There are so many things I want to ask, so I will just jump right on in – you are the host of BET’s THE BEST SHORTS, which airs on BET-J, Sundays, 8 p.m., Tuesdays, 9 p.m., and Thursdays, 11 a.m., EST. How did you get involved with the show?
With all TV and film jobs, you generally interview and audition. My two amazing producers Sean Joell Johnson and Ralph felt that as a working indie filmmaker and former actress with an MFA in Film Arts, I had the energy, fun, and background that their audiences were seeking. Being that my work is about empowering folks culturally, politically, sexually, and emotionally, it was a good match. We had some great theme shows this season with topics like AIDS and HIV, homosexuality, women directors, kid-centric films, Brooklyn themed movies, dramas, comedies, etcetera.
It’s not surprising that you’d be the host of THE BEST SHORTS, considering that you are an indie filmmaker of some pretty complex works that can be viewed on your website (will provide link and mention a few of the shorts). What are some of the themes you find yourself exploring in your movies?
As I said, my work has been primarily about empowering women politically, sexually, and emotionally, so all of my work falls in these areas. Some of my films are pretty edgy, but as an artist, I feel that if you are not ruffling any feathers, you might not be saying anything new. I’ve shot mini-movies, also called shorts, as well as documentaries. The themes and topics range from mental illness to beauty to erotic themes. I enter each project kind of as a reporter or investigator. I have a naturally inquisitive mind, so I approach everything that I do with the standpoint, hmmm… What do I have to learn in this area?
You mentioned on your website that part of the reason you began making movies was that as an actress, you were turned down for roles because you were too dark. Since you began hosting THE BEST SHORTS and your debut novel DARE has dropped, is anyone biting to snag you for a film?
A few people have approached me, but I haven’t found the right offer yet. I am open to the possibilities. I’ll let you know if anything good comes across my desk!
Because you mentioned the “color” issue, I have to ask your opinion; do you think color is still a major issue in both acting and directing? How do you think we can begin to overcome that issue?
Because I am such an idealistic person, Shon, it hurts me to have to say yes, there is still a skin color issue in terms of casting for African American projects. However, we can’t get into blaming others or making excuses for their fears and inadequacies. As Bill Duke says, what we blame, we empower. But yes, there is still definitely the feeling in our culture that blackness is ugly and unappealing. Many people told me that BET would never hire me to host a show because I am dark brown skinned, but they did because I went into my interview knowing that I am unstoppable. I think that people like you and me begin to overcome this issue by addressing it in our own art—our own films, book covers, etc. The main character of my novel DARE is a chocolate sister named Maya and her best friend Athena is light skinned with blue eyes, so I am showing love to the range of our beauty.
How are you using your indie film work to help further your career?
Shon, I attempt to be an artist in all I do. So that’s where I approach things from. I once had an opportunity to talk to Melvin Van Peebles. The man is a living legend. He writes music, films, books — and novels in French! I asked him how does he know whether something should be a song, a book, or a film. He told me to let the project tell me what it should be and I have approached my work like that ever since.
So, we know you’ve acted…we know you’re a TV host…we know that you’re an indie filmmaker…and NOW we know are you an author because your debut novel, DARE is out! Tell us a bit about DARE…
Dare was fun to write and people have been telling me that it’s big fun to read. Just yesterday this woman said that she was so annoyed that she had to go to work because she wanted to just finish the book, and someone else told me that they keep thinking about the characters afterward. That is big compliment! Dare is a motivational and inspirational story, but it’s also romantic comedy, about a young woman who strives to be more than she is. Maya has a dead end job at the beginning of the novel and feels like her life is going nowhere. She finally makes some courageous decisions that set things off on a different course, and then her life gets out of control. She is a good girl who has to go a little bad in order to find herself. People can find more at the interactive website www.daretogetalife.com.
What is DARE’S backstory?
Maya Hope is a brainiac who is bored out of her mind in a dead end job. Her best friend Athena dares her to ask herself what she would Dare to do if she could not fail. In trying to answer this question, she fails again and again, miserably. Someone called Dare a black Bridget Jones Diary. I think that is a good description because we are definitely laughing and crying with her the whole way as we delve into her blogs, notebooks, and experiences.
How did the opportunity to publish DARE come about?
I have been a writer my entire life. One of my film projects enabled me to have a literary agent who then shopped the project for me and Selena James of Simon and Schuster’s Pocket Books division won a bidding war to pick up the story.
What type of writer are you? Do you prefer to outline, or do you like to jump right in and let the pieces fall where they may?
I am an extremely organized writer so for me outlines are critical. I plot everything out as best I can before I start writing. I work with bulletin boards of inspirational images, index cards of details, and character profiles and outlines.
What’s your favorite thing about DARE?
There’s so many – wow, that’s a hard question. I really like the fact, Shon, that the book is divided into motivational segments by the lessons Maya learns: Harmony, Joy, Love, Beauty, Truth, and Moxie. Each section gives affirmations and homework so that readers can learn Maya’s life lessons along with her. I also love the fact that the book is about a flawed woman who is just trying to figure out life, like we all are.
What three adjectives best describe DARE?
Dare is fun, fearless, and inspirational.
What three adjectives best describe YOU?
Wow—okayyy. (giggling) Abiola is fun, fearless, and inspirational, too. At least I strive to be. I mess up sometimes, but I am human, so that’s ok.
How do you spend your time when you’re not writing, directing, or TV hosting?
Sleeping! No just kidding. I love hanging with my friends, and I also enjoy scrapbooking. Geeky I know, but there you go. I also love a good movie, if I can shut up long enough to let the people with me enjoy it! LOL.
Do you have a philosophy to art, to why you do what you do within the artistic realm?
Everything I do is in the artistic realm, Shon. I guess that’s my theory, to aspire to be an artist in all I do, whether it’s interviewing someone on The Best Shorts, cooking, or dancing. Learning each day how to be more free and spread more joy. The doctor’s oath is do no harm, so I try to subscribe to that as well. Above all, do no harm, and try to leave my little corner of the planet a little better than I found it. Some people may disagree with some of my topics or my work, but I welcome the discussion. Bring it on!
To aspiring women writers, directors – what advice do you have to give them that push to achieve their goals?
Last year I had the opportunity to work with women filmmakers in Nigeria. Now, we think that we have issues? Shon, we are so incredibly blessed in North America, and we need to know that. Writer Virginia Woolf said around 80 years ago that in order to create women needed to have a room of one’s own, and that’s still true. What that means to me is to find a balance between family and kids, obligations, financial concerns, and everything else to carve out a little space and time just for you to do what makes your heart sing.
What projects are you currently working on?
Well, as you know Dare just hit stores, so I am looking forward to sharing it with readers. I am making myself available to book clubs that read the book to answer their questions, so that should be really fun. They can contact me through the site www.daretogetalife.com. We are also taking submissions for season 3 of BET J’s The Best Shorts. Info is on www.abiolaabrams.com or www.myspace.com/thebestshorts. In addition to my BET show, I am also going to be doing a daily online show called Planet Abiola on Blackplanet.com and other platforms. People can find everything on my website or hit me up at www.myspace.com/goddessfactory.
This was so much fun, Shon. Congrats on completing your book as well. Proud of you, sis!