The Director Of ‘195 Lewis’ Tells Us Why It’s ‘Paramount We Tell Our Own Stories’

The Director Of ‘195 Lewis’ Tells Us Why It’s ‘Paramount We Tell Our Own Stories’

Anne almost ruins brunch just by showing up.

Kris is new in town and hardly knows anyone, so Anne thought she’d take her to a regular brunch thing that some of the women in the community rotate around their apartments. The only problem is that the regular brunch thing is the Femme of Color Brunch, and Anne is anything but femme.

She also has a history with at least a couple of the femmes present and approximately zero shame. The hostess makes an exception on account of Kris, but Anne better not try anything funny, she tells her from behind the kitchen island. A couple of mimosas later, though, and Anne’s calling someone by the wrong name in one of the upstairs bedrooms while the women downstairs discuss sex positivity as a means of building community.

None of these dynamics should be foreign to anyone who’s spent time in the spaces depicted onscreen, but it’s not very often that we get to see this kind of praxis-shattering, intra-community messiness translated to the screen. That’s one of the many ways in which 195 Lewis excels.

The show captures these kinds of internecine struggles with a realism not often found in similar projects, the kind of ease that appears so effortless that it obscures just how much work actually went into the final product. Some of the characters are poly, and most of them smoke weed throughout the first five episodes I caught at its NewFest screening on Oct. 22. (Full disclosure: INTO was one of the NewFest sponsors this year.)

But whereas another show might make a “poly episode” or an episode where everyone gets really high, 195 Lewis weaves these elements into the greater world of its characters in a way that’s both refreshingly seamless and true to life.

Perhaps this is because 195 Lewis, an upcoming web series about four queer black women living together in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, is free of what Code Switch might call an “explanatory comma.”

It trusts that its audience is capable enough to figure out what they’re watching and why they should care, even if they’ve never been invited to a Femme of Color Brunch or ever would be. A better explanation might just be that the team behind the showcreators Yaani Supreme and Rae Leone Allen, director Chanelle Aponte Pearson, and co-writer/producer Terence Nanceare just really good at what they do.

“Anytime I watch something, I’m always like, ‘Why did this person want to tell this particular story?’” said Pearson, who considers storytelling to be an “important” arm of any liberation movement.

“That’s not to say that folks should not tell stories with characters they don’t personally identify with, but it is absolutely paramount that we tell our own stories,” Pearson continued.

“We have the skills and the talent and the tools to center our stories and help them come to light, so it’s just frustrating to see these stories being told over and over through another lens.”

INTO had the chance to speak with Pearson about 195 Lewis earlier this week. We also talked about how Pearson got the show to look so pretty, how they got involved in the project, and whether or not they know any Annes irl.

Check out some of our conversation below.

HARRON WALKER: How did you initially get involved with 195 Lewis?

CHANELLE APONTE PEARSON: So, I manage a production company with Terence Nance. The 195 Lewis team actually approached him to see if he would be interested in directing it. He looked at it, and then slid it to me and said, “I think you need to do this.” It was really scary. I didn’t think that my entry point to directing would be someone else’s creation.

I also had my own insecurities. I spoke with Yaani, one of the creators of 195 Lewis, and had a really great conversation. We connected over the phone just talking about our lives and our experiences living in Brooklyn. I told her that I felt this project was really specialso special that it needed a director with more experience. She did not accept that.

She was really supportive and believed in my vision and what I would be able to offer to the project. I’m glad she did, because it encouraged me to finally delve into what I love most.

I love how your involvement started with a very, very enthusiastic “You need to do this.” Has that usually been your entry point into film projects and other work in the industry?

I was just talking to a friend about this. We, and I say we as in queer folks of colour, are traditionally left out of opportunities and left out of institutions, and so we’re kind of forced to make shit happen on our own anyway that we can using the resources and the skills and the talents that already exist in our communities.

Just because we don’t have enough experience does not mean that we’re not talented, that we won’t make it work no matter what. That’s very much how 195 Lewis came to be. It’s a very community-based, community-driven project. The majority of the crew has little to no experience with TV or film before the project, but they wanted to see these stories and these characters come to life.

They might not have known what an assistant director or whatever does, but they figured it out and made it work.

Speaking of community, one episode that struck me in particular was the third one about the Femme of Color Brunch. It was an example of something the show does really well, where it like takes you into a very specific space with a very specific group of people meeting up in that space without every feeling explanatory.

It always felt like what I saw on screen was speaking to people who would feel seen by it. Anyone could totally access it, but what was on screen wasn’t made for their benefit. Do you think that’s fair to say, and was that something you were thinking about when you were directing the project?

So, the script was originally written by Yaani Supreme and Rae [Leone Allen], and then Terence Nance and I came to co-write and develop the script. I went on to direct.

So much of all of our lives are on the page and on the screen. We’re pulling from our lived experience, so we never thought about how this is going to connect with folks who may not know about it.

I was just really interested in telling a story: Who is this character? What’s her background? Do I know this person? Let me take you on her journey. I didn’t consciously think, “Oh, wait. Let me stop to explain and give you a little breakdown of what this means.” No. We’re just going to drop you right in, and you’re going to have to catch up.

Do you know lots of Annes?

[Laughs]

An Anne or many Annes with an “S” plural?

Let me think about this I don’t personally know any Annes. Maybe peripherally there are some in the community [laughs] but, no. That might be a question for Yaani.

That’s a good diplomatic answer.

[Laughs]

On a totally different note, I wanted to talk about how you shot the show. There’s such a stark difference between the daytime and the nighttime in a way that felt very true to New York and Brooklyn especially.

In the daytime, it really felt like everything was lit by natural light, which can be such a precious thing to have here in any space you spend a lot of time in. Then at night, it was all artificial colors, very bright and neon and stylized and beautiful. Do you want to talk about the lighting and the role you played in figuring out what it would look like?

In those daytime moments, I was trying to think of a way to really pull you into these intimate moments. These characters are trying to get themselves together after a party the night before and have these really vulnerable conversations with each other.

I also really wanted to just reflect the warmth and richness and the style of the community and just how gorgeous and like amazing we are. I was so happy I got to work with [Director of Photography] Jomo Fray, who is a really good friend of mine.

We’re both Virgos, so we definitely connected on that level, going over every episode, scene by scene, and really thinking intentionally about how we wanted to express what we were going for with the lighting.

Another thing I wanted to talk about were the surreal elements, like where you’re watching a character play out a scenario in their head a bunch of different ways before they finally do something.

Why did you decide to include those elements in the storytelling?

Yeah, that was my expression of anxiety.

I’m really interested in my personal experience with anxiety and with those internal conversations that I have, how I tend to catastrophize when I don’t have all the information. I wanted to explore that with the characters and really pull you into their heads. What is actually going through someone’s mind when they appear to have it all together on the surface?

I especially wanted to explore all that within a poly relationship. There’s a lot anxiety and jealousy between them, which is all really human. That’s what I wanted to get across, you know? This is not the definitive poly story. It’s really a human story. There’s jealousy, there’s anxiety. I didn’t want to paint it as perfect or more moral or more evolved than another kind of relationship.

Where will people be able to catch the show?

The online launch is happening Nov. 16 on 195lewis.com, and there are several other festival screenings and community screenings leading up to that. The biggest one is going to be on Nov. 9. It’s at the Brooklyn Museumwe’re bringing it back to Brooklyn!

You can go to the website to see where some of the other festival and community screenings will be. We made 195 Lewis with the intention that it would live on the web and be successful in the community and beyond.

But there’s always something really special about getting folks in the room for one of these screenings and experiencing the show as a collective audience.

This interview has been edited and condensed