Take 5 with Alicia Inshiradu
Renewal and rebirth are themes that recur in ALICIA INSHIRADU’s life story and creative work. Born in Kinston, North Carolina of a Native American mother and African American father, she sank her roots in the small-town South.
“Living in the segregated South of the ’50s as a young child, I was sheltered from the realization of American racism and did not get to raise my African heritage and race consciousness until the ’70s,” she says.
When she was 14, Inshiradu’s world changed. She and her siblings moved to East Orange, New Jersey with their mother. The experience was a renaissance for her.
“I became ‘northern’ a week later as far as art, design, fashion, and style were concerned,” she recalls. “I’ve been designing my own outfits since tenth grade. When I was 16, I took a bus over to New York City every Saturday for several months to attend classes at the famous Barbizon school of modeling.”
As her lens to the world widened, so did Inshiradu’s interests and accomplishments. She has studied literature and creative writing – earning a master’s degree from East Carolina University in the latter. She has written poetry, plays, and screenplays, created short films, and styled both clothing and interiors. She’s a photographer and a collagist. In 2014, Inshiradu retired early from teaching creative writing and African American literature at Cape Fear Community College to pursue screenwriting and filmmaking full time.
Two years later she had created her first short film, Blind Date.
“I was writer, producer, director, and costume and set designer,” she says with a laugh. “The main character has at least eleven costume changes in eight minutes.”
Inshiradu also wrote a stage play, Tears in the Mirror. She has adapted some of the autobiographical material from that work into another feature-length screenplay, The Last Fear.
Currently, however, it’s another stage play, What the River Knows, that is consuming Inshiradu’s time and creative energies. When she moved to Wilmington some years ago, she learned about the Wilmington coup d’etat of 1898 and found herself captivated by the history and continuing legacy of that bloody time. She felt compelled to re-imagine that series of events for an audience as a means of community renewal.
“It is an opportunity to not only understand what happened in 1898 but to understand how it still has adversely affected Wilmingtonians, past and present,” she explains. “I really believe that such a purging can free us of a painful emotional legacy still gripping our souls.”
What the River Knows, set against the backdrop of the 1898 attacks on the Black community by whites, is “an intergenerational tale of family, romance, murder, racial strife, and redemption,” according to Inshiradu, who adds she developed the story originally as a 120-page screenplay when she was enrolled in University of North Carolina Wilmington’s creative writing program in the late 1990s. Even though she subsequently transferred to the master’s program at ECU, she took the project with her and didn’t let go of it.
“One of my main motivations for writing this piece was to create a character who actually witnesses (and) becomes an informant of what presently still stands as an undocumented legend surrounding the day of the massacre, November 10: that black men were murdered and thrown into the Cape Fear River,” Inshiradu says. “The storyline of this piece has been crafted to ignite a catharsis for an extremely traumatized community that has yet to be redeemed.”
What she first created as a screenplay, Inshiradu has reworked several times.
“In 2017, I excerpted from the longer work a short teaser film script, then produced and directed the film and premiered it at the Cucalorus Film Festival, preceded by a staged reading,” she says. “The reaction was so positive that my executive producers convinced me to adapt the story for the stage as a gift to the community. A recent North Carolina Art Council grant has allowed me to hire Steve Vernon of Big Dawg Productions as stage play script consultant.”
Inshiradu hopes to have the play complete this summer, ready for the next step, which is to work through the script at an actors’ workshop. Once the piece has been through that process, she plans to begin production for an early November 2022 premiere performance.
“My main goal for What the River Knows is to have it produced for the silver screen,” Inshiradu says. “And, by the way, there’s a local film producer who is highly interested in doing just that.”
Take 5 with Alicia Inshiradu
TALK ABOUT YOUR CURRENT, VERY CONSUMING PROJECT.
“Set against the backdrop of Wilmington’s White Supremacist Massacre of 1898, What the River Knows is an intergenerational tale of family, romance, murder, racial strife, and redemption. I developed the story as a screenplay at UNCW’s grad school in 1998 and in ’99 defended it at ECU where I’d previously completed two years of coursework. In 2017, I excerpted from the longer work a short teaser film script, produced, and directed the film and premiered it at the Cucalorus Film Festival. After an actors workshop, I plan to begin production for an early November 2022 live premiere performance.”
YOU HAVE LARGELY WORKED IN FILM, SO WHY A STAGE PLAY?
“Well, both formats have overlapped since I first began writing in the ’70s. I’ll be producing and directing an original short film, which will be utilized throughout this current stage play project.”
WHERE DO YOU HOPE WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS WILL TAKE YOU?
“One of my motivations for writing this piece was to create a character who actually witnesses, becomes an informant of what presently still stands as an undocumented legend surrounding the day of the massacre, November 10: that black men were murdered and thrown into the Cape Fear River. The storyline of this piece has been crafted to ignite a catharsis for an extremely traumatized community that has yet to be redeemed. It is an opportunity to not only understand what happened in 1898 but to understand how it still has adversely affected Wilmingtonians past and present.”
WHAT ARTISTIC WORKS HAVE HAD THE GREATEST INFLUENCE ON YOU?
“After experiencing in 1997 John Singleton’s movie, Rosewood, a fictional retelling of the 1923 massacre in the black town of Rosewood, Florida, I had to find out what happened in my newly adopted home city of Wilmington. I also love filmmaker John Sayles’ style of handling the past in his 1996 movie, Lonestar. Seeing Spike Lee’s first film, She’s Gotta Have It in the ’80s put the filmmaking bug under my skin. The ’80s Broadway musical Timbuktu!, starring Eartha Kitt, blew me away – the acting, the music, the drama, the costumes, the sets, everything.”
IS YOUR CHILDHOOD IN KINSTON OR YOUNG ADULTHOOD IN NEW JERSEY REFLECTED IN YOUR WORK?
“… living in the segregated South of the ’50s as a young child, I was sheltered from the realization of American racism and did not get to raise my African heritage and race consciousness until the ’70s. That metamorphosis was a huge influence on who I am today – a researcher, designer, stylist, photographer, collagist, playwright, and screenwriter.”
To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to terahhoobler.com.
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