New Waves In Black Storytelling – ‘Wet Seal Cigarettes’
By Brandon Bush
If there were ever a statement that describes the film industry as it currently exists, it would be, “Black is king.” As time progresses and genres evolve, new trends and movements in storytelling are emerging. Black filmmakers, screenwriters, actors, and more are leading the way by finding new, innovative, and captivating ways to showcase the lived experiences of marginalized communities and critique society.
Championing this movement is Pyramidal Productions, a Black-owned, independent film production company co-founded by Nicholas G. Sims, Pércival Bernard, Earl Weaver Jr., and Blake H. Greene. Established on the vision of producing projects that bend storytelling as we know it, pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, and unapologetically sharing the unique perspectives of people with marginalized identities, Pyramidal Productions is rolling out its first film project: Wet Seal Cigarettes, which was written and directed by Pércival Bernard.
Starring Nicholas G. Sims, Chloé Lexia Worthington, and Cedric D. Cannon, the psychological fantasy short film – inspired by the French New Wave Movement – finds a young man fighting “to remain sane in a surrealistic New York as he resists a new world order and the temptation of the coveted ‘Wet Seal Cigarette’” according to its synopsis. I got to sit down with Sims, Bernard, Weaver, and Greene to discuss their project, its importance to Black storytelling, and the significance of young, Black, and talented entrepreneurs trying to make waves in the film industry.
“It touches upon different dimensions of creating a whole new form of storytelling based on the ones that [Black people] were denied access to,” Bernard said. “With that in mind, Wet Seal Cigarettes kind of approaches this idea of individualism versus consumerism and kind of calling back to the French New Wave aspects where it’s inspiring the individual to be more than what they consume.”
While tackling other themes such as identity, commercialism, and capitalism, Wet Seal Cigarettes aims to send a message in an elegant, metaphysical, grounded way – that message being that conformity is death.
“We don’t have enough stories such as these where the underrepresented are shown in this light,” Sims told us. “It was very personal and important for me to do this film, not just as a producer but as an actor as well because I feel like as a young Black actor starting out, people try to put you into so many boxes.”
Sims talked about resisting a trend in Hollywood where Black actors get typecast in specific roles, such as the gang member, the mammy, or the vixen. It was imperative to him to star in a role that allowed him to be a part of an abstract, meaningful story and have the autonomy of acting in a nontraditional role. In a world where Black actors and storytellers are looking for more freedom in the lanes pre-set for them, projects such as these bear relevance and present pathways forward.
With such a unique project coming from an independent, Black-owned film production company, this also provides another example of young, Black entrepreneurs breaking down usual barriers to entry in the entertainment industry. However, this does not come without challenges.
“In the face of adversity, I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this team,” Sims revealed. “Because we were literally faced with not making this film, but it was always in the back of our minds like, ‘we’re gonna get this done.’ And there’s something magical about being a Black filmmaker because it’s like you gotta find a way because nobody else is gonna tell your story for you.”
Weaver then described some of the specific challenges that went into the pre-production of this film, such as securing an investor, booking flights, buying film equipment, and getting permits.
“When you’re working on a project that’s this special and needed in a world where there’s so much demand for this type of artistry, there’s no better motivation than giving your all. As filmmakers, it’s our responsibility to deliver the best product possible,” Weaver reminisced.
Greene added, “We strive for a perspective of creativity that’s not being shown in today’s world. As a young, Black-owned production company, we’re all about unity and diversity that touches each and every one of our audiences within our films, whether it’s through the actors, our production team, or the projects we develop.”
Nonetheless, with the short film’s completion, Bernard reminded us of the cultural relevancy of this project. “It’s a cultural reset if I’m going to be transparent about it,” Bernard remarked. “And that’s not just speaking about my work. It’s just really about doing things and writing stories, and especially writing Black characters in ways that we’re not accustomed to.”
As the media we consume continues to include diverse voices and perspectives, we must look out for, encourage, and support films such as these. They contribute to the ever-changing, multi-dimensional narrative of Blackness and open people up to things they have yet to experience. With this in mind, we must also keep an eye out for artists and entities like Pyramidal Productions that challenge the norm and go beyond the limits of what is palatable in traditional media.