Frisky Q&A: Lauren Domino And Angela Tucker, The Visionaries Behind “Paper Chase”

The teen film genre is a guaranteed moneymaker for Hollywood, a simple formula with an infinite amount of customizations. Start with a problem that needs to be solved, add one plucky protagonist and a few supporting players, toss in a makeover montage and a single take tracking shot party scene, set to the pumping teen music of your choice and end the whole thing on a high note. The guy gets the girl; the teens defeat the villain; everyone wins and everything is happy.

A crucial thing missing from this formula? People of color.

Enter Lauren Domino and Angela Tucker, two New Orleans-based filmmakers looking to change all that. Their film “Paper Chase” takes the idea of the teen comedy and presents a vision of black girlhood that has been woefully underrepresented on the big screen. Shot in New Orleans and featuring the city as not just a backdrop but a part of the narrative, the project is in development, with a Kickstarter campaign running through December 4th, that is already picking up some steam and getting the support of Miranda July.

Their story is the story of any other filmmaker or creator of color trying to thrive in a system that favors nepotism and privilege. When I saw the trailer for “Paper Chase,” I wanted more. I spoke at length to Lauren and Angela from their home in New Orleans.

Tell me a little bit about your experience with getting traditional methods of funding. How’d you guys start, and how did you end up at Kickstarter?

Angela Tucker: We kind of did the route that a lot of people do initially which is you start to have meetings. You’ll tell certain gatekeepers about the project and they’ll tell other gatekeepers about the project and then they’ll set up meetings, and you know, there’s initial interest and then there isn’t interest.  I think a part of why it’s been difficult is because we have a black girl protagonist. I’m just gonna leave that there. Also, you have a black girl protagonist who’s bubbly, and isn’t part of a tragic sad story.

So, those two things made. going to the regular gatekeepers a little more difficult. We went to Kickstarter mainly because we knew that there was a community of people that wanted to see a movie like this.

Lauren Domino: At its core, its a teen comedy, but a different teen comedy than we’ve seen out there. There’s no makeovers. She doesn’t fall in love with some guy that transforms her life. The biggest relationship in our film is the relationship between women. We love this genre, so what can we do to spin it on its head, to tell a story that we identify with, but know that a lot of other women will identify with as well.

With that in mind, what movies did you watch and love growing up that inspired you to make a film like this?

LD: We’ve probably seen every teen movie that’s out there at least twice. But, “Sixteen Candles,” “Say Anything,” “House Party” — we were really inspired by “Superbad.” [In these films], there’s a dearth of black characters and you see them as only one dimensional. Growing up, we would watch these films, and I could totally relate to Molly Ringwald’s character [in “Sixteen Candles”], feeling like my family was ignoring me. [It’s] the idea of empathy and how see the world through other people’s lens. As young black girls, we had no choice but to identify with these white characters. If we look at the media and we look at incidents of black teenagers and how they’re not allowed to be teenagers, it’s important that we have more work that just shows black teens as teens.

Do you think there are any movies out there that’ve done a good job of portraying women of color in roles that are anything other than just a stereotype?

LD: We were just waxing poetic about “Love and Basketball,” which isn’t a comedy, but it’s a really fantastic look at a young black woman through her teenage years and through adulthood. Films like “Pariah,” too — all of the films made by phenomenal black female directors.

AT: It’s harder to find comedies that feature black women that are representations that feel closer to the women we are and the women we know.

Have you guys seen “Master of None”? A lot of the criticism I’ve seen is really touching upon the expectation that the experiences of people of color in the media have to be this weird monolith that embodies all experiences.

LD: What really annoys me is that any person of color in the media has to be an exceptional person. If you’re there, you have to speak for your entire race, and I think that’s not expected of white characters. They can be multi-faceted. We need to have more content, created by creators of color to show the multi-faceted experiences of our lives. The more that we get these stories out, the more the conversation and the narrative changes.

The New York Times published a piece about women filmmakers and actresses, that really highlighted the conversation of representation and equality in the industry. What were your thoughts on that? Were those experiences reflective of the experiences that you’ve had?

AT: It’s intense to see people who are very experienced who are still dealing with the problems that they shouldn’t be dealing with at twelve they’re at. Maryam Keshavarz made a point that Ava DuVernay did too, which is that when your film premieres at Sundance and you’re a woman of color, it’s like no one really wants to meet with you. They want to see, like, “Oh you know, let’s see what the box office is like.” Whereas white male filmmakers out of Sundance get agents right away and get other projects right away.

LD: They get the machine that helps with the box office.

AT: I think that it really is true, because Hollywood was created to support white filmmakers’ careers, and it’s really not created to support anyone else.

Do you guys have a dream project? What would be your sky’s the limit, fuck it do it with whoever film? What would you do if money was no object?

LD: Part of me wants to do a romantic comedy with Gina Rodriguez.

AT: Why that hans’t happened yet is crazy.

LD: I want to be able to give money to filmmakers of color to get their stories told. I personally don’t have money, so if anyone out there has a lot of money and is like, ‘I wanna do this too,” then let’s link up. There are so many talented directors and writers of color, but they’re not getting the opportunity to make their work. The key thing that’s missing is access to the funds to do it.

AT: It’s really hard to get people to give you money when you’re figuring out an idea and getting the tools that you need to do it properly.

LD: If we’re gonna be honest, it’s taken us two years to get to this point. I’ll be completely honest on my part, it’s involved a lot of over drafting on my bank account. This is my life and my focus, and I’m gonna sacrifice in other areas to get this done, but some people can’t make that sacrifice. It shouldn’t be a judgement on them and their art.

Everybody’s just talking about this now, but it seems so systemic and so institutionalized, these biases and prejudices. It seems like in the film industry, success is really about who you know. 

AT: You have to understand that the film industry is hard anyway. When something’s hard for white men, it’s hard. What concerns me the most about the systemic issues is that I know plenty of white male directors who are like “I’m just trying to get by.” That’s part of why the independent film scene is so important and has exploded in the way that it has. It’s important to tell these stories, so we’re just going to do it. We’ll see if it changes.

LD: I don’t want people to pat themselves on the back like, “I have a woman filmmaker, I have three filmmakers of color.” We need the change without people patting themselves on the back for being a good guy and doing the right thing and just do the right thing.

To donate to the “Paper Chase” Kickstarter go here. The campaign ends on December 4th.