From being type-casted to being shut out of high-profile roles, Black actors and actresses across the world from Lupita to Octavia Spencer, have spoken up about their struggles in the film industry. While some have forged ahead and demanded a seat at the proverbial table, others have instead chosen to create a table of their own.
Based in Shanghai, Deatra Branston’s Creative Start Productions promises to do just that. The Alexandria Louisiana born, but Arizona-raised film buff took a second to tell us a little about her latest project, Stumble: The App and why she’s founded what’s thought to be one of Shanghai’s first-ever Black-owned film production company.
Can you tell us a bit about you and your journey thus far?
I was born in Alexandria, Louisiana but raised in Phoenix, Arizona. I’m an educator of the arts, having specialised in theatre and film at Arizona State University. That’s where I got my bachelor’s degree in theatre and film with a minor in dance and music. I have my master’s degree in education too and I moved to China three years ago to continue my career.
Why did you create Creative Start Productions?
I wanted to create a space for creative expression no matter the starting point, and Creative Start Productions is it. We often feel like we don’t have the tools to just start, constantly thinking we need the exact right things when the idea is to just use what we have and get it done. Upgrades can happen later, but what’s there to upgrade if you haven’t gotten started?
Our mission is to be a space where your creative start comes to life. Our vision is to see your creative start reach its full potential. We’re here to help and want to collaborate with you!
What do you think needs to be changed about the film/theatre industry?
Though theatre and film create a happy place for me, there is a clear problem in the industry with consideration. Often, actresses of colour aren’t even considered for roles despite their talent. It should be based on talent, plain and simple. Unfortunately, this industry isn’t so simple. There needs to be more open-mindedness when considering actors for roles. In the meantime, I just try to stay encouraged and encourage others to go for it.
It’s difficult for many of us to break into the industry, but a big win is that people are more motivated to create their own platforms. An example of that is Tyler Perry Studios, the biggest win we’ve had to date. But even if we don’t have the most resources, the internet allows us to connect with people who enjoy what we create.
You’ve just released your first sketch, Stumble: The App – congratulations! What’s it all about?
Stumble: The App is a small piece of the bigger picture. It’s actually a sketch that we’re using to build our audience. Stumble is the principle web series. It features a Black woman living abroad, dating and dealing with all of the frustrations that come with it. We hope Stumble: The App and other sketches can be used to engage our audience and gauge their feedback.
What’s next for Creative Start Productions?
You can expect many things! Stumble: The App has just dropped online. In the spring, there will be playwriting workshops in conjunction with The Write Place. In November, I’m working on a short film, An American in Shanghai (working title) in conjunction with Ember & Ire from Phoenix, Arizona. There will be children’s theatre productions/workshops, casting calls and much more! It’s going to be a great year! You can keep up with us at creativestartproductions.com where you’ll find links to our social media!
Runako Celina is the co-founder of Black Livity China. She holds an MA in International Politics and African Studies from Peking University. She spent two years working for China's largest Digital TV platform broadcasting in African countries and currently lives and works in Beijing. During her time at Peking University, she sat on the committee for the Peking University Africa Think Tank.