Jay Ellis on producing psychological thriller ‘Black Box’ and bringing Black talent out of the shadows

'Black Box' stars Phylicia Rashad and is streaming now on Amazon

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Jay Ellis has taken his talents to the big screen as an executive producer of “Black Box,” one of eight films recently released as part of Amazon Studios’ Welcome to the Blumhouse collection. 

In it, Mamoudou Athie stars as Nolan Wright, a man who loses his wife and memory in a car accident and undergoes an agonizing experimental treatment that causes him to question who he really is. The adorable Amanda Christine plays his precocious daughter, Ava while Phylicia Rashad takes on the role of Dr. Lillian Brooks, a renowned scientist with her own agenda.  

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“I found this script about two years ago and it was a page-turner that I got through super fast. I remember loving the journey all these characters were going on,” Ellis tells theGrio.

“You have this guy who is trying to find a way to keep his daughter and get his memory back of his wife and of his life. You have this little girl doing everything she can to support her dad and keep her family together. Then you have Dr. Brooks who is this world-renowned scientist who was using her life’s work to try to get her family back together. It’s a very complicated journey they’re all taking.” 

Although Black folks have been largely left out of the thriller/horror genre for years, Hollywood is currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Thanks to blockbusters like “Get Out” and “Us” from Jordan Peele, it seems that Tinseltown is finally warming up to the fact that communities of color love a good scare.

“For so long, we have only been given an option or two and what we are getting to see is that we show up and support and stream and we like having options. Giving us the multitude and variety of genres out there is a beautiful thing and people are responding to it and that’s why we are finding success there,” he continues. 

“We really don’t get to see us in this space a lot. We actually over-index on films like this. I wanted to make something that will make people feel afraid, and want to laugh, and cry, but at the same time, can make them feel seen in a genre they’re not typically a part of.”

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Ellis also jumped at the opportunity to help two first-time filmmakers carry the project across the finish line. 

“This film comes from this young, Black writer from Brooklyn named Stephen Herman and this was the first script he ever wrote. Any opportunity I have to help somebody achieve a dream or get to the next step, I’m there for that all day,” he explains.

“Our director is a young, Nigerian guy named Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour and this is the first film he’s directing and he said he saw Phylicia Rashad as the Dr. Brooks character. I thought it was perfect because you would never see it coming. I told him to write her a letter and talk to her about why you think she’s perfect for this role and why you would love to see her do this. he did and within three days they were on a Zoom.”

After snagging the perfect cast to pull off the mind-bending movie, the team got to work and completed production right before COVID-19 hit.  

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“This movie was shot in 19 days. It was really fast. We prepped for about eight weeks and we filmed through the last week of February. We literally barely made it before the shut down,” says Ellis. 

“I think one of the fun things about the genre is the escapism and being able to leave the world you’re in for two hours and just enjoy being captivated by what’s happening on screen. It’s about mental health breaks. We want to connect with people we are watching with and right now, it’s super important to get away for a moment. Then you come back to reality and hopefully you’re recharged and able to fight the day.”

Black Box is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.

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