Many of today’s most acclaimed filmmakers were once young directors with nothing but a rented camera and friends for actors. These young directors did not kickstart their careers with 3-hour long features premiering in large cinema theatres. Instead, they would invest all their time and talent into the making of short films. The short film industry might not be commercially popular amongst film audiences. However, in the film festival scene, short films are often the indicative factor of Hollywood’s next Quentin Tarantino.
Donta Storey Celebrates Queer Black Pride through Cinema
Thirty-two-year-old Donta Storey is an emerging short film director. The young director has recently gained immense popularity because of their new short film release, LiME, which marks Donta’s directorial debut. LiME was awarded at the San Francisco Black Film Festival and screened at the Outfest Fusion Film Festival in Los Angeles in March 2020. Also, the film made its premiere on Amazon Prime earlier this year on the 1st of April.
Set in the urban jungle of Compton, California in the early ’00s, LiME tells the story of Deshawn, a young man who discovers how hard it is to live in his truth after experiencing the bitterness of the real world. He has a choice, to conform to societal norms, or become “the sweet amongst the sour”. LiME has been praised by the likes of FILM THREAT, Queerty, Means Happy, and the Hyper Real Film Club.
Alongside being a director, Donta is primarily an actor and writer based in Los Angeles. The young actor Donta is set to star as Dooley in the upcoming dark comedy, ‘Dooley Does Murder!’.
We were really excited to chat with Donta, get to know their journey, and how LiME came to be. Here is MADE’s interview with the talented Donta:
- Tell us more about LiME. What themes are you trying to explore in the plotline?
At its core, LiME is a story about overcoming adversity and finding the courage to be yourself. As a filmmaker, I wanted to tell a story that represented my storytelling style and my personal experience.
Furthermore, I wanted the story to explore the ugly truth regarding homophobia in the black community. In the film, Deshawn is faced with a decision to accept himself and become comfortable in his own skin. To live like he truly feels. Also, the film includes another theme, which is black and brown experience. You will notice that the film only showcases black and brown characters, and it was important to me to give space to our experiences, and our stories, as they are oftentimes erased from the narrative.
Courage, Compassion, and Growth are also themes that the film explores in its unfolding.
- What message does your film attempt to translate to audiences?
The film’s tagline is “be the sweet amongst the sour”, and I mean it. I hope the film inspires people to revel in their truth regardless of the hurdles they may face. Also, I hope it inspires more people to step into the ally role for their loved ones. Everyone has overcome something in their lives, and I hope the film moves people enough that if they weren’t before, they decide to move with love. In the end, we all just need love.
- As a first-time director, what encouraged you to take on this for the first time? What challenges did you face while making this film?
As an actor, you don’t get much control outside of what you bring to the character. As we all know, being a black talent in Hollywood can be terribly limited as it currently stands, and I wanted to give my hand at something I’ve been passionate about my entire life. I’ve been writing since childhood, acting since grade school, and directing was always a dream. I realized that in order to tell my story or the stories I wanted to see on the screen, I would have to do it myself.
Originally, LiME was a personal project. I wanted to deal with past trauma, and I decided to pour it into a script, and shortly thereafter I decided to produce the film. As a first-time director, I ran into every imaginable issue, but I walked out of it as a better creative. The entire experience was very cathartic.
- In what way does your life story translate itself in LiME?
LiME is based on my experience as a youth growing up in Compton. The characters in the film represent the friends and family I had in my corner at that age. I remember the assault like it was yesterday. It isn’t something I ever thought I would revisit, especially not in this way. But sharing this film on the festival circuit and encountering audience members—many of whom were queer—who stopped to thank me for sharing my story for they too have been in scary situations, was rewarding and shocking. I was in drill team, and marching band, and walked those very streets we filmed the movie on. LiME is a piece of me now and then.
- Every film resonates with a particular type of person. With whom would LiME resonate?
Everyone, I hope. I mean, we all know someone who has overcome trauma, and/or adversity. I think every person on this planet can connect and relate to wanting to be seen for yourself, your humanity. I think celebrating our differences makes us stronger than dividing them. I made LiME for everyone, but especially the black and brown youth of the world. I need them to know that it gets better, and they are worth it. I need anyone who sees this film to know I’ve been there, and that I’m still here and surrounded by love and light. It’s easy to tell someone to hang in there, but I and so many others are an example that the pain won’t last forever.
- You’re an actor before anything else. Tell us about your acting journey.
As a kid living on East Hollywood, I began acting in community theater and doing tons of extra work. I remember going to see Moesha, and One on One being filmed, and that is what made me fall in love with TV and film in particular. I was amazed at the process and loved seeing people who looked like me on such major platforms. It molded me to believe that it was attainable, it made me feel like I could do it.
- Out of the different roles—actor, director, producer, writer—you’ve taken on a film set, which would you say is your favorite, which is your least favorite, and why to both?
I would say it depends on the day. Sometimes you want to just pour into a character or a visual. Acting and directing can bring you a joy that is indescribable. In addition, I feel like the power is in the pen, so writing is a very close second. I won’t cheat though; I will say producing is where I really get to flex my overall creative muscles. As a producer, you get to pour into every aspect of a project. It’s a very important role, and it does require many sleepless nights, but it’s something I’m working really hard at doing more of.
- Are there any films that inspired Donta Storey to become who they are today, and in what way they might have inspired you?
I watch Clockers by Spike Lee, Set it Off by F. Gary Gray, SCREAM by Wes Craven, Barton Fink by The Coen Brothers, and Eve’s Bayou by Kasi Lemmons annually. I’m a huge horror fan, and I love anything that has to do with Camp, and I love black films that speak to our culture, and our humanity. I think the directors I just named did that in very different ways, and I love them for it. I saw myself, and I saw my family on my screen. These are the writers and filmmakers who inspired me to have the courage to tell the stories I want to tell.
- What are you watching TV and Film-wise?
Right now I’m re-watching HBO’s ‘Watchmen’, and I really enjoyed Euphoria. I’ve been destroyed by I May Destroy You. In the film world, I really enjoyed Numa Perrier’s ‘Jezebel’, and Channing Godfrey Peoples ‘Miss Juneteenth’. I am also really excited to see Nia DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’ too.
- What do you hope to accomplish as a filmmaker?
I hope to tell stories that put the voiceless centerstage. I think talking diversity is fun, but actually implementing it starts with us. I think it starts with the stories we write, we film, we fund, and we support. I hope to be a part of making inclusion in entertainment non-negotiable across every board.
The young Donta Storey’s LiME is now available via Amazon Prime, and it will be available on the Dekkoo.com streaming app August 7, 2020. Don’t forget to catch it!