*(Updated) “Black women filmmakers are having a kind of moment now.” These oh-so-true words are from the mouth of one of them. Filmmaker, actress, producer and yes, celebrity wife — Angela Robinson Witherspoon has been married to comedian and actor John Witherspoon (‘Friday’)…”forever” she muses at one point.
She even appeared in film with Witherspoon prior to becoming his wife! Check out her IMBD, where she plays the fellow passenger to his blind character in a film called, ‘Kidnapped’. It looks hilarious.
We’ve seen her on the small screen (Criminal Minds, ‘Ugly Betty,’ and , feature films (Robert Townsend’s ‘Meteor Man,’ ‘Terminator III,’ ‘Sister Code’ and the upcoming film, ‘Hold On,’) and in theatre, too, in a diverse palette of roles. Her latest offering puts her in the director’s chair; where she works with her longtime friend, writer and producer, Ronnie Grant, in his self-penned autobiographical piece, ‘Curtsy Mister’: The Story of a Young Boy Trapped in a Pair of Slingbacks.’
Grant’s story looks like a fascinating one! Raised in the projects in New York City, he grew to work with the likes of Diana Ross, Cher and Miles Davis and became the very first male Fashion Editor of Essence Magazine.
I’ve only seen the movie trailer as of this writing, but from my research its clear audiences are reacting favorably during Q&A’s at screenings. The documentary also accepted the award for ‘Best Documentary’ at the Studio City Film Festival, and has since been invited to screen at Martha’s Vineyard.
With all of this going on, I saw no greater talent to introduce the new ‘SPOTLIGHT ON’ seriesto our readers, than with this versatile actor/director/producer: Angela Robinson Witherspoon.
DeBorah B. Pryor: I understand Ronnie Grant’s autobiographical story, Curtsy Mister: The Story of a Little Boy That Got Trapped in a Pair of Slingbacks’ was a stage play at first, what was it that inspired you to turn it into a film?
Angela Robinson Witherspoon: Ronnie Grant had written the play called “Cary Grant’s Younger Brother” and it was kind of languishing. We are old friends and I had been studying film and production with Richard Lawson. I saw a little film called Tangerine and it occurred to me “Ronnie! It’s not a play….it’s a MOVIE”. Ronnie had been looking for a way to get the play to Broadway or off Broadway. Now I think he could tour with the Documentary and become an advocate for “fluidity”. He says in the film “I’m not straight, I’m not gay, I’m just Ronnie”. I wanted to help my friend tell his truth and I knew a good story when I heard it. Filmmakers always need a good story.
DBP: As director of ‘Curtsy Mister’ what was the biggest “unexpected” challenge you came up on?
ARW: The biggest challenge was the editing. The film is made in the edit. I worked with DGA member Abdul Malik Abbott for several months on the edit. I had all the pieces to the puzzle but it was Abdul Malik Abbott who got them to stick together and make a strong narrative piece. He was also the one who suggested I go back to New York City and film the interviews with Susan Taylor and Tony Barboza and Joey Mills and Deb Pointer. I think those interviews really round out the film.
Yes, I was so surprised to see Susan Taylor speaking so passionately about Ronnie in the trailer, which is all I’ve seen so far. She’s one of my idols! An exquisite woman.
DBP: With regard to audience reactions in these early stages of screenings: and the subsequent Q&A’s, were there any surprising or “unexpected” questions or comments thrown at you? Please elaborate.
ARW:In the interviews after the screenings a lot of questions were about making my first feature length film after raising a family and being married (forever)….also people wanted to know, how I met Ronnie (through Anna Marie Horsford), and then why I felt it was an important story to tell. Also female directors are having a moment… and how I decided to become a filmmaker… My Mentor, Richard Lawson, teaches that becoming a content creator will make you a better actor….and he’s right. I have a new and profound respect for everyone on any given set ….from the top of production to the wardrobe coordinator to the makeup artist and on and on.
It takes a village to make a film.
DBP: Mr. Lawson certainly gave great advice when he said that creating content will make you a better actor. Can you be more specific in how it has helped in your work as a director?
ARW: Being an actor helps me as a filmmaker….I’m very patient with everyone on set ….and I know when “one more take might be the golden one”. In a creative environment everyone needs empathy. To create is to open your soul and give us your truth….not an easy task….but always the most interesting way to go.
I hear you. As someone who spent nearly two decades in theatre, I agree. The vulnerability involved in baring your soul — even as a ‘character’ — is far from easy.
DBP: If you had to choose, actor vs director, which role would prevail? Why?
ARW: If I had to choose between Acting and Directing ….I would chose Directing….because I am a storyteller at heart…but at the same time ….I don’t feel I have to chose. On December 3rd I had an amazing day. I directed a music video for a friend in the morning, I sang in a video assignment for my class after lunch, and then I went to a film set at 4pm to do two extra scenes for a film that I worked on last year with Luis Guzman and Tarek Tohme and Micayla De Ette (‘Hold On’). I want to tell more of “Our Stories”…….if there’s a role for me I’ll take it ….or I can cast it.
Nice! Sounds like the best of both worlds, indeed.
DBP: I’ve seen some of your work. You, my dear, have done some really diverse roles; and you’ve done them well! What most attracts you to an acting role? A documentary subject?
ARW: Thank you! In acting roles I’m attracted to the challenge….it’s not me doing the thing….it’s the character…..In Documentaries …I’m attracted to the subject. My next Documentary is about the life and art of Betye Saar. She is 91 years young , living alone in her home in Laurel Canyon and still making art every week. Her most famous piece is called “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima”.
Wow! Now THAT’s another film I can’t wait to see!
Readers: Check out the trailer for Curtsy Mister: The Story of A Little Boy That Got Trapped In A Pair Of Slingbacks directly below. Let Angela(and I) know what you think in the comments section on this page! I am sure this filmmaker will appreciate it, and you know I will!
Thanks for taking the time to be with us, Angela! We look forward to seeing more of your work behind and in front of the camera!
UPDATE: View the trailer for Curtsy Mister directly below.
Who would you like the SPOTLIGHT to be on next?
About the writer:
DeBorah B. Pryor is a veteran entertainment journalist, entrepreneur, former actor and educator whose original communications workshops, Public Speaking for the Private Person(Now available on CD) and How to Talk to Anybody IIhas been taught at UCLA Extension. A new author, she recently completed her first nonfiction book, which talks about her experiences while driving for Uber. Follow her via EURThisNthat @pryor_deborah, on Facebook at DeBorah B. Pryor or if you’d like a copy of the CD, at firstname.lastname@example.org.