Sheila Nortley is the associate director for the DUTCHMAN by Amiri Baraka, presented by Outer Gaea Company and Théâtre Libre 8th - 26th October, Tristan Bates Theatre. Tickets and info here.
Here’s some Q and A with Sheila.
How did you feel about stories of people who looked like you or stories of families like yours - when growing up or now? Were you aware of an absence of stories? I remember watching Desmond’s and Cosby Show when I was really young. There was a definitely a feeling of familiarity with some of the characters but I think we were all so used to the absence of black stories - particularly black British characters in the screen - that it wasn’t really felt. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and Sister Sister and Moesha came on that I realised just how much I wanted to see more of that.
And so, what do you make of the awareness of Black History Month?
It’s a beautiful time. It’s a time of reflection where there’s a collective energy towards re-educating ourselves and reminding ourselves of what our ancestors did. I’m glad to our unique history recognised: celebrated for the triumphs and lamented for the tragedies at the same time.
What would you say to a more dominant culture which may not authentically portray stories about black women, about women? About otherness?
Nothing. I’m not sure it’s their responsibility to do so. If and when they’d like to there are millions of black women who are happy to portray ourselves authentically. They could easily hire blacks people to tell out stories and they’re been a huge incentive towards increasing diversity on and off screen. I think minorities are no longer relying on dominant cultures to reflect us authentically though.. To the dominant culture we might always be feisty, hyper-sexualised or the extreme opposite (asexual nannies and nature’s) through the White gaze. That’s a perception which is valid. Everyone can have their own perception. But when it’s the only portrayal it becomes problematic
Any thoughts on what has influenced your artistic practice over the years ?
Just life really. Reality is often scarier than fiction and I find real people fascinating and real stories fascinating. No doubt my real life creeps into my work
What made you want to be in the creative arts?
If think for many of us we just kinda found ourselves here out of necessity. It wasn’t really a choice as much as it was where we needed to be as creatives. I’m like a fish out of water when I can’t tell stories and make films. It’s more of a thing we can’t help.
Are there any difficult lessons that you have learned ? is there any advice you’d like to give others ?
Advice I’d give others is to remain authentic and to be kind to everyone.
tell me about your current and future projects?
Currently shooting a feature film called Game of Two Halves
what was the last artistic work that made you cry ?
Farming by Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje
if money was no object what projects would you do?
Oh wow, there are so many things I’d like to do. I love history so perhaps some epic historical drama set in ancient times but with some elements of sci-fi and afrofuturism in there. I think that’d be stunning.
Sheila has written and produced several international award-winning productions including ‘Zion,’ ‘Victim’ and feature film 'David is Dying.’ In 2013 Sheila shot the independent hit 'Sable Fable' which premiered and won Best Narrative Feature / Director at the American Black Film Festival in Miami, Florida. In 2016, Sheila was invited to Buckingham Palace where she was awarded the Woman of the Future award in Arts & Culture for her work in film. The following year her film 'Limbo' was selected at various international festivals including Cannes Pan-African Film Festival. Following an invitation to 10 Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister, 2018 saw her become an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society for her particular determination in committing to the Society’s mission of promoting the values of the Commonwealth.
DUTCHMAN by Amiri Baraka, presented by Outer Gaea Company and Théâtre Libre
8th - 26th October
Let’s pretend that you are free of your own history. And I am free of my history.
Dutchman is Amiri Baraka’s award-winning one-act play, revolving around two characters: Lula, a white woman, and Clay, a black man. It lands right at the intersectionality of race, gender and class to present an explosive exploration of white privilege, masculinity, power and sexuality.
For Black History Month we celebrate Amiri Baraka (then known as LeRoi Jones) both for his civil rights activism and as a revolutionary provocateur of African-American poetry; significantly affecting the course of American literature.