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Tayarisha Poe On Writing, ‘Selah and The Spades’

July 28, 2020
2 min read time

Selah and The Spades is a culmination of ideas that writer-director Tayarisha Poe pieced together into her ambitious first feature film. The film gives us an inside glimpse into the life and complex relationships of a seventeen-year-old Black girl on the cusp of womanhood; Selah Summers is the queen bee of her exclusive private school’s most powerful faction and toes the line between being feared and loved.

It features one of the filmmaker’s most prominent themes: “Black women doing whatever they want!” Poe says proudly. “[Selah] totally feels like me and as I watch my older stuff, I can see all of the same quirks in the dialogue.”

Something Poe didn’t count on, was her biggest project to date releasing during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Honestly, it’s a bit of a confusing time because it feels like now more people are waiting for something great, because there’s less to do to distract ourselves,” she says.

“I’ve been focusing a lot less on the premiere because of the state of the world. I prefer it that way, because it’s allowed me to instead pour all of my anxiety into helping the world.”

Shifting gears, Poe discusses her process by saying she only felt the script was “done” when shooting started. A Sundance alum, Poe received the Institute’s 2016 Knight Foundation Fellowship, which she followed up with the Screenwriters and Directors labs in 2017.

“They take the whole thing apart in the most loving way possible. Separate ego from the artwork to really focus on the artwork and know that critiques of your artwork aren’t critiques of you as a person,” reflects Poe on her experience with Sundance.

“What I like about filmmaking is that it never stops changing. There’s always a new perspective. When we got into the edit, pieces were still moving!”

Poe also credits her favorite teacher, Nick Hiebert, with some important insight she gleaned about the process of writing.

“In the middle of college, he took us through an exercise about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story, “Young Goodman Brown” — just the first paragraph. We spent an hour on that one paragraph; word by word and for any possible subtext, trying to find the meaning in every single word. This object is pink. Why is it pink? Then at the end, our teacher said, “Maybe he didn’t mean any of this—maybe it doesn’t matter”.

With her first completed feature behind her, Poe is turning her attention back to writing.

“I’m writing a movie that I’m really excited about. Again, about Black women doing what they want to do. I’ve also got a pilot and some fiction I’m working on.” 

Another common aspect of her upcoming projects?

I’m Philly ride-or die-forever. I’m in Brooklyn now, but looking to move back.”

Her hope is that our current state of the world will open up the industry a little bit.

“I feel like in this time period and industry, we’re realizing sometimes we don’t have to be ‘in person’ and we can do it through calls, phone and video. I’m hoping we embrace that and know that we can make things without having to be in New York or Los Angeles to get it done.”

Selah and The Spades releases today on Amazon!

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