There is a very troubling imbalance of representation of women in the film and television industry behind the scenes. Historically who pioneered how we shoot and handle film and also how we create narratives within film and television ultimately shaped who is allowed to do so — which has largely been a privilege of straight white men. Marginalized communities have not been afforded the same opportunities which include women and people of color which has created representations in television and film that aren’t always accurate nor diverse. Naima Ramos-Chapman, a director, filmmaker, writer who also is a producer, editor and actress is an exception. She is a creator who is disrupting the patterns in media making for good because she is making stories featuring women that explores the Black female gaze, that challenge the norms that rape culture have set such as stepping out of gender roles and she presents narratives where women save themselves.
In not just film making, the gaze that is default is the male gaze for film and television an much of the media we consume. The male gaze, coined by filmmaker and scholar Laura Mulvey is more or less, the perspective, the point of view for the pleasure of the male heterosexual, viewer that views women through that lenses to be objectified. Subverting that view in lieu of the female gaze is a powerful tool in the arsenal of the filmmaker and storyteller as it can present a nontraditional view and also a more powerful story for its female characters on screen.
It is not often that we are treated to narratives that feature the female gaze or even the Black female gaze. Even when we look at the imbalance of screen time and spoken dialogue of women in film and television with tests such as the Bechdel-Wallace test and it’s many similar modes, having narratives that cater especially to the Black female gaze stand out with a sensibility that Black and Brown women haven’t always been afforded as viewers and those who help bring these acts to life onscreen and off.
Narratives that challenge the norms that rape culture have set are most certainly welcomed in the world of storytelling. Being able to successfully examine expressions and expectations of femininity and masculinity in the stories one brings to the screen is key. This is important because gender roles have been so strictly enforced by society in the media and it does not reflect the real world we live in, nor its inhabitants. Opening up the lenses narratives are seen through intersectionality means a wider berth of stories that makes for more inclusive media, stories that include Black and Brown, even queer characters to populate the screen.
I will provide evidence for my argument in a number of ways. First I will do an analysis of an episode from the first season of Random Acts of Flyness (2018) that Ramos-Chapman has a writing credit for as well as a director credit and also her first film that she also wrote and directed And Nothing Ever Happened (2016). This close analysis of these media texts will illustrate the fantastic ways Chapman is bringing nuance and consideration to the stories that are brought to the big screen. Next I will conduct a thematic analysis of how Ramos-Chapman describes her creative work characterizing her goals of presenting the Black female gaze, reimagining the victim and stories subverting tropes about gender. Third, I will demonstrate how industry experts, critics and fans describe the importance of Ramos-Chapman’s work. I conclude by paper by once again with a reminder of why such an exceptional creator is important in today’s world in regards to the television and film industries.
Analysis From Artist’s Body Of Work
In the “two piece and a biscuit” (S1, E2) episode of Random Acts of Flyness there is a skit titled Nuncaland that dips into the expected gender roles girls and boys are taught to grow up into using the loose framework of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. In it a young, male Afro-Latino teenager chases his shadow from outside and into an apartment complex and into a party. In this skit he whisks away another teenager, a female teenager who saves him from a violent male bystander who takes offense to him showing affection to another male teenager and deems it gay. Safe from adults and adult men especially with their violence and their say on what is and what isn’t allowed this Peter Pan character begs Wendy to stay in Neverland, this Nuncaland.
The Wendy, a young woman breaks it to him that she can’t stay — her reality won’t allow it. There are consequences for her a woman that he won’t experience but he has the power to stand and help her fight them — if only he leaves Nuncaland. There is a powerful musical number that the Wendy archetype sings to the Peter archetype with a chorus of “If you fight the fight within you fix your father’s sins, and your father’s faults” as she leads him to the exit but he is hesitant and fearful of growing up — of doing the work.
I felt this was a powerful moment, perhaps my favorite in the entire skit, in the entire episode where the theme of growing up is presented with Black and Brown voices and bodies with this infantization that society seems to have for boys and men. Girls have to grow up so much faster in society and must be advised on what not to wear for example. But boys often grown into men who society deems them as boys or young men with their lives ahead of them (noting that this is more-so for Caucasian men and less for men of color) when they come under fire for wrong doings as is the case for many sexual assault cases that hit the news regularly.
Tackling rape culture in this episode and the expectations that come at birth for both boys and girls was eye opening — Ramos-Chapman’s contribution to the writing and directing present young men having to face the reality of stepping out of the narrow definitions of what it is to be a man. Showing affection and being kind and soft isn’t the opposite of being a man or being a male. Doing more to be an ally to women and female presenting person means just not being the man who doesn’t rape or harass but acknowledging that stepping to men who do or aspire to is helping to create a new image of yourself as a man that is needed and wont go unnoticed.
Ramos-Chapman’s And Nothing Ever Happened short film that as its IMDB webpage has supplied, has a synopsis of: ”A young woman juggles between the mundane and the extraordinary in an attempt to leave her NYC apartment.” It is the autobiographical inspired story of a rape victim waking up one day and trying to cope with the aftermath of her assault. It is exceptional as it doesn’t relive the incident but instead focuses on the how the trauma effects the female character portrayed by Ramos-Chapman herself in a day in the life type deal. How even waking up and struggling to feed and clothe yourself become huge, gigantic tasks. It demonstrates how self-care type activities like masturbating are ruined by memory
The ending of this short film is perhaps one of the best endings of a film I’ve ever seen: finally dressed and fed, Ramos-Chapman stands out of the safety of her mother’s apartment and waits for the elevator alone. While the camera facing her, a male neighbor leaves his apartment and stands behind her invading her space, the tension is seen in her eye, her face and the set of her shoulders. The film itself is messy, not clean cut and neither is the ending.
No clear defined ending where we see Ramos-Chapman’s character walk out with rainbows and unicorns smiling that everything is fine now.
No, it is an unflinching and realistic take by a woman of a woman stepping back out into the world knowing it is an unfair and scary place but she must re-enter it, she must stand and be the person she needs.
Ramos-Chapman’s narrative here is of a woman seeking to reclaim her agency and she is not pawn or plot device in any man’s story.
Thematic Analysis From The Artist
In her own words Ramos-Chapman describes herself as an “interdisciplinary artist + filmmaker from Brooklyn, New York” as worded from her personal website. When describing her work she provides details in the third person: She tells stories of transformation and understated bravery that stem from true accounts, incorporate magical realism and use choreographed gestural movement to render psycho-spiritual realities we cannot see. She investigates victimhood ontology as expressed through the female gaze by complicating the archetype of the imperiled or victimized woman in order to envision hope, healing, and agency”.
And Nothing Ever Happened, is a short film accomplishes so much in so little time. It’s doesn’t gloss over, doesn’t spoon feed the audience the narrative, shows the mundane, shows the ugly — shows a survivor, a victim, a woman living with the after effects of a sexual assault with a touch of magical realism. Just how can trauma affect a victim’s daily routine and how far does that reach extend when she leaves the safety of home?
From an interview with shadow and act dot com, Ramos-Chapman had this say: “And Nothing Happened is an autobiographical account but it’s also a search for answers in how to articulate the emotional costs in the aftermath of rape. I hope the film understand how sexualized violence infects and interacts with all facets of our society from the bureaucracies and institutions that are designed to facilitate repair to the very mundane interactions we have with our families and ourselves in spaces deemed “safe.” I hope this film will offers healing and other ways to talk about how we can”.
In regards to her work on television, Ramos-Chapman has been championing that we can change and reclaim our identities when it comes to gender and this is a message moreso to men who benefit from patriarchy. Teaching boys about consent, about accountability and their responsibility as they grow into men is work that’s needed now more than ever. And it can not just be work for mother and the women in the family — toxic masculinity can play a role and help create men that aren’t emotionally secure in themselves and project violence out unto others which includes women.
To this, Ramos-Chapman says from an interview with NYLON: “I was thinking about my upbringing…Certain things I noticed, this machismo, how gender roles are calcified. The boys in the family would be catered to, moms be doing their laundry ’til they’re way too old. They’re given ways to play and never grow up. I even though about relationships I’d had: “You’re Peter Panning it.” Why don’t you wanna grow up? But there’s a pro to it. If you’re never a man, you’re not responsible for what men do. I feel like a lot of men don’t want to take responsibility for what men do”.
Cited Words/ Reception of The Artist’s Work
Projects that Ramos-Chapman has worked have sparked interest and conversation with audiences and critics alike. So much so another season is on the way adding to HBO’s late night line up of provocative yet high quality programming –this show focusing on the lives of people of color and their struggles and triumphs. “We couldn’t be happier with the response to ‘Random Acts of Flyness’ — it’s struck such a powerful chord with our viewers,” said Nina Rosenstein, executive vice president of HBO Programming. “We’re thrilled to bring Terence and his team back for a second season of this provocative, remarkable series” as told to Joe Otterson for Variety. It has reached non Black audiences as well and translated many of the themes and messages over. Variety TV critic Caroline Framke has noted of the many skits she watched, “ Together, they all reveal incisive truths about what it means to be black in America — or actually, “reveal” isn’t quite the right word, and neither is “show.” Instead “Acts of Flyness” wants to make its (white) audience feel what it means to be black in America”.
In regards to her style of filmmaking, critics like Ivan Kander from short of the week dot com observes her way of using the medium to tell autobiographical stories in his review of And Nothing Ever Happened: “It’s the kind of filmmaking that deserves to be championed, showcasing how an artist can take a personal traumatic event and turn it into a universal visual and cinematic experience”. Ramos-Chapman presents victims, again and again exploring ways to cope and not being a part of a male character’s story as a plot device — a woman’s story in her own hands.
In regards to fan exposure and reaction there was certainly an audience for livetweeting Random Acts of Flyness which is something television ten, twenty years ago did not have as a live watching tool. Twitter user noeliasophia’s tweet of ”one month later I am still thinking about #Nuncaland and “If you fight the fight within you fix your father’s sins,…” spoke to the hauntingly beautiful bit of song from the young woman to the “Peter Pan” who refuses to grow up.
Twitter user LOfficielEbony’s tweet of “…The Nuncaland vignette made me sit up straight. Everything in this show is affirming and reflective and aspirational all at the same time” reaffirms the many emotions viewers would experience while watching and pointed out what made them pay attention. Lastly this tweet from twitter user JamalSTEELE of “…I love the second episode’s take on toxic masculinity and patriarchy. The #Nuncaland skit should be a musical” proves that men are identifying the messages and themes and taking them in as well.
Exceptional Creator: Naima Ramos-Chapman
As a Black woman, as a biracial woman creating content in the television and film industries, it must be extremely difficult to get the funding and means to make creative work with your mission statement in mind. Yet Ramos-Chapman is currently still striving for excellence attending the short film festival circuit with for her second short, PIU PIU. It is a film that has received generous support from Rooftop Films, Art Matters and the Adrienne Shelly Foundation. Also in development is her first feature-length film titled SAD SONGS IN LANGUAGES I DON’T UNDERSTAND In that Chapman received a fellowship from the Sundance Institute for Screenwriting Intensive a year ago.
Along with her frequent collaborator Terence Nance, she managed to fit into her busy schedule, co-directing the eight-minute experimental film, Nowhere, Nobody featuring the music of Earl Sweatshirt as a companion to his 2019 tour announcement. As we await season two of Random Acts of Flyness, it has been revealed that she has has been tapped to direct the upcoming Showtime comedy pilot How to Make Love to a Black Woman (Who May Be Working Through Some Sh*t) executive produced by Lena Waithe and written by creator Casallina “Cathy” Kisakye. She’s been busy —most recently served as story editor for the upcoming HBO series Skate Kitchen.
Naima Ramos-Chapman, who went out and became it all: a director, filmmaker, writer who also is a producer, editor and actress to figure out how to tell stories. She is a creator who is disrupting the patterns in media making for good because she is making stories featuring women that explores the Black female gaze, that challenge the norms that rape culture have set such as stepping out of gender roles and she presents narratives where women save themselves. She is an exceptional creator who is most certainly one to watch.