We’re producing a short music film on queers in the Harlem Renaissance, adapted from a novel by gay writer Claude McKay.
About this project
Black queers of the Harlem Renaissance have a rich, important history to share, and we need your help to make sure the story gets told.
“Congo Cabaret” is part of an ambitious longer documentary project that centers around the contributions of gays and lesbians to the Harlem Renaissance. It is the most expensive of the production pieces that will bring to life novels and poems written by gays and lesbians, featuring gays and lesbians. This short music film is an adaptation of an episode from gay writer Claude McKay’s then-bestselling novel, Home to Harlem.
Set in a small nightclub, this scenario presents the little-known figure of a “wolf” (a masculine gay man) and features the performance of a Bessie Smith song, “Foolish Man Blues,” which refers in a joking manner to “a mannish acting woman and a skippin’ twistin’ woman-acting man.” We envision a visually lush representation of the Harlem nightclub scene, involving
- period costumes
- set design
- accomplished actors (veteran gay Black actor, Darryl Stephens, has already signed on)
- a raft of extras
- a blues singer and her dancing partner
- three musicians
Robert Philipson – Director, Producer. Robert P. has directed 2 music videos and 6 documentaries on various aspects of the Jewish and Black LGBT experience. His first music video, “Ma Rainey’s Lesbian Licks,” played in over 20 film festivals. His latest documentary, “Body and Soul,” was recently picked up for distribution by 7th Arts Releasing.
Robert Elcock — Assistant Director. Producer and director of music videos, advertising and documentaries, Robert E. employs the communicative power of film to promote products, spread ideas and defy stereotypes. Elcock exposes a range of audiences to well-rounded, dynamic representations of local talent, women, people of color and the LGBT community.
Darryl Stephens – Actor. Darryl is a prominent Hollywood personality whose breakout role as the lead character for the Black series Noah’s Arc put him in the forefront of gay visibility. He has worked in numerous film and TV projects since then.
Marc Smolowitz – Consulting Producer. Marc is a multi-award winning director, producer, and executive producer with more than 20 years of experience across all aspects of the entertainment and media business. His career focus has been powerful social-issue filmmaking across all genres. His long list of credits include films that have screened at top-tier festivals including Sundance, Berlinale, AFI Docs, IDFA, Tokyo, and Melbourne, among others.
Joshua Burton – Social Media Guru. Joshua is a comedian, political activist, and writer in the bay area. Between hosting two podcasts and tweeting like crazy, she also writes content for the local chapter of the transgender community group The Degenderettes. Through her writing and performing, she works on making queer people as visible as possible.
Kendall Kanoa Kukahiko – Producer. Kendall Kanoa Kukahiko is a line producer and production manager working in film and television. Her previous credits include multiple projects for the Jim Henson Company, UPM on the Fusion Network comedy No, You Shut Up, feature films, and dozens of commercials and new media projects.
Chad Kukahiko – Consultant. A Hawaiian writer, director, performer and producer, Chad has spent over half his life performing in more than fifty plays – including two years traveling the world with STOMP – and several dozen film and television appearances. Chad has since moved behind the camera and as the COO of L.A. film collective We Make Movies, he helps filmmakers like Robert make their own films.
Because the Harlem Renaissance was so much about art, literature, dance, and theater, I simply didn’t want to point out, for example, that “Claude McKay, a gay writer of Jamaican origin, wrote a best-selling novel that specifically included gay characters.” How much more interesting to adapt the scene in question! Those who have seen Dee Rees’ HBO biopic Bessie, about Bessie Smith, know how compelling an artistic presentation of past songs within their historical context can be – both instructive and beautiful. That’s what we’re going for, and we’re confident that the creativity will really shine. As far as I know, this integration of literary adaptations is somewhat uncommon in the documentary genre. Your donation will help us explore new territory in the genre’s form AND provide viewers with a luscious experience of Black queers in the fabulous era of the Renaissance – all on a shoestring budget, of course.
Thank you so much for your support — through donations, encouragement, and spreading the word. The creation of this film would not be possible without you.
If you would like to support this project over and above whatever you can donate, here’s what you can do:
1. Invite Your Community to Support!
- Send this link to 5+ people who you care about and encourage them to support the production of this film and future projects
2. Spread the Word on Social Media
- Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or the platform of your choice to promote the project until the campaign ends on May 26
Again, thank you for your support!
Risks and challenges
Even at $10,000, this project will be challenging to complete. There are period costumes, set design, audio recording as well as video recording. However, we’ve worked miracles on small budgets before, and when it’s over, this will look like a million bucks. Also, we’ll be shooting in L.A. for the first time, even though we’re based in the Bay Area, but that’s where our talent and much of our technical support lies. So it’s off to new adventures.