InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each month ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This month ELIXHER spotlights Atlanta transplant, filmmaker and author Terésa Dowell-Vest.
ELIXHER: For someone meeting you for the first time, what’s your elevator pitch?
TERESA: I would say, “Hey…my name is Terésa and I make movies, write stories, teach classes and do other epic shit that can best be discussed over coffee.”
ELIXHER: You are the owner of Diva Blue Productions. There is also Diva Blue Photography and Diva Blue Patterns. Who or what is Diva Blue and where do you find the time?
TERESA: Diva Blue came to me in 1996 in a short story I wrote in grad school. Blue is my favorite color and diva, well, it took me a long time to embrace that I might be worthy of being considered a diva. It’s a state of mind and being that’s self-possessed and confident in who [you] are and what [you] have to offer the world. I tell stories, take photos, and on occasion, I crochet. I sleep, on average, three to four hours a day…yes, a day. I love writing at night. I’m most productive at night.
ELIXHER: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced establishing your own business? Have you received the support you expected?
TERESA: Being in an industry of taste is difficult anyway — being an artist and making sure that your business is contingent upon you creating stories people want to experience. Thankfully, my brain works in a way that keeps people interested: Black superheroes, a sci-fi novel about the day America sent blacks back to Africa, a photography coffee table book on crayons all over Los Angeles…I’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of support.
ELIXHER: I came to know you because of your project “Genesis: New American Superheroes.” I fell in love with the idea of an all Black cast of superheroes, but I know this isn’t your first film. Can you talk more about your work leading up to this and elaborate on “Genesis?”
TERESA: I’ve worked in the entertainment industry since 1994. I started in theater as an actor, which progressed to writing and directing. The progression came out of wanting to create stories that resemble who I am a bit more closely that what already existed. “Genesis” was born out of my love for superhero and action films. I’m a huge Superman fan and the 1978 film with Christopher Reeves changed my life, even then.
I was awkward. I felt strange and special all throughout my childhood. And being a child of the 70’s, watching the Superfriends was a Saturday morning must, but I didn’t see myself in the heroes I loved so much. In 2006, I finally sat down long enough to create five siblings with superhuman gifts and began the journey of “Genesis.” Overall, I envision “Genesis” as a franchise with three films, a nine-book or graphic novel series, a video game and apparel. This isn’t Blankman or Meteor Man. I envision “Genesis” being on the same level as The X-Men, The Avengers, or The Justice League. Two other elements that sets “Genesis” apart from everything else out there is the mythology of the story is rooted in real American history: the heroes’ parents witnessed the effects of the Tuskeegee Experiments and vowed to never use science against their own people. Rarely do we experience fanstasy characters mix actual history in their mythology. The other thing that separates “Genesis” from the pack is the presence of lesbian characters: one hero and one villain.
ELIXHER: You just finished a campaign raising funds to assist you in filming a short called “Shirts vs. Skins” whose main character, Dale Michaels, is a transgender man with a couple of secrets. What inspired you to contribute to the trans* visibility struggle in this way?
TERESA: Truth be told, I saw a guy walking down the street on a hot late spring day with his shirt off and in his back pocket. I wanted to do that but with some 44DD’s…ummm…no. I kept driving and I wondered, “But what if I could?” What would it feel like to take off my shirt and play skins, finally? Knowing Tajir S. Hawkins and knowing I had been waiting for an opportunity to work with him for the simple fact that I think he’s a good actor, I approached Tajir with this idea of a moment in a man’s life. I wanted to create a very simple story of a man living a mundane yet happy life. From the outside, one would see a man living a happy and mundane life. His co-workers, his friends would all see and know this ordinary man. As a part of his ordinary life, he plays basketball with his boys. They usually play shirts until this one day where they were forced to run skins and suddenly this ordinary moment becomes extraordinary. The story has grown considerably since we began. We have included a backstory that takes us into the childhood of Dale Michaels being bullied. We have also incorporated one of my favorite historical figures, Cathay Williams, the only known female Buffalo Soldier who serves for two years in the U.S. Army as William Cathay. The film, though it is still a short, has the depth of a feature.
ELIXHER: Having recently relocated to Georgia from California, what has been your perception of the differences between Atlanta and L.A. in terms of queer circles and with the work you do?
TERESA: What’s funny about that question is the things I found myself wanting in both cities, I found in the other. For instance, when I lived in L.A., the majority of the queer women I spent most of my time with were other filmmakers and a mix of Black, white, and Latino women. At one point, I found myself with more white, Ellen/L-Word types than any other demographic and I missed being around Black women. Playing in West Hollywood was always a lot of fun for the diversity in terms of gender and race. I miss playing with the boys and the girls and the bois and the gurls at The Abbey or at Here. A lot of the people you met we’re transplants from other places in L.A. to work in the industry. I was missin’ ole girl from ’round the way. I was missin’ the sistah who did hair up the street or the sistah who was a nurse or a teacher…or anyone outside the industry.
I moved to Atlanta and found all of what I was missing, but now I miss the diversity racially and [in terms of] gender. I know an amazing group of women, but we all resemble each other…we reflect the best of ourselves to ourselves. I miss the exchanges and interactions of those most unlike me now.
If I can find the balance here in Atlanta, I will be over the moon. I’ve only been here a year so, I’m figuring it out and I’ll get to that balance eventually.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
TERESA: I think the biggest thing that comes to mind is how we are living in a time where we are fighting yet again and still for our civil rights. My generation has benefited from the courageous acts of our parents and grandparents as they insisted upon being treated equally racially. We have learned from them as we turn our attention to matters of equality in marriage and political representation. As a teenager, I used to think I was born in the wrong time. I recall watching the “Eyes on the Prize” documentary series and being jealous that I didn’t have anything to fight for. I laugh now at how naive I was but I also must thank my parents and grandparents and the village before them that afforded me that security. Now, it is my turn, with my peers, to carry on that legacy of demanding our rights for equality and justice for our community. I am so proud.
ELIXHER: What kind of healthy critique do you have about our community? What are some areas for growth?
TERESA: We are very compartmentalized as a community. The separation of gay men and lesbians…of those who identify as bisexual and transgender. I liken it to the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, when people thought it was somehow useful to separate groupings of blacks based on religion or region as if it would make any particular group more or less Black than the other…more or less disenfranchised and marginalized than the other. I’m not certain if there’s a repair for it but I do know we love to have our categories and I don’t know if it always serve us to do so.
ELIXHER: What is the funniest rumor you’ve ever heard about yourself?
TERESA: I haven’t the faintest idea. That just made me laugh to think someone would take the time to create a rumor about me. I’m such a loner and a homebody. Perhaps the notion that I’m this outgoing extrovert is funny enough. I think Facebook makes me cooler than I really am.
ELIXHER: So what’s next for Terésa?
TERESA: My first novel Passage Home is about to be released. I posted the first 19 chapters on a blog page and built a small following for that, which is wonderful. My short film “Master Piece” is in Ron Howard’s Project Imaginat10n contest for Canon. I will be submitting both “Master Piece” and “Shirts vs. Skins” into the Sundance Film Festival in August. After that, focus my attention on “Genesis” and continue down the path of giving the world a new superhero franchise. And then a short nap.
– Interview by Tia N. Williams
Tia N. Williams is the woman behind The Buddha In Me, an agency of artists, speakers, poets, and activists based in Atlanta. The Buddha In Me specializes in providing quality programs to educate, enlighten, and entertain. Tia recently received her M.Ed. from the University of Georgia in College Student Affairs Administration.