The 2019 Urbanworld Film Festival takes over New York City September 18–22.
We extensively covered the festival last year and are excited to highlight films and to interview filmmakers presenting their creative works this year.
We begin with the thriller The Birth of Deceit by director Yaw Agyapong. The story tells the terrifying tale of a girl who returns to her hometown only to find out that the fate of her parents wasn’t what she originally thought it was. Along the way she befriends a creepy woman who knows more than she’s willing to let on. Ambar and her friend will have to fight for their lives to uncover the truth.
Born in Bronx, New York, and raised in Long Island, director Yaw Agyapong took up directing in 2013. Since then he’s done 15 short films and is the executive producer, editor, director, and writer of the feature The Birth of Deceit. He’s just finished the script for his second feature titled In Money We Trust, which will follow up in an even bigger fashion.
It’s not surprising that Jordan Peele’s massive hit Get Out has struck a chord in the film industry, encouraging more horror and thrillers to feature actors of color. This even sparked the horror documentary Horror Noire, which provides an expansive look at the history of Black horror. Yaw Agyapong is bringing it in his film, which is his very first feature.
BGN interviewed Yaw via email about his work on the film, including what led him to create this story and advice for budding filmmakers.
What led you to create a film like this? And how did come up with the story for this thriller?
My experiences growing up and experiencing racism in various ways such as intimidation, subtle hints that I wasn’t welcome in a given area, and comments about my hair and name are just a few of the elements that inspired me to create this film. Jordan Peele’s Get Out opened the door for thriller films such as this with Black leads to not only exist but to be grounded in reality. I created this film to give a voice to those who are consistently marginalized and disenfranchised and to give hope that they too can create amazing pieces.
There are some strong performances, including the very creepy Lucy. Can you discuss the process of putting the right team of actors together?
Yes, the role of Lucy [Jennifer Silverstein] has been getting a lot of buzz. [Jennifer] did an incredible job. The biggest factor I look for in assembling the right roster of actors is chemistry. I need to make sure that my cast not only gets along with each other but that they have that tangible connection that transcends just trading lines with each other. Have those two factors in place on a set, and you’re creating magic.
This movie goes there. Without spoiling anything, it crosses some creepy boundaries. Were there moments either while writing the story or filming that you thought maybe this is going too far?
Yes, there were times I was reluctant to write certain scenes. But at a certain point, I had to slap myself and realize that if I don’t write certain scenes or push the envelope of creativity without a cap, then I’m not allowing growth or space for future filmmakers. I realized one should never be limited when wanting to be creative. Art is film. Film is art. And art is freedom — freedom of expression.
You’re a young filmmaker who has already proven at a young age that you can win awards and make a successful motion picture. What advice do you have for budding filmmakers who wish to accomplish the same thing?
Never give up. Keep pushing. Don’t be afraid of failure, because it will happen all too often. When it does happen, use it as a lesson. I always say failing is not losing. Quitting or giving up is losing. When you fail, learn from it, and then return even stronger and wiser than before. Also, know that just because you see us with big movies or as successful people, in general, don’t think for one quick second we are immune to failure. [People like us] fail every day! I made 15 short films and they all failed, but I kept going. There are two kinds of people in life: the person who keeps going and the other who fails to keep going.
The Birth of Deceit premieres at Urbanworld 2019 Friday, September 20.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.