“You will never be a filmmaker, because you’re black and female” are the words that Liane Moonraven heard from her head of department at college

These words made her drop out of school and pursue an alternative career.

Liane Moonraven

Fast-forward and the filmmaker from Washington D.C. is now living in Birmingham, England and pursuing a career in that very field.

She was recently chosen to be part of a project called BACK IN – a six-month artist development programme for early-career BME filmmakers powered by creative development company PUNCH. Here she gives us the lowdown on her journey so far.

When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Ever since I was a little girl, 3 years old to be exact, I’ve wanted to be an actress. I believe Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy inspired me. She is one of the all time best physical comedians who ever lived. Dianne Carroll, Eartha Kitt and Nichelle Nichols are my first memories of BEAUTIFUL, amazing, talented black women on television. I grew up in an era when there weren’t very many black women on television at all. Not even a handful back then.

There are more black women on screen now. Do you have a favourite?
Well my role model is Shonda Rhimes. She owns Thursday night on American television from 8 o’clock with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder from 8 until 11 o’clock, which is the sweet spot for any network. Her talent wasn’t just a shot in the dark, her career has lasted for years,  season after season after season, and that’s what I want to be.

So did you pursue your love for film at school?
When I came out of high school and went to college it was before a lot of doors were open for black women, I studied film production because I always knew I wanted to be in film, like I said earlier I wanted to be an actress since I was three, but I was told in college that I need to change my major, to forget about it because I have two strikes against me. I’m black and I’m female and that I would never make it in the business. And so, being impressionable and just kind of lost, I ended up quitting film school.

So what did you end up doing instead?
I was very discouraged, but film has always been in my blood. I never lost my passion for it. I went on to have a successful career as a lecturer in sociology and start a family, but my love for film persisted. I produced two films in 2016 and this year, I have produced 3 so far and scheduled to shoot 2 more by year’s end. Obviously my college department chairman was clearly wrong.

What made you come to the UK and work?
I had no inkling that I would end up coming here. I also produce audio theatre, radio drama and I was casting for a role for one of my scripts and I was referred to this British guy that I had seen some of the movies that he’d been in and I thought he was a brilliant actor so I was really fortunate to bring him into the audio theatre and because of him my network in the UK grew and it got to the point of where I had more contacts on this side of the pond than I did over there in America and, in all fairness, I think it’s easier to get things done here. I think British people would not say that’s true, but I found it easier to interact with industry professionals and get things done.

What made you apply for BACK IN?
I’m living here writing my PhD in sociology, whilst doing this I was encouraged to apply by an industry friend. Earning a spot in the programme has been a career milestone. It was Herculean to me because that man said I would never make it and the fact that I got into a programme like this, that’s all that really mattered, that I even made it. I am proud of myself and very humbled and grateful for the opportunity and experience. I can’t help but think how much time I’ve lost. I’m hungry to try to make up that time but I know that I wasn’t the person then that I am now, so everything in its time and like I said, just getting into the programme after what I’ve been through and the rejection and being told that I wasn’t going to make it and no family support and all of that, just to be doing what I’m doing and to have three short films that were filmed in four months, I’m OK. Whether anything else happens, I can say I’m OK.

What’s your thesis on for your PhD?
My thesis is based in racism and it is specifically the psychological and physical effects of trauma due to long-term exposure to racism.

Amazing. Tell me more.
Well everybody has life stressors, so like paying the bills, relationships, children, you know employment, we all share those stressors regardless of race and ethnicity. However, just being black is an additional stressor and that impacts us physically and mentally through paranoia, through stress, through PTSD, that’s what my research is based on and I’m using the historical trauma theory as my theoretical framework, which says, a historical traumatic event which in our case is slavery, is passed down generationally and if you have a historical trauma like that, it’s hard to ever break free because it is transmitted generationally.

I agree. I look forward to reading your research, is this research going to be reflected in the film that you’re going to create for BACK IN?
Well see the things are totally unrelated. I am a black woman who writes psychological thriller and horror, and I’m very comfortable in the genre, and I’m not going to branch out of it. All of my films are psychological thrillers that have a twist. My influences in film are Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allen Poe. The film that I will make will keep you guessing and it will be short and sweet and straight to the point.

Why does representation matter?
I can look at a British period piece like Downton Abbey and absolutely love it. But in the back of my mind, I’m like, well OK, where are the black people? You know, it’s like we need to see ourselves and I think that’s why Black Panther did so well. The script was brilliant, the production was brilliant, the cinematography was brilliant and we were able to see people who weren’t co-dependent druggies. We were just able to see black people that could have been white people, that could have been Chinese people, that could have been anybody, and I think that’s why we need it because they don’t need to be black roles, they need to be roles that black people are in. And I think that’s just so important, especially for our children.

To keep updated follow @moonravenfilms on Instagram and @lianemoonraven and @moonravenfilms on Twitter or visit www.carmentheateronline. com. The 2017 cohort of the BACK IN film programme, will be hosting a panel discussion around diversity in the UK film market, and showcasing their work in the EVERYMAN cinema, inside the Mailbox on September 26. More details can be found online at https://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/en/articles/art20170321161846901