Numa Perrier is a force.
One of the things I thoroughly appreciated about the film Jezebel was that it didn’t lean on the typical exploitative hyper-sexualized stereotypes of black girls. Instead, it embraced our sexual identities like the warmest hug.
But, that’s what happens when you let black women lead the way.
The Root sat down with the writer, director and producer to talk about balancing the many aspects of sex work in her film, something I believe she treated with a necessarily tender touch.
“It did take courage because there’s a stigma attached to [sex] work.,” Perrier said, noting she changed all the names when she first wrote the film. “And I didn’t have that personal stigma, but outside society does. There are women and men who are engaging in sex work that enjoy their jobs. It’s very blue-collar. It’s what they choose. Sometimes as a mode of survival, but sometimes, also, this is what they love to do. And then right there next to that line, there is the exploitative trafficking. And people being coerced into doing something that they don’t want to do.”
So, of course a company led by black woman would be the perfect home for this film: ARRAY, the “independent film distribution and resource collective” founded by Ava DuVernay.
When I first talked to Perrier about Jezebel, I firmly told her I was rooting for her and was expecting distribution news in the future. However, as a fellow creator, I also know the “hurry up and wait” nature of Hollywood rather intimately. As someone who has been in the game for a minute, I wanted Perrier to give us a peek into the real process, not just the highlight reel we often see (and envy) on our fave’s social media.
“When our film got into South by Southwest, all of these sales reps are [typically] hitting you up because they want to be the one to make the sale on your film, potentially,” Perrier told The Root in an extended interview. “So, they would hit me up and they heard the buzz about the film and then they would watch the early screener. [They would then] get back to me and say that they didn’t think that they could sell the film. They didn’t think that they could find a distributor for this film—though, they loved it. They were always very kind. They said they loved the film. And I kept the e-mails, too. They said it’s just not big enough, [we’re] not confident that we can sell it, even though they were the ones that were approaching me!”
Additionally, when it comes to black film, there’s usually a cry akin to, “Why don’t black films like this exist?!” Whatever your “this” is, whether it’s a quirky sci-fi film or simple love story that doesn’t rely on race or trauma as a plot device or just a story that isn’t about slavery for a change—they all absolutely exist. These black creators exist. What doesn’t exist on a wide-scale is the funding, access and marketing/distribution power to truly let a black-created or black-led film soar. And that’s why places like ARRAY (which I believe to be a pioneer in a richer future for marginalized creators) are important.
“Ava, and her team, they have really kept the faith with this, because every where you turn, people will tell you that that is a crazy idea to try to consistently distribute films that supposedly nobody cares about when that is an absolute falsehood,” Perrier added. “There is no film that people would actually care more about than these kind of smaller underbelly stories that are often based in truth from us as a culture, from black people. There are people all over the world in droves who will want to see and connect to those films.”
Jezebel releases on Netflix Jan. 16.