala overshadowed my doubt, I succumbed and promised to deliver an “edgy” title – “edgy” meant including the word “nigga” in it, if that’s not obvious.

“Nigga, Nigga, Nigga” was actually one of my first thoughts because the main character says it in the film. It also gets across the theme, the motivation behind the film, and the main character’s flaw; in addition, it has a comical quality about it – at least that’s how I justified it.

It was my first “edgy” title submission, and thinking it would probably be turned down, it was immediately approved by all parties.

So… there I was… one of two black graduates in my class… with the only black lead actor out of all of the thesis films… with a project called “Nigga… Nigga… NIGGA!”

Hmmm… maybe I didn’t think this through. I was bummed at first, but I still had hope that once the film schedule was revealed, my film would appear in one of the gala slots. Then perhaps, it would be worth it…

Well guess the fuck what? … It was NOT selected for the gala.

And that’s when the storm came, and I wasn’t ready.

My mom totally flipped out. My friends ridiculed me, imploring me to change the title. In fact, some film festivals I got into required that I change the name before screening. Moreover, I didn’t take into account the embarrassment and awkwardness that was inevitable when people asked me the title of the film. I didn’t take into account that the individuals involved in the film would want to disassociate from it and request it to be removed from their credits on IMDb.

What really hurt was when the film screened at a small black film festival and a film screener from a prestigious, larger film festival down the road saw the film, loved it, and asked why I hadn’t submitted my film to that larger festival. I told him that in fact I did, but it was rejected. He sighed and explained how the film screeners have to watch so many films in such a short amount of time that any blemish or “red flag” will prompt them to watch one less. He concluded that the person who had my film in his or her stack probably looked at the title, didn’t think it would be worthwhile, and tossed it out without even viewing it. Whether true or not, it’s heartbreaking based on the possibility alone.

I didn’t make this movie because I wanted to be in some gala or have so many accolades, although those things are obviously nice. I made it to make a statement that would resonate with people, especially young people. I used to work for Family Service of Detroit, and when I spoke to middle schoolers about going to college, one seventh-grade boy said to me, “I’m just a young nigga from Detroit. What I look like going to college?” What that said to me was how he was limited by his own view of himself. This mindset is common in the black community for obvious reasons, especially being young and learning about the world and its view and treatment of black people. I looked at how he described himself and his position in life – and looked into my own life and mindset – and it resulted in me making this film, which I hope made a powerful, bold statement.

The good in all of this is that I had the opportunity to write and direct a short film about what I wanted to say. I have conflicted reviews of film school, but my film school was particularly good in a sense that it let me make a film about whatever I wanted, as long as it was a fresh idea. I still wonder why they focused in on my title and can assume many things, but I’m not mad about anything – my mom probably still is though lowkey. I’m just thankful for the experience because I’ve learned and grown from it. Besides, Nigga… Nigga NIGGA! has excelled and captivated – and rattled – many people.

It has screened at 14 film festivals and won 3 awards. Not to mention its ironic resonation in popular culture. Cue Trinidad James’s “All Gold Everything,” which came out right after the debut of the film. Just saying.

I’ll admit, it’s still awkward for me to say the film title when people ask, but fuck it. It is what it is, just like the message in the film. Check it out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s