If you were worried that Brooklyn is overplayed, rest assured that fresh narratives can still be found there. The proof is 195 Lewis, a new web series by directed by Chanelle Aponte Pearson, filmmaker and recipient of the euphoria Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Directors “Live the Dream” grant at the 25th annual Gotham Awards. In the opening episode — which is shot in a dreamy, saturated style — an unexpected guest arrives at a party. Like the famous beating of a butterfly’s wings, this small event reverberates, affecting the balance in a Queer Black couple’s polyamorous romantic relationship. The show follows the couple and their Bed-Stuy network as they investigate sexual and gender identity, relationships, and love.
The show has been racking up recognition. The pilot screened at Philadelphia’s Blackstar Film Festival in 2014 and premiered internationally at the International Film Festival at Rotterdam. I had the chance to speak with Pearson in the lead up to the show’s New York premiere tonight at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Carrie Mullins: Your background is as a filmmaker, and I noticed that you call the series a film in the opening credits. How do you see the difference, if any, between the film and web series genres? Did you conceive of the show episodically or as one long narrative?
Chanelle Aponte Pearson: 195 Lewis was originally conceived of as a web series with an ensemble cast, largely reflecting the many women that creators Yaani Supreme and Rae Leone Allen first met when they arrived in Brooklyn. They crafted these characters based on those experiences. They saw these characters, their stories, and their journeys unfold over time.
CM: 195 Lewis has a distinct and engaging visual style. It’s an aspect of filmmaking that I think can sometimes fall by the wayside with shorter format pieces. How did you decide on this visual aesthetic?
CAP: By the time I joined the project as director, the web was still seen as a platform with the widest available reach. I’ve been producing short form and feature-length films independently for over a decade so the web series format didn’t change my desire for 195 to be cinematic in execution.
the web series format didn’t change my desire for 195 to be cinematic in execution
CM: The show touches on a lot of themes, from romance to art to a particular slice of Brooklyn. Storytellers often focus on what feels urgent to them. It’s one of the joys of being the content creator — you can shine the spotlight wherever, or on whoever, you choose. Can you talk a little about your decision to write the show as you did?
CAP: The themes that feel urgent to me were already central to the series prior to my joining the project. I create what I want to see and a Black queer couple navigating polyamory in Bed-Stuy with the help from their friends immediately piqued my interest. And I say “navigating” polyamory because that’s exactly what Yuri and Camille are doing — they’re attempting something with no blueprint, no healthy examples, or role models for ethical non-monogamy, especially for people who look like us.
they’re attempting something with no blueprint, no healthy examples, or role models for ethical non-monogamy, especially for people who look like us
They’re doing their best, and failing, learning, and hopefully growing from their experiences. It was really important for me to show that even after committing to radical honesty, Yuri still flirts with deception out of fear. It’s messy and not easy and I’m really interested in exploring all of that onscreen.
CM: Congratulations on the showing at BAM. What’s next for you?
CAP: We’re producing the second half of 195 Lewis next winter and launching the entire first season online. I’m also developing an anthology film exploring the themes of loss, longing, and surrender.
CM: Are there any web series you would recommend?
CAP: I think Cecile Emeke’s Ackee & Saltfish is hilarious. I pretty much binged all of Ingrid Jungermann’s F to 7th and The Slope when I first heard about it just last year! I’m looking forward to season two of Jackie J. Stone’s Compersion and I’m really excited about Fatimah Asghar’s Brown Girls, which is coming out in February.
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