• The Black Project

In Conversation With: Adjani Salmon


Hi everyone! Welcome back to In Conversation With... This time I sat down with Jamaican-British film maker Adjani Salmon to talk about his youth in Jamaica, the weird things about life in Britain, how he got into film, the importance of the arts and much more! We also spoke about his new project "Dreaming Whilst Black" that has been picked up for a pilot by the BBC. So once you've read our chat, visit the link at the bottom to give it a watch and a share. Let's get that full series commisson!


Without further ado, let's get into it. The BLACK Project, In Conversation With...Adjani Salmon.







Adjani

Hello


Brianna (TBP)

Hiya!


Adjani

Hi, how you doing?


Brianna (TBP)

Not too bad man, how you doing?


Adjani

Yeah, I'm chillin!


Brianna (TBP)

Nice! So, this shouldn't take a massive amount of your day. I'm thinking like an hour at most, but it kind of just depends on how chatty you feel really.


Adjani

Cool. No worries.


Brianna (TBP)

So my name is Brianna and I work for - well not work for - I run The BLACK Project, which I started like, about a year ago now like May June time. Kind of to celebrate black life. I want to change the narrative away from like, only awful stuff, to an all encompassing celebration of Black life, and especially the good stuff. And from what I've seen of the trailer for Dreaming Whilst Black, very much the good stuff. It's so funny.


Adjani

You gotta check it out! You gotta check it out.


Brianna (TBP)

So definitely gonna talk about that a little bit later on. But I kind of want to get to know you a little bit before we get into the show, if that's cool?


Adjani

No worries. Cool.


Brianna (TBP)

So the first question I've got is, where did you grow up? And what was that like for you?


Adjani

So I grew up in Jamaica. And it was great. The short answer there. No, it was. Honestly, it was great. I feel like there - I didn't realize how great it was until I came here. I was like nah imagine growing up in a place where the sun don't shine, like nearly every day. That's crazy.


Brianna (TBP)

My dad grew up in Nigeria, and then he moved here. And I was like, what how do you make that transition?


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

Listen!!! Yeah, honestly, it was just so much fun. And like the simple things and maybe this is a thing of maybe this is showing up age maybe - but I'm still a millennial! But technology as well. I feel like - like I grew up in the time when Caribbean parents are still spreading rumors that shit like a PlayStation mashup ya TV? You've probably never grew up in that but it was that PlayStation mashup TV, or like Nintendo mashup TV. So like, we weren't allowed, like video games. I just remember, like, the one kid on the street where their parents allowed them to have like a Nintendo 64.


Brianna (TBP)

So all of you around one TV?


Adjani

Yeah, and it's funny because I grew up actually - So I'd spend like nearly every weekend at my cousin's because I'm an only child. And I spent every weekend at my cousin but my cousin's is a dead end road. He lives on a dead end road. So we'd like play football on the street, because not much cars would come. Just yeah man, the amount of shit that we would do.


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

Just yeah, it was fun. And you know what? It's, uh, yeah, it felt freeing. Actually. It felt free. I felt free. It didn't feel like I was hindered because of anything, to be honest, and I know that there is a class privilege in that, in me saying that in Jamaica. Because like my mum does pretty well for herself there. So there's that element of it. But I feel like in terms of even just to bring it back to like race and stuff like the Prime Minister was Black. P.J. Patterson who was the Prime Minister for like 18 years. So like there was no limitation or scope of like, a ceiling. There was no concept of a ceiling. You know what I mean, everybody in Jamaica black - billionaires are black, the poor people black and homeless people black, everybody black. So if you just dreamt it - anything I wanted to be I could be. Why? Because there's somebody in this country who's doing it.


Brianna (TBP)

That's amazing.


Adjani

And even when you look on colorism, which obviously affects different genders, different ways. For me it's like alright, cool. All the girls are dying over a light skinned dude, whatever. But like, if I had a little something else, you know, I could get in like, you know, I was funny. I'm not light skinned but I'm funny. That counts for something. And yeah, there wasn't this like, yeah, I don't know. To speak too my childhood. Yeah, it was for me, it was just freeing. I think that would be the thing. There was nothing which I felt like, we couldn't try, you might get beaten for trying it. But like, you could try it and see what happens.


Brianna (TBP)

That's amazing. That's so interesting. Because you're the first person I've spoken to doing this that didn't grow up here. So it's really interesting for me to hear the complete difference in your experience growing up somewhere where like you say, everyone that you saw, rich, poor Prime Minister, businessman, looked like you. Compared to kids here that were like, I didn't think I could be anything. I think that's mindblowing.


Adjani

Which is so wild to me. And I literally remember, I never forget this, like coming here. So I came up here to study architecture. And I remember my little cousin was just so spellbound by the fact that I was studying architecture.


Brianna (TBP)

Wow. He'd probably never seen that before.


Adjani

You know, I'm thinking bro, like, in Jamaica, that's like the B job. Like, you know, I'm saying like, in high school, you had the smart kids, which was like, the ones who were doing the sciences, which were gonna be like doctors, then you had the other smart kids who are doing like, Econ and Literature, because they're gonna be the lawyers. And then the construction was like, you'll survive.


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

Like, that's all you know, is Doctor, lawyer, accountant, that's it. Everybody else dunce!


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

And I was in the dunce people doing architecture, which is nuts. But yeah, but it was so fascinating for me to come here and my cousin looking at me like, raah architect. I'm thinking, boy! At home they'll be like, at least he won't be poor. You know what I mean! But so, that was fascinating for me coming here and be like, oh, wow, like this is...because shit, it's not like we don't know racism exists, obviously Jamaica is like fulla Rasta, my parents have locs, everybody has locs but racism was almost like, conceptual to me. Like it's this thing that happened in dem mandem place, I mean I don't really deal with dem ting, you know? Or even when I would visit so like, you know, there were a few summers where I would come up here and you know, for summer and stuff to see family. But even then when I came up as a child - being othered as a child for me made sense because I was in a foreign place.


Brianna (TBP)

Right, yeah, that makes sense.


Adjani

In the same way that it's like when a white tourists come Jamaica, them stick out like a sore thumb. Yeah, it's expected. You understand? Even the othering then never really registered as a child as like, you're black. It was just kind of like I'm in a foreign country. It makes sense. The same way I look on tourists weird when I see them with socks and sandals. Like who does that?


Brianna (TBP)

That's how to spot the English man is like, where's the socks and sandals? Oh there he is!


Adjani

Yeah! Yeah.


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

That's right. So even as a child like, you know, you visit like family members in these foreign places. But then I never even registered that as - even though I do when I think about being othered as a child. I do actually recall like, a few moments of that. But that for me was under premise of I'm in a foreign place. So, you know, same way we used to tease these white tourists. Yeah. You know.


Brianna (TBP)

So when did you move over here? How old were you when you moved over here full time?


Adjani

So I came up here - I've been here twice. Okay, I came here for uni at 18. And then literally as I graduated, I moved back. And I would go back in like summers and stuff.


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah.


Adjani

And then I came back at 24 for film school and stayed. Um, yeah. So this is my second stint. Well, technically third stint, I was born here and moved to Jamaica when I was five. So this is my third, my third stint in England.


Brianna (TBP)

What have you found, aside from obviously, the weather, because that's a massive change.


Adjani

It's just shit.


Brianna (TBP)

What has been the hardest, like shifts to make from life in Jamaica to life in the UK.


Adjani

Nah listen, I don't think you understand the weather shift, you know, you're underselling the weather ting. Let me tell you something. You know what fucked me up? Let me tell you what fucked me up. I was in uni. And I remember being in the dorm and waking up. And buss opened the window, and it was just grey. And I was just like, I was like, Damn, it's a rainy day. Day two, buss open the window. It is grey. I was thinking what is this? And every day I bust that window. And that was obviously, that's September. When it got to like winter? And I'm leaving to go to class in darkness. And then leaving that building at five in darkness? Was wild to me.


Brianna (TBP)

That's mad. I've lived here my whole life and it's still wild to me.


Adjani

Yeah, like that. It was actually depressing. Like, like legitimately depressing. And I remember years later - this is after I've made the Dreaming Whilst Black web series - a friend of mine moves to England to do a master's and she was like "How the hell did you create Dreaming Whilst Black in this climate?"


Brianna (TBP)

It's oppressive isn't it? It's an oppressive climate.


Adjani

Bruv! She's like I find it so hard to be creative when all I see is darkness or just grey. Like what? So the weather is a big thing.


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

Anothing thing...you said hardest, it's interesting in terms of hardest


Brianna (TBP)

Or maybe just the strangest as opposed to the hardest what's been the like most noticeable weirdest difference between life here and life there?


Adjani

Let's think. There's been a couple things that were weird. Like just cultural things which are weird. Like even coming to England and going to uni and like getting drunk is like...


Brianna (TBP)

It's a whole thing.


Adjani

It's a thing. What is that?


Brianna (TBP)

I don't get it and I was born here, I find it bizarre.


Adjani

Why am I getting drunk? What? And it's weird because Jamaica is a heavily drinking country like, can't even expose the age at which I would have a drink. But funnily enough, even though Jamaica is a drinking country, it's not a drunkard country.


Brianna (TBP)

That's the difference. And it's a big difference.


Adjani

Yeah. So it's expected that when you go out we drink. Or like, I remember being super young, and knowing how to make my Godfather's G&T. I would never taste it, but he definitely taught me how to make it so that when him come over he'd be like, "Adjani!". Put in the likkle lime and we're good. But getting drunk is frowned upon. If you at a party, and somebody get drunk it's like ayy yo, what's wrong with this guy? Bro? Like, you know what I mean, like? It's annoying. Whereas here, when I came here, it was like, yo, let's get LIT. I'm thinking uhhh.


Brianna (TBP)

No thank you!


Adjani

Uh, No.


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

I want to remember my night.


Brianna (TBP)

Yes!


Adjani

Why is that a thing? But it's weird. Funnily enough the language barrier was also interesting as well. Because Jamaica's official language is English. Everybody knows how to speak English. I speak English in a Jamaican accent. But for some reason I'll be presenting and it will be like, "Could you repeat that?" Okay, I'll say it again. "Ah, just, could you slow down or something?" And I'm thinking - because listen, I went to the top state boys school in the country okay? The Prime Minister's kids went to my school. This is not no eediat school!


Brianna (TBP)

You're sitting there like what do you mean repeat myself, I know I'm speaking English!


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

I'm speaking English! So yeah, man it was those... it was those shifts. Or what's funny actually, what I found interesting coming here which I never thought about - again growing up in this space where blackness is like the center. Right? So it's normalized. It's like, being black actually doesn't mean anything. Because you had kids in school who are listening to Evanescence. I don't know how young you are?


Brianna (TBP)

Twenty Four.


Adjani

Ah so you might know that band called Evanescence.


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah!


Adjani

They was like


Both

Wake me up inside (Laugh)


Adjani

Yeah, but there were black people who were rocking to that shiiit! And they weren't seen as "Oh you movin white." It was just like, black people fuck with rock music. That's not even a thing. It's just some people love rock music. Funny enough in Jamaica, weirdly enough country music demographic is massive. They bang that shit. Yeah, yeah. Or even like people said Celine Dion is the queen of Jamaica.


Brianna (TBP)

I can see that because Celine Dion is just...


Adjani

Queen of it all.


Brianna (TBP)

Full stop.


Adjani

You know what I mean, it's so interesting. That I would say is the most, it was the weirdest thing. Like coming here and I remember people coming up like "Are you Jamaican?" I was like yeah yeah yeah. They's like "You don't smoke weed?" I'm like, nah. Why would I smoke weed?


Brianna (TBP)

It's just assumed that you smoke weed and you listen to reggae, and that's like your whole personality.


Adjani

Yeah!! Or like mi listen only reggae. And it was so interesting. And this is obviously from black people as well right. This is black people. Like, it's interesting that here - when it came to being here, blackness, or to be black, or to be Jamaican, meant specific things. Or I remember even one time there was this girl I was trying to move to, and she's like, "You don't know how to make rice and peas? You're not Jamaican!" I'm like, I don't know how to cook.


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

Like-


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

What are you talking about? Cuz it's funny. If you talk about - if you're in Jamaica and you ask Jamaicans what makes somebody Jamaican, it's very different to what is said here. Because we have our own stereotypes, which we believe are stereotypes. So actually, what I found weird was the stereotypes that we put on ourselves are actually not things that people in Britain put on us like, you have a completely different stereotype of who we are.


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah.


Adjani

versus the stereotypes that we have ourselves. So I found that was quite fascinating, actually.


Brianna (TBP)

Interesting. But then I think that the stereotypes that we have here - they're like caricatures, they're not even -


Adjani

They're probably not even based on actual Jamaicans that's the joke. Yeah. So yeah, I found that was interesting is the stereotypes that people put on me, versus things that I would stereotypically think of myself. But yeah, I thought that was interesting.


Brianna (TBP)

I asked my dad this question, and he just said foxes. He was like the fact that there's just foxes out on the streets.


Adjani

Yeah, that's nuts. That's nuts. Nobody's scared. What the fuck is that. Actually I tell you my take. Yeah no, this place is crazy. So Jamaica has mosquitoes, obviously Jamaica mosquitoes. Well, mosquitoes are tiny, sometimes you hear them and you can't even see them. Until they're like on you and you, y'know, slap them off. I remember - and this was one of the first nights in this country. I'm staying at my Godmother's house and I saw a Daddy Long Legs, and I freaked the fuck out.


Brianna (TBP)

God I'm imagining seeing one of them for the first time...


Adjani

Because I'm like Daddy Long Legs? If mosquitoes in Jamaica are this big (gestures small), but then when they bite you the swelling is this big (gestures bigger)...IMAGINE this fucking thing! Yo when I mean a legit freak out and my auntie rushes in and she's like "what is it, what's the problem?" And I'm like "Uhhh, mosquito!" She was all Oh, you mean a daddy long legs? I'm like...what the fuck? Jumanji looking shit.


Both

(Laughs)


Adjani

Yeah, that was yeah, that. Yeah, nah, nah, there's so many things that is crazy.


Brianna (TBP)

That we just accept as normal like you're freaked out about the fox in the street and we're like well where else would the fox be?


Adjani

Yeah, like what?


Brianna (TBP)

So, moving on! At what age was it that you - not necessarily knew that you wanted to be a director - but at what age was it that you knew that film or storytelling was something that you were fascinated in and wanted to explore a bit more?


Adjani

So funny enough, that's disjointed. When I was fascinated in it is one thing. When I figured out I could explore it is a completely other thing. So funny enough, I remember I was like, I was in second form, that would be like grade eight? So that's what?


Brianna (TBP)

Like, 13?


Adjani

Yeah yeah yeah. So for Christmas my mother bought me this digital camera, four megapixels, banging. We thought it was banging. And it could record videos as well. And I don't think nobody - I don't think my mum knew at the time, we just kinda was fiddling around with camera and it could record videos. And we were like, whaaat? It could play the videos backwards. Man, that was a fucking move. Like, we would make up some Kung Fu. We'd make kung fu films. It was nuts. I literally did it until either I lost it or someone stole it. I can't confirm which one happened, but I feel like somebody's thieved it. Anyways.


Both

(Laughing)


Adjani

But we would do that the whole time. And even make like music videos. And again, so that's early 2000s right. But Jamaica has, like, our computer was still like 94. Like Windows 90, even though we're in like 2003 the school computer was like Windows 94. Yeah, so we literally couldn't even take it off the SD card.


Brianna (TBP)

So you would just watch it on the little screen.


Adjani

Yeah yeah yeah! We'd show everybody the digital camera like "Come watch this bro!" And then like when the card full we'd be like, alright, cool. We'll delete, like the most shit videos and then go again, like, so that's what we'd do. We couldn't even edit them. So essentially, one take video. We started making music videos, all kindsa ting. But then obviously, going grade nine, you have Career Day. Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, which one? Choose. And I was like alright cool, I guess architecture, whatever. And boom, went up and did that, went to uni, did architecture ,move back to Jamaica, get an architecture job. And it wasn't until 22.


Brianna (TBP)

Wow. That's some break.


Adjani

I remember my cousin came down. He was in England still. And he came down to visit and he was a photographer and filmmaker. So obviously at the time I'm working, I have a car. So I'm driving him to all these shoots. I'm just kind of helping him out. And I remember just being like, raah like, this is crazy. I'm like, yo, you're making money outta this ting? And he's like yeah, bro! I'm like, raah like, let me get in on that. And it's funny because that time - we literally made like a web series at the time.


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah? So it was kinda the start of a full circle moment.


Adjani

Yeah, it was like a sketch show. We made loads of comedy sketches. We just come up with ideas and make sketches. And funny enough, it wasn't until he left. So my cousin left, and somebody from Smirnoff, the vodka company, reached out and was like "yo, seeing your videos online, loved them, I was wondering if you could film this Facebook campaign for us." And I'm thinking......(excited) ohhhh shit!


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

And that was it. It wasn't until then I was like, Oh, raah, like you can, I can do this as a job.


Brianna (TBP)

Damn, so that's like chance. Like pure chance that they saw it.


Adjani

Yeah. Yeah. It's so crazy. So 22 was when I really was like, it was literally my first exposure to film as somewhat of a career. Like, if it wasn't for that summer? I'd have been an architect right now.


Brianna (TBP)

That's insane. Life happens in funny ways, doesn't it?


Adjani

It really does. It really does. Because everything snowballed from that web series, because it kind of started doing the rounds. Because, again, he had like, at that time, the Canon 5D was like, THE camera. Like the first HD DSLR. So, not only were we making comedy sketches, but it looked slick. So it kinda was getting a likkle buzz like people were like "yo, like, you see this new thing?" So out of that and then the Smirnoff job, it literally got me like a full time editing assistant job. And then I just worked there for about three years, until I came back to England for film school.


Brianna (TBP)

So where did you end up going to film school, and why?


Adjani

I went to MET Film School. So that's a series of events. So again, the person that hired me at the time, was arguably the most successful director in the country.


Brianna (TBP)

Oh damn, really?


Adjani

Yeah man, and he needed an assistant editor. So he had an editor, but he needed an assistant because he had too many jobs. So he was doing a reality show, there was a show called Project Runway?


Brianna (TBP)

Wow. Yeah. I was a fan of that.


Adjani

Yeah, so there was a Caribbean version of Project Runway called Mission Catwalk and it's like, competitors from all the islands trying to be a designer. So he was doing that show, but he needed someone to edit all his other shit, like his music videos and that stuff. So for about three years, I was working with him, then I got bumped up to work on the show itself. And then we started doing stuff for like BET centric, MTV because he was just getting all the jobs, I'm editing Sean Paul videos, all of that shit. But I realized quickly, I was like, man, somehow I've catapulted myself to like the top of the game. Fair enough I am not THE guy. But I'm working on like, all the big projects. And I remember my boss was kind of like, yo. Cuz I was I was still trying to make short films on the side and stuff. And I remember him saying to me, he was like, Listen, any director who you respect in this country, wanted to make films. But they started making money, then, you know, them get themselves a likkle girlfriend. So obviously, you have a girlfriend you want to take her out so you make a little bit more money. Then it's like, well, I'm making money, I want to have a nice car. Then you know, you have car bills, so you need more money. Then either you have a house or you get a girl pregnant. Whichever one of those things happen, you're now a slave to commercials. Because you need money. Yeah. And films don't get that money off top. Whereas commercials is the most lucrative form of advertising. But even himself, he's like, Bro, I didn't come into this game to make reality TV. But I have kids, I have a family.


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah, responsibilities.


Adjani

You know, so he was like, if you want to make films, bro, leave. Leave. Do it before you have any responsibility. And I remember googling like my favourite directors. And there was a pattern of either like extreme experience on set, or going into film school. And I was thinking, well, I'm already on like, the top sets already. And it's not for films. It's for reality shows, which is completely different. So I was like, I maybe I guess I need to go film school then. So that was the decision of alright cool, so let me google some film schools, blah, blah, blah, and then I end up coming to England.


Brianna (TBP)

Whilst I'm hearing your story, I'm sat here thinking, it's just mad. It's mad how it's just little moments that ended up here. Like if your cousin hadn't come over, if Smirnoff hadn't seen, if your boss hadn't given you that advice. It's like chance, or things happening for a reason.


Adjani

It was. I don't know. It's weird. I feel like I'm a skeptic but then if somebody convinces me, like, the rest of my life is based on this principle now. Even stuff like, my assistant. Halfway through the pandemic, my assistent started living with me, because she was like, in between places, and I saw like loads of wet wipes in the bathroom. I was like, yo, why, is it for your makeup and stuff? And she's like, nah, when you wipe you use wet wipes. I was like, huh? What about toilet tissue. And she's like "yeah, you use toilet tissue first and then a wet wipe. You boys don't use a wet wipe?" I was like aight, let me try this. Changed my life. Imagine I been wiping wrong my entire life. Crazy.


Both

(Laughing)


Adjani

So yeah, I'm a skeptic til I'm convinced and when I'm convinced I'm a philosopher of this new information.


Brianna (TBP)

You mentioned the pandemic there really briefly.


Adjani

Yes.


Brianna (TBP)

Obviously, the arts were quite heavily affected during the pandemic. Artists being told, maybe go and retrain elsewhere. Why do you think that the arts are valuable and deserve to be treated equally as importantly as say, a mathematician or a scientist?


Adjani

You know, I've thought a lot about what art is actually. And for me, art is the conscious expression, or evoking of an emotion through a creative art, through an outlet. And I think that's the difference between a sculpture and a tool. A tool is functional. Sculpture evokes an emotion. And the person who did it knew what they were doing when they did it. They knew that this Gollum would make people feel scary at night, whatever. And the role of the artist is to express what those who aren't artists feel. Because they don't have the skills to do so. Yeah. And that is important because our existence is prefaced on stories. It is stories why we are religious, it is stories why we believe in the monarchy or whatever, it is stories why we have St. George's day, which is nuts. That's crazy. you celebrate - you have a whole public holiday on somebody who kill a dragon.


Brianna (TBP)

(Laughs)


Adjani

What, what is that?


Brianna (TBP)

It is mad. You're right, it is mad.


Adjani

But then if black people said they want a public holiday, they gonna be like ummmm. It's funny, because there's a poet called Nikki Giovanni, who you should research if you don't know and you should get her books. And she has a children's book about caterpillar. It's like a children's book. Essentially, the caterpillars, while the ants are collecting the, you know, food. The caterpillars are making a song, singing and making music. And the ants are working to the beat and you know, collecting grapes, collecting grapes, collecting grapes. And then the rain comes, and all the insects you know, crawl inside the hole. And the caterpillars are like, yo, like, give us some of those grapes. And the ants are like, whoa, well, if you wanted grapes you should have picked them. And the caterpillars like but whose music were you picking them to? And if we weren't playing this rhythm, who would keep you going? Right?


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah, 100%.


Adjani

And I do think that art is literally essential to human existence.


Brianna (TBP)

I agree with you totally.


Adjani

Because it expresses how we feel. I actually worry particularly from a man's perspective. Before going to therapy, art has always been therapy for me. Like have a breakup? I'm gonna write a film about this breakup. I've done it like twice. It's crazy. But that has been my creative expression. Yeah, of how I feel. And for musicians that they talk about, like jazz musicians, you know, crying through their saxophone. You know, and even musician like stormzy and all of these mans, like, you have rappers talking about depression and that stuff right? And I worry for the men who aren't artists. How do you express yourself? Because art is one of the few places in which men are allowed to safely express themselves without being judged or called a sissy, or called a wuss or whatever they put on men who express themselves. So it's literally critical to our existence.


Brianna (TBP)

I 100% agree. And I think in a way, we saw a real juxtaposition during the pandemic where on one hand people were saying, we're not going to invest in it. We're not going to put money into it, retrain. But then on the other side of that, what got us through this, you know?


Adjani

What! What got us through this. Netflix.


Brianna (TBP)

Literally! Netflix, prime, music, like all of that.


Adjani

But if we retrain, what y'all gon' watch?


Brianna (TBP)

Right? So speaking of that, was there anything that you watched during the pandemic that like stuck with you? That you were like, damn, that was good content.


Adjani

Man there were - listen that pandemic. Last year was about two years, at least two years


Brianna (TBP)

At least.


Adjani

At least. I might even say two and a half. I feel like the first three months is the first pandemic and is like a year and a half. And then the second pandemic is the next year, and there were so many things. I didn't even jump on the Tiger King hype.


Brianna (TBP)

No me neither!


Adjani

I wasn't on that wave. But The Last Dance? Hooo. That Michael Jordan documentary? Did you see it?


Brianna (TBP)

So good. I watched because it was the last thing that Kobe was in right so I was like, well, I have to watch it.


Adjani

Yeah. Listen, that documentary was something else. And it just made me think about myself as an artist, and like, like they say, there's no key to success and like there is. It's consistency and hard work. I've never met someone who is super successful who was not relentless in training. It's funny though the craziest part of that documentary is actually Dennis Rodman.


Brianna (TBP)

True but the craziest part of anything that Dennis Rodman is ever involved in is always going to be Dennis Rodman.


Both

(Laugh)


Adjani

It's funny because everybody talking about training hard, meanwhile my man go off and have orgies and then come back and still!


Both

(Laughing)


Adjani

But yeah, man, that documentary really that was something! And I feel that there was more as well. I don't know. I'm not sure. Because there were waves like, Netflix had a really good run in that.


Brianna (TBP)

They must have made so much money out of this pandemic!


Adjani

They killed it. I'm trying to think what else came out at that time? I don't know. Yeah, no The Last Dance was something special.


Brianna (TBP)

For sure. BBC were quite good last year as well. Like, the Michaela Coel one? I May Destroy You!


Adjani

Oh my God, that's lockdown two so that's, that's 2020 point five. That's the second year. Like that's the second year of lockdown. I mean yeah, wow.


Brianna (TBP)

It absolutely blew my mind.


Adjani

That had me in a chokehold. Like I got my cousin's to watch it. Yeah, you see Episode Four, when the -


Both

(stunned nodding)


Brianna (TBP)

It was so unexpected from her, because like, before that it was chewing gum.


Adjani

Bruuuuuv!


Brianna (TBP)

Which is like, hilarious. And then this.


Adjani

Listen. Yeah, that was year two. I May Destroy You. That kicked out my mind in a different way of just like, storytelling, and the layers, like it's nuts. Just the nuance of it as well.


Brianna (TBP)

It's so clever.


Adjani

So crazy. Yeah. Yeah. That was ... that inspired me. That inspired me yeah.


Brianna (TBP)

She kind of did the same thing on that that you did on Dreaming Whilst Black in that she wrote, she produced and she starred in it.


Adjani

Oh, yes. She did all kinds of things. Yeah. Listen, Black women pave the way and I follow.


Brianna (TBP)

Yes! So, which of those three things, writing, directing, and acting, which are the furthest from your comfort zone?


Adjani

Actor.


Brianna (TBP)

Oh yeah. Is this the first time you've done it?


Adjani

So I did the web series in 2019, that was the first time and this is the second. Yeah, nah because I'm not used to like - actually, I'm quite stoic.


Brianna (TBP)

Really? I haven't got that from you at all today!


Adjani

Some call it stoic, some call it repressed emotions. It's like cool, I'm happy and all that stuff but it's like, I'm not used to being vulnerable actually. That's what I would say. Yeah, I'm not used to being vulnerable. And to act is to be vulnerable. And it's super uncomfortable in that sphere, like I don't like yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.


Brianna (TBP)

Do you think the only way that you would happily go into acting is if you were the director?


Adjani

So I didn't actually direct the pilot. Nah nah, a friend, Sebastian Thiel directed the pilot. But I wouldn't act unless I was super comfortable with 1: the role and 2: the story in general. So it can't be, I have a great role in something that's shit or something that I think the message is dodgy. Like, if I'm going to put myself through that emotional vulnerability, it has to be for legitimate reasons.


Brianna (TBP)

Okay yeah, for sure, I get that. When did this when did this project start? Like, what inspired it? When did you start creating?


Adjani

Um, so Dreaming Whilst Black as a concept started in 2016. I just had an idea to do it. I decided to do a web series. Thought it'll be cool, it'll be fun. And in just writing it and seeing the success of hood documentaries, then SWIL - that's Michael Dapaah's thing - that was this whole other level, like eclipsing each other. It was like Ackee and Saltfish, hood documentaries and then SWIL just keep eclipsing each other in terms of success. I was like, man, not only could this be a cool web series, I genuinely think this could be a cool TV show. Let me make this web series as great as possible. Me and my friends at four quarter films. From film school. We all just kind of poured everything into this web series that came out in 2018. And BBC clocked on to it around 2019. Mid 2019, yeah. So we were online for a while. And I was thinking, goddamn, I put all this money into this shit. And it's like nothing's even happening. But yeah, fortunately, that came through.


Brianna (TBP)

So they came on board in 2019. And then when, when are they going to be? Or are they going to be putting the full thing out for people to see?


Adjani

(Shrugs)


Brianna (TBP)

No idea.


Adjani

We have to write it and shoot it. They haven't commissioned it yet. They only commissioned, the pilot.


Brianna (TBP)

Right, so we need to blow that up basically.


Adjani

Basically, y'all need to keep watching the shit. So we can get the commission.


Brianna (TBP)

Because it's so funny. I mean, it is from start to finish. Hilarious.


Adjani

Thank you.


Brianna (TBP)

Cuz I watched the trailer bit of like in the office, and the guy asking you for advice.


Adjani

Yeah.


Brianna (TBP)

When he went she's vibrant. I was like, nah nah nah nah, she's Black


Both

(Laughs)


Brianna (TBP)

That cracked me up.


Adjani

Thank you. Thank you. Nah we had fun, man. It was good. It was fun. It was fun. And it's funny because people think that we'll keep going down this racial thing. And I'm like, umm I don't really care about white people like, I can't wait till it's like you meet his family. Then you meet like his friends. Or you meet like - so it's not really stated in the pilot, but his cousin's wife is Nigerian - till they meet the Nigerian people. Like yeah, it's a whole thing yeah.


Brianna (TBP)

Without like giving too much away, how would you describe the plot of this of this thing? What is Dreaming Whilst Black about?


Adjani

Dreaming Whilst Black is about the journey of someone finding the confidence to chase their dreams and what that means. That would be the overarching theme. So it's hooked on him trying to be a filmmaker. And, you know, it will go through, you know, self doubt, for trying to do the right thing. And, you know, I would say without giving away anything. Season One will explore the difference between someone doing something based on their intentions versus the impact of their actions.


Brianna (TBP)

Interesting, you've got me gripped.


Adjani

Yes, because I think we do things a lot of times and, white people included, based on their intentions.You can't cuss them because their intentions were good.


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah.


Adjani

But what was the impact of your actions? So dreaming whilst black season one, we'll explore the difference between in intentions and impact and what you should focus on.


Brianna (TBP)

That's such an important conversation. I think it's a conversation a lot of people have been having the last year.


Adjani

A lot. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think we, some we need to have it amongst ourselves in the community. Because, yeah, we can, of course cuss white people all we want and yes, we should cuss white people all we want. But we cannot absolve ourselves from critique.


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah. 100%.


Adjani

That is what the show will do. And I don't know maybe white people will get it. Maybe they won't. I don't know. It's not my business.


Brianna (TBP)

But that's such a good place to be in. Because I think a lot of onversation I've had with people - and with my own, like co collaborators on stuff that we're working on with TBP - Like how far do we want to cater to white people? Do you know what I mean? How far do we want them involved in that? Like you can come, get involved, get on board if you want, but we aren't actually catering to you.


Adjani

It's not for you! Like look, I used to bang Downton Abbey. It was a very guilty pleasure. But I kind of low key really enjoyed it until it kind of got mad. I feel like Season 4 I was like you gone too crazy, like I can't. But up until that point, I actually really enjoyed it.And that's perfectly fine. Matter of fact, I remember when they tried to add black people and I'm like guys stop.


Brianna (TBP)

Like guys, don't worry about it. You don't need to do this.


Adjani

Don't worry. Don't stress it. I'm good. Keep doing this middle class white ting.


Brianna (TBP)

This is how I feel about The Crown. I feel like I'm watching and I'm like why do I love this so much?


Adjani

You know what though, The Crown is good storytelling. Because they can like - for me who literally cares nothing about the Royal Family, don't know why them there - for you to hook me when I'm genuinely not invested in this shit. It means it's excellent storytelling. Same thing with fleabag.


Brianna (TBP)

Man, I loved that show.


Adjani

Fleabag I'm just like, it's such a middle class white woman problems but it's great. I literally don't mind there's not Black people in there. Because I'm like, let's be real.


Brianna (TBP)

We mostly wouldn't be there.


Both

(Laughs)


Adjani

When I went to film school, I was everybody's only black friend. So yeah, it's fine, we don't need to be put in there. But yeah, man. So that's the thing for Dreaming Whilst Black. We're doing our thing. And them don't really need to involve themselves, just tuck yourself into our story.


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah! This is exactly what I want, because I want to bring The Black Project into the real world and have like, cultural enrichment centers and it'll be like, you can come. You can come and have our food and you can listen to our music and you can read our stories and you can join our classes. But it's not for you. You're welcome. But it's not for you.


Adjani

It's not for you. We're not gon' take the scotch bonnet out the jollof rice. We not gon' make the jerk chicken less spicy. If you can handle it, handle it. If you can't handle it, so life go, eat a pasty.


Both

(Laugh)


Brianna (TBP)

So when you were getting into film, once you've done film school and you are trying to move into the professional world, what were like the biggest obstacles that you found either external or internal?


Adjani

Ummm, access. Access to just everything. Access to information, access to jobs, access to know how of how to navigate the industry. But also there became - and I'm still rattling my brain around this now - what does a black... what is native storytelling? What is native film language? I feel like the end of the day, we can't negate the fact that film schools teach you how to make films based on European cinema. And you see clearly in the stories that we tell just in general. Culturally, Jamaicans tell stories different from the British, different to the Nigerians, different to the Ghanaians, but funnily enough, I feel like the Caribbean, being that the Caribbean is obviously like an offspring of African communities, we have similarity in our storytelling, which is a multi hyphenate of genres. Which is why Michaela Coel's project is so fascinating, because it's not a single drama. Some bits funny, some bits have thriller elements to it. Some bits are hard hitting. It's the multifaceted nature of storytelling, which is a very black way of storytelling. And for me, I'm really trying to figure out now in terms of exposure to like African films, like Nigerian films, Senegalese films, you know, all of these films, like what is a Black storyteller? What is a Black or Jamaican way of storytelling? That is not hooked on their ting? You know, in the same way that Chinua Achebe's novels are not written in the same way like a Jane Austen or Agatha Christie. He's bent the English language in such a way to make it Nigerian. You know what I'm saying? I'm still trying to figure out how do I bend the rules of cinema to become a Jamaican way of cinema? You know, I mean, I'm still trying to figure that out now. But yeah, I would say generally, it's more access. But I feel like now, that's where my headspace is.


Brianna (TBP)

So what do you think could be done, or needs to be done, to make it more accessible to people? Is it an issue of finances? Is it too expensive to get involved as it?


Adjani

One of it is actually finances because film is expensive. Yeah. And film school is also expensive, right. But even though there are cheaper cameras, and all of that stuff, it's access to information, the grants, you know, more access to that stuff. But also we need more gatekeepers who are are Black or people of color, who are interested in championing black stories. The reality is - so for example, if I am now put in charge of commissioning Japanese stories, I didn't even know until literally last week the difference that anime and what's the other thing?


Brianna (TBP)

I wanna say manga maybe?


Adjani

Manga! It's two different things.


Brianna (TBP)

I didn't know that until just now. I thought two names for cartoons.


Adjani

I thought the whole thing was just called anime. But there's a specific type of animation, which is Japanese specific. Wow. But you see what I mean. I don't know, but no, I'm in charge of commissioning Japanese stories. It's safe to say I may by fluke, commission a good one. But I actually have no gauge to know what is our good Japanese story, right? And so we need more commissioners who are from our backgrounds, who understand our backgrounds, to know what is a good Black story, or what is a good Asian story? Or what is a good whatever story. So I think we need more. So not only do we need more access to information and support - financial support to pursue these things, but we also need more gatekeepers who understand our stories who will see the value in our stories and therefore commission our stories.


Brianna (TBP)

We get a lot of like, trauma porn almost.


Adjani

Oh my god, they love it.


Brianna (TBP)

They LOVE it. And it's the worst? I want like a romcom with black people. I don't need to see another film where we're slaves or victims or dead.


Adjani

They can't get enough. They can't get enough. Mi sure if I said right now, if mi say yo, man has a slavery comedy.


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah, not that, they would bite your hand off for it.


Adjani

You know what I mean!


Brianna (TBP)

Okay, I got two more question. Three more questions, quite quick ones. If you could give young people, or a younger version of yourself one piece of advice. What would it be? What do you know now that you wish you'd known at 16?


Adjani

Read.


Brianna (TBP)

That's it? That simple?


Adjani

Read. It's funny because I can tell you bare shit. But if I told myself to read, yeah, the reading would give them the bare shit.


Both

(Laughs)


Adjani

So here's what I would say. And to expand on that point briefly. We do not need to individually - we don't individually figure out E equals mc squared. The teacher just tells us "Look, don't stress yourself bout figure out the formula. This is the formula. It work, just use it." Cool. We use it. Life. We spend so much of life figuring out stuff. When there are people who have written about it. So if you just read it... You don't have to go through the trauma and the heartache and everything. You just read it, know it, boom, move forward. So you can make new mistakes. Instead of making the same old mistakes that your parents made, your grandparents made, bruv, they wrote about it, and they told you how to bypass it.


Brianna (TBP)

So just read!


Adjani

Just read. Like improve yourself. That's what I would say. And not just like, don't just read like 50 shades of grey or some shit, like, read broadly. Because so many things that I learned I'm like, what if I just knew that two years ago. Like there's a book called Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. Bruh. If I knew that book at 19? What? I'd be a millionaire now. Or even just like Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Finances. Listen, get clued up. The world runs on money. And the world runs on shit like taxes and all that shit. And rich people ain't playing by the same rules that we're playing by. You got to understand what the rules are. Because for me right now, bruh I remember when I was in uni when Bitcoin was, well when Bitcoin started.


Brianna (TBP)

I wish I'd known about Bitcoin before it cost the money it costs now... I'd be rich.


Adjani

Nah you don't understand. Bitcoin was less than $1. You know how I know about Bitcoin, because we used to have certain drug heads in our uni, some white youths, that used to use Bitcoin for buy drugs on the black market. So not just weed and that shit like, like hard drugs. Yeah. Ketamine shit, them were using Bitcoin. I'm thinking, imagine if them still have that now. So you see what I'm saying. But then the knowledge if you don't have the knowledge, again, I was young and dumb. I was using, I was using my grant money to buy cologne. The fuck? I got free money and spent it on perfume? And I'm not saying don't do the nice things, but bruh like. So yeah man, that's what I would say. Read and make yourself financially literate. Because they don't teach it and you need it. Read also like nonfiction stuff as well like self development, productivity. There are loads of books, which are super accessible. And if I had read back then? Damn. And I'm telling you these books, Chip and Dan Heath, Switch. That's what the book is called, Switch. Mastery by Robert Greene, banger. Deep Work by Cal Newport. Oh. My. Days. If I had read that book at uni. First, easy, really, actually easy. That works. There's a book called Moonwalking with Einstein. Stop it.


Brianna (TBP)

All of these I'm making notes. They're all gonna get got.


Adjani

Yeah, yeah. So Moonwalking with Einstein is a study of memory. So good


Brianna (TBP)

Oh, that sounds interesting.


Adjani

It's nuts.


Brianna (TBP)

So the last two questions. The first is what is one recipe you couldn't live without? And the last is what does being black mean to you? I know you said that it didn't have meaning when you were younger, but now that you're outside of Jamaica, what does it kind of mean to you now?


Adjani

Okay, one recipe I couldn't live without, even though I'm now pescatarian pea stew oxtail. Listen. That shit's gourmet food. If you've never had it, have it. Eat it at a Jamaican restaurant. That shit's gourmet. Oxtail, and stew peas, again, I eat none of these things anymore. Stew peas with pig's tail? Ooooooooh. That's how you know there's a God. So that's that question. What does Black mean to me? Easy. It's funny because when I think about blackness and the word blackness, you notice it's not called Brown. Like for some reason we've been called Black. And indirectly, in the reclamation of blackness and really understanding what blackness means. For me, it means boundless possibilities. Unlimitedness. Unlimited potential, because even when you think about if you're in a black space, you don't know how far it goes.


Brianna (TBP)

Yeah it's a total unknown.


Adjani

It's endless, endless possibilities in blackness. At night, if you cannot see anything, you do not know what can happen. And that for me is exciting. And when I think about blackness from that perspective, blackness is beautiful. Because anything can happen. You can reach out your hand. You might grab a snake maybe but you might grab gold, you don't know. So I think Yeah, for me, Blackness just means unlimited potential, which I think is a beautiful thing. So yeah.


Brianna (TBP)

Someone that I did this with said to them blackness feels like the opposite of oppression. Because with whiteness comes a whole history of, of limitation and all that weight. But blackness is a whole story of freedom against that and I was like, that's beautiful. Which feels similar to what you're saying.


Adjani

Yeah, yeah. And I think the potential is beautiful. I think that is yeah, it's a beautiful thing. So yes, those are my questions. Listen, I have another meeting I have to jump Brianna.


Brianna (TBP)

That's all good. Thank you so much for your time.


Adjani

Yeah man, love to you and keep doing your thing, that initiative that you're doing like just the initiative to do this.


Brianna (TBP)

Thank you.


Adjani

You're lightyears ahead. I was still fucking around when I was 24.


Both

(Laughs)


Brianna (TBP)

Thank you so much. And it was really nice to talk to you.


Adjani

Thank you.




"Dreaming Whilst Black" is available on BBC iPlayer now.