Chelsea director Kevin Wilson Jr picked up a Gold Screen in the Changing the World Frame by Frame category for his film Unboxing and Gold Screen in the Commercial category for his film Widen the Screen at this year’s YDA. Here, he discusses YouTube unboxing channels, authenticity and vulnerability, and using filmmaking to talk about bigger issues.
How did you get into directing?
I fell into directing by necessity, it certainly wasn’t planned. I was acting in productions in the Theatre Department at my Undergraduate college, but I was a Journalism major.
When I was told that I’d need to change my major from Journalism to Theatre in order to continue doing shows I ended up writing my own play and directing it myself with the support of my school’s Chancellor. I fell in love with the feeling of telling stories that were burning inside me and I was instantly hooked.
What was the inspiration behind Unboxing?
I received both scripts from Grey New York through my team at Chelsea Pictures. I was immediately invested in both projects because they dealt with issues that have a very significant impact on both children and Black People in our country.
With Unboxing, the team of creatives at Grey were inspired by YouTube Unboxing Channels that young children are captivated by these days and wanted to create a piece that made people feel like they were watching a lighthearted unboxing video until things take a dangerous turn. I have three young children and I couldn’t fathom the pain of having to bury one due to fatal, preventable mistakes.
And what was the inspiration behind Widen The Screen?
With Widen the Screen, I was drawn to it because I was being presented with a subject that I’d already been discussing with my filmmaking colleagues for years, Black representation in television and film.
Filmmaking is one of the most powerful mediums in existence. The screen gives you a glimpse into people’s cultures and if those cultures and the misrepresentation of their lives can lead to dangerous ramifications for people outside the screen. I wanted to be a part of exposing those biases and flipping the images to show who we as Black people really are.
How long were the shoots and what were the most challenging aspect of each project?
For Unboxing we shot one day in Long Island and we shot two days in Atlanta for Widen the Screen.
What have you learned during the process of making these films?
Community plays a huge role in my image-making process. I’ve learned a lot about what and who I need around me to produce meaningful work, and that is a team of artists and technicians who will bring their own culture, experiences and passions to the work.
Important works like Widen the Screen and Unboxing require authenticity and vulnerability if they’re going to reach the people we hope to reach. I believe audiences can tell when we directors are faking the funk, when we’re just putting something on the screen to be part of the moment or to receive a pat on the back. And they can also tell when there is genuine love and a desire to make a difference being put into the work, so I’ve learned to be really intentional about inviting genuine, passionate collaborators with a story to tell to help me bring works like these to the screen.
What does it mean to you to win a YDA and what can we expect to see from you in future?
As I’m writing this I’m thinking about all the craziness happening around our country and our world. Kyle Rittenhouse was just acquitted of all charges after he took an assault rifle to a Black Lives Matter Protest and killed multiple unarmed people. Men in Georgia are on trial for killing Ahmaud Arbery and their defence team continues to target Arbery’s family and Black Clergy. Julius Jones was nearly executed for a crime he couldn’t have committed and it took a National outcry for the Governor of Oklahoma to grant him clemency just two hours before he was to be executed. Imagine the psychological torture Mr. Jones endured.
Winning a YDA is important to me because it gives me another opportunity to be able to use filmmaking to talk about the things that are critically important in our world. I want to continue doing work that speaks to the issues we as a community are being confronted with and finding fresh, non-didactic ways of presenting these issues to people so that we can make sure the conversations don’t die out.
Do you plan to work in the advertising industry and if so, what most excites you about that prospect?
I enjoy working in advertising because it gives me the opportunity to say exciting things with some of the best artists and creative minds in the world. I hope to continue working and making content in the ad space for the rest of my life.
Interview by Daniel Huntley shots