1.) Hi Carlton, we’re happy to have you stop by and visit Vents! The very first thing we’ve taken to ask everyone is: How are you doing during these challenging times?
Thank you for asking. I like to say “transformative times” more than “challenging times.” I feel it is transformative because we are in the midst of a cultural shift and reset on race relations in America and quite frankly around the world. This is a time where marginalized and disenfranchised people are mad as hell and are not taking the bullsh*t anymore – on a micro and macro level. The world is also in the middle of a pandemic with COVID-19, which as horrible and tragic as it is with all the deaths and life-changing health complications. We have opened our eyes to which leaders are empathetic to its people, and which (like 45) are a detriment to its citizens. History will look back on this time in America and know what NOT to do. I think we are going to come out of this relearning empathy and embracing science and truth over lies and rhetoric. It is sad, exciting, angering, and lethargic at the same time. So to answer your question as a creative who is also an empath.
2.) Congratulations on your groundbreaking series, POZ ROZ which ran for a critically acclaimed thirteen episodes. For those not in the know, what is POZ ROZ about?
POZ ROZ is a provocative 13 episode traumedy on YouTube that chronicles the journey of a young Black millennial woman who discovers she is HIV+ after a wild night out with her gay BFF during Black Gay Pride in LA. It is tragic, but in our digital series, we skip ahead to 2 years after Roz’s initial diagnosis when she is on the “other side” of the disease. We continue to follow her journey as she manages her disease, tries to find love, attempts to get her life back on track, and confronts her sexual desires, all while trying to reclaim Black Girl Magic. Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve been told it is the best digital series anyone has ever seen. I’ll take it!
3.) Can fans hope for a second season?
I plan on having a Season 2. I wrote the first season with three seasons in mind, so there are many nuggets I dropped in season one that will pay off in the upcoming seasons. I want the audience to see the full growth of Rozzlyn Mayweather, coming into her own, and owning up to her past mistakes.
4.) In POZ ROZ you really flip the script on such things as sexuality, mortality and race, all the while interjecting sly and clever comedic undertones. Was this always part of the plan?
I’m glad you noticed because that is my writing style. I love to flip the script on taboo topics, turning subjects that people do not want to talk about on its head. My goal in a lot of my writing is to start tough conversations or give people differing perspectives on topics they may have already made up their minds about. For instance, in my first digital series I did with my writing partner Crystle Roberson, Love Handles, we wanted to explore relationship weight gain and how body image affects our relationship with ourselves, our friends, and our lovers. Our lead character was not here for the body positivity movement but eventually found her way to self-love. And that caused A LOT of controversy and backlash, but also critical acclaim.
5.)You wrote all thirteen episodes of POZ ROZ, as well as serving as a director on those episodes. This is obviously a very personal story for you. Can you walk us through the process of putting this remarkable achievement together? What sorts of obstacles did you have to overcome to get to its You Tube premiere?
When I approached this project, I was definitely getting my Micheala Coel (I May Destroy You, Chewing Gum) on. Although I wrote all the episodes, I had a solid team of people (mostly Black and Women) that helped me produce, direct, and edit the series. When I first sat down to write POZ ROZ, I only knew that I wanted it to be about a young HIV woman thriving with HIV. As the story developed into more about a group of friends reaction to her newfound stigma, it took me about a month to write the season. Then, I knew I needed investors, and my best friend, Malachi Rivers (who also plays Jabbar), just finished working on a project and became friends with the investors. Malachi pitched them POZ ROZ, and they were immediately on board. A Black couple, who work in the medical field, Vanessa and James McKnight, were my first investors (more came on like a nurse, Robyn Jones so that we could finish the damn thing). A few years prior to finishing the script, I approached most of the actors, letting them know I had a project I wanted them to act in. When the time was right, we cast them, and the rest of the cast was brought to me by my Casting Director, Natasha Ward. My producing team was solid and they know I like a well-organized shoot with lots of communication, and my DP was a friend who shot my first series. Literally called in PAID favors of friends and associates that I knew needed work and also had amazing skills. JC Barros directed several of the shoot days when I was not available. My post team was BANANAS! Kofa and Tasha took the footage and made magic with it. I could NOT have done this without a solid team of people who believed in ME and the project. It was AMAZING! I’m mentioning their names because a project comes together with a team effort.
6.) You directed a brilliant cast: Chauntae Pink, Malachi Rivers, Thomas Hobson, Steven Clark, Aisha Lomax and so many other dynamic actors working at the top of their game. Was it at all daunting directing these standouts?
Thank you for noticing the immense talent on this project. Every actor brought their A-game and transformed the characters beyond my wildest imagination. Directing such talented actors also helped me grow and truest my talent with my sometimes zany material. Each actor brought something different to the words on the page and enhanced the scenes. We shot for 17 days, and I wrote some BIG monologues. They all were prepared and hit each beat with ease. I like to cast actors who have been working on their craft and not just wannabe actors because they think it is fun to do or enhance their platform. I think people with a passion for what you hire them for, enhance the project. There was a suggestion to put influencers in the project (for their numbers), which I am not opposed to, but you have to take acting seriously. I’m not teaching you to act on my set.
7.) Are there plans for a second season, or do you feel POZ ROZ has reached a natural conclusion?
POZ ROZ has not reached any conclusion. There is a lot more of these characters have to say and learn as well as stories that were hinted at but never explored. Chauntae has a lot of healing and growing to do outside of managing her disease. There are a lot of surprises in store next season. Subscribe to POZ ROZ’s YouTube to stay updated.
8.) POZ ROZ resounded with audiences and critics alike, leading to a whole passel of well-earned nominations on the awards circuit. Were you surprised that your series has had such major legs?
Honestly, I was not sure how the audience would react to the content because it did push the envelope some and was not exactly family-friendly content. Also, as a Beyoncé Virgo (Virgos born on Sept 4), I am my own biggest critic. I was very satisfied with the finished product, but even during the premiere, I did not want to stay in the theatre and watch with a crowd of about 200 people because I was nervous about the reception. As soon as I heard the first laughter from the crowd, all the nervousness went away, and I was happy.
9.) You wear a ton of different hats in the industry: Director, writer, and a producer. WHEW! How do you multitask all of this? You are human, correct?
Being a Writer, Director, Producer is a lot to juggle, but as an indie artist, you have to be all of these things. However, I have also learned how to delegate and trust my team. I surround myself with talented filmmakers that I can trust to take the load off me and bring the quality that I desire. A team that loves the project is critical to the success of the project.
10.) A question I know you are getting a lot of recently: With the global pandemic, how will Hollywood adjust to what’s going on and what permanent changes do you foresee for the industry as a whole?
Everyone that I know in Hollywood is trying to find a way to work while keeping people safe. We are a bunch of creatives; being creative is in our blood. Tyler Perry has already come up with solutions that are working for his company. I think the solutions are ever-evolving, but I see changes in how we do business in person versus digitally or on zoom. I produced a series for Facebook Watch “Unfiltered: Paris Jackson & Gabriel Gleen,” and when COVID-19 hit, we all worked remotely from home, which was a huge learning curve, but also revealed that it could be done. I feel for the next few years, Hollywood will be very careful with making sure their sets are Covid-19 compliant, or it could be the new normal for longer than that.
11.) Black Lives Matter has changed and is changing the way Hollywood is looking at itself and the material they produce. What do you hope the industry will look like going forward? Will we finally see more representation and diversity in the entertainment we consume?
BLM is such a powerful movement; it is changing every industry, Hollywood included. I hope going forward that inclusion will not be an afterthought. As we move forward, the full spectrum of Black creators (and that also extends to other marginalized communities) will get to have a fighting chance to tell authentic, real, stories without spending so much energy fighting to just get in the room. Part of the problem with Black Hollywood creatives is we have to spend so much energy on fighting and combating racism and stereotypes and bias from the gatekeepers, we still need to have the energy to be creative. My hopes with BLM’s influence on Hollywood allow the freedom for Black creatives the freedom to create without the barriers. Also, Hollywood needs to be more nuanced, tactful, and thoughtful about what images of Black people we see on the screen.
12.) You’re a pioneer in the Wild West landscape of digital content. How do you manage to stay one step ahead of the rest of the pack in how you create for this seemingly limitless platform?
I began my life in the digital world as a gossip blogger back in 2007. I was making good money and pretty successful, but I realized that wasn’t the energy I wanted to put out in the world. It became too toxic for me. But during that time, I began to understand the power of digital content and social media. When I co-created Love Handles I was able to use my knowledge of the landscape to get over 1M total views on the series. That is exciting to me, to create something and take it right to the audience. Also, I am not a person to wait around for a yes. I do not like waiting for permission to create. When a story is in me, I want to get it out. I don’t want to hear 50 people’s opinions on how to adjust it to their tastes. So many people need a network or studio to move forward on a project. And there are advantages to that, and I am not opposed to that on specific projects. But for some projects, I give myself the green light and find my audience. It takes an indie spirit and a lot of courage to do it on your own, but it’s worth it.
13.) Can you give Vents readers a hint of what you have coming up in the future? Is it a pretty full dance card?
My future is pretty exciting. I do have a “full dance card.” I am also an unscripted producer, so I have a hybrid of unscripted and scripted projects getting some attention from song big Hollywood names. I have a project that’s being developed at a major cable network that I can’t 100% reveal. And a few unscripted projects that have some heat on them around town. I wish I can reveal those projects to you. But I don’t want to sabotage them or announce them too soon. That sounds super Hollywood, but keeping a project under wraps until it’s ready to be announced to the world is a part of the process.
14.) You’re a graduate of the Howard University Film School. Have you always known that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Growing up in Charlotte, NC, I had no idea what filmmaking entailed. I thought movies just happened with an actor and a director. From an early age, I did know that I loved writing stories. I didn’t know how that would translate into the entertainment industry until I went to Howard , where I began as a Journalism major, then realized filmmaking is how I wanted to tell stories. Howard University Film School, under the direction of filmmakers Haile Gerima and Bill Duke, opened my eyes to all the possibilities I had as a storyteller and put a fire in me to be bold enough to take the step of coming to LA and pursuing that dream full time.
15.) Whose work inspires you?
So many random things inspire me. I draw inspiration from music like Grace Jones and Eartha Kitt to Beyoncé. Recently Hamilton inspired the f*ck out of me. As a filmmaker, every day, I see and observe things that inspire my work. To be more specific, my mom and sisters are my number one inspirations. They’ve always believed and supported me and inspire me to be great. Creatively, I’m a fan of envelope pushers and rabble-rousers and outsiders who do not conform to acceptable social norms and those who stir up controversy and conversation. Who “goes there?” in their art without conforming to respectability politics. Michaela Coel, Larry Clark, Spike Lee, Ava Duvernay, Numa Perrier, Lizzo, Jenji Kohan, Joey Soloway, Shonda Rhimes, Boots Riley, Melina Matsoukas, Billy Porter, The Wachowskis, and Terence Nance are a few who I admire their approach to content creation.
16.) Final (Silly) Question: You’re stranded on a deserted island. Which one film do you have with you to watch while awaiting rescue?
I’m going to cheat and give you two – “Chicago” the musical or “All About Eve.” I hope when they rescue me, I’ll be doing the Cell Block Tango.