In an exclusive op-ed for theGrio, filmmaker and actor James Bland shares his journey to creating the Issa Rae-backed web series, Giants, which is executive produced by Jussie Smollett. Watch the series’ finale episode below:
Ava DuVernay gave a speech a few years ago at SXSW where she talked about the intention behind your attention. You know, the ‘why’ for whatever it is you do. I think about that often, particularly while creating film content like Giants.
Throughout the years of making short films and web series, I’ve had many let downs, mostly from not getting into a film festival, or a writers lab, or a diversity program. I think I’ve applied to just about every single “young director advancement” program in Hollywood. I’ve submitted a project to Sundance every year for the last 4 years – the last of which was Giants. When I got the Sundance rejection letter this year, it hurt more than it ever had in the past. I gave myself one day to grieve, to be upset, to feel like shit, and then I got about the business of planning an independent release, remembering all the while the intention behind my attention.
The goal with writing Giants was to offer a mirror that reflected the world around me and also allowed people to see themselves. I didn’t need a studio or a film festival to do that – I had the internet. I also had a village of friends, family, and peers like Issa Rae and Jussie Smollett who saw the value in what I was creating and understood that a rising tide lifts all ships. So in the spirit of healing and honesty, we birthed Giants into the world with the intention of encouraging folks to live imperfectly out loud.
The response has been humbling to say the least. We’ve averaged close to 50,000 views per episode on YouTube in the last month and a video of Vanessa Kelly discussing how Christians and the black community sometimes trivialize mental illness has soared to 2.4 million views on Facebook.
It’s funny, I use to have this fear that we would do all of this (spend two years and thousands of dollar creating a series) and no one would care. There’s so much content out. People have an abundance of options. There’s never a real guarantee that an audience will connect to your work – a lesson learned the hard way, but it has taught me to keep my focus on the work. I’ve learned that good work has legs, and if you create from an honest and authentic place, it’ll find its way through the crowd.
Oscar Wilde said that it is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. I know that to be true now more than ever. A week ago I received a message from a woman who had recently watched Giants. Her letter read: “This is my life. For months maybe even years I have battled in silence because people couldn’t understand. No one believed me or understood. You just gave me a voice and a way to show my family who I am and what my battles looks like on the outside. Thank you.”
James Bland is the star and creator of the web series Giants, a collaboration with “Insecure”‘s Issa Rae and “Empire” star Jussie Smollett. The Florida A&M University School of Business graduate continues to develop projects for his production company James Bland Films.