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Interview with Paul Chiedozie | Genie (2023)

Interview with Paul Chiedozie | Genie (2023)

Genie (2023) describes the story of a black woman who is drawn to a mysterious social media app, when she struggles with self-love and feeling like she doesn’t fit in.

We sat down with one of the directors of the film, Paul Chiedozie, to find out more about the inspiration behind this film and the various themes it explores.

Zems Entertainment: Firstly, what inspired you to get into the world of directing?

Paul Chiedozie: For me, it started young. I’m an actor by trade, and did the whole nine yards – studying, going to theatre school, getting into film. Funnily enough, one of my first professional projects was Harry Potter when I was about 16. I then transitioned into directing and producing. I was fortunate because I’d done a film called Brash Young Turks in 2011. I’d done so much organic producer work that when the film was done, they told me they’d put me down as a producer.

And I thought to myself, is this really what a producer does? To me, this was just the bare minimum, this is what everyone should be doing, pulling their weight. I started thinking I'm going to produce this and direct that. Not that it became easy, but I definitely gained the confidence to continue doing it.

You’ve mentioned before that you never had that many opportunities growing up. Is that what you work towards now, giving more people those opportunities?

Absolutely. I know it’s very cliché, since there’s pressure on every successful person or celebrity that they should give back. The truth of the matter is that a lot of people don’t want to do that. But the way that I’ve been brought up is a big part of my being and who I am and what I represent.

I’ll give you an example; I’m more excited to find the next big Leonardo DiCaprio, than to work with Leonardo DiCaprio, because I know what it would mean for that person to be given that opportunity.

People always ask me what you have to do to in order to make it or become successful. As I get older, I always say it’s guidance. You need a mentor, someone who values you the way you value yourself, someone who cares more than others. For me, that’s the most important thing. You just have to be hungry. Me and my mentor use the

analogy of every film is like war, you have to go to war if you wanna win.

Now moving on the film itself, Genie. Social media is obviously a big theme of the film. Was this something that you’ve been wanting to explore for a while now, the impact of social media?

The theme of social media was one that I developed later in the genie story process, but it’s a theme that at the time was untapped and I felt I could put into my artistry for people to see. That’s kind of the ethos of my company: bold, controversial, unapologetic. We don’t shy away from things that need to be heard. The social media thing is just one of many things that I have a strong opinion on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to shut down social media. But it’s like a coin, you can get good and bad. Depending on what type of person you are, that coin could be 80 per cent negative. But based on my own life experiences, I wanted to explore issues regarding fashion and beauty, and how it affects ethnic women. So, I embarked on making Genie but in a very abstract, artistic way.

That’s another one of the main themes of Genie, the way that women, especially ethnic women, are treated by society and beauty standards. Did you choose to draw on the experiences of the people and the communities around you?

Oh, absolutely. I try to be a realist, and I try to be transparent. I’ve had a lot of experiences and relationships with women. And that’s something I’ve always wanted to explore. I’ve always seen ethnic women - obviously women in general - but ethnic women in particular... succumb to an ideal that’s external to themselves. Instead of them spending time figuring out who they are, they adopt who they think they should be from somebody or something else. Everyone thinks they’re unique, but a lot of people just regurgitate what they’re heard or seen. Genie isn’t just about the negatives of social media, it’s about the negatives of technology as well, and how it influences us in a negative way.

At face value, those two themes, race and social media, don’t seem like they link. But when you think of the impact of discrimination and racism in social media and the algorithms we use, it becomes a much wider issue. Was the link between them always that clear for you?

It was something that I definitely thought about later. Initially, I wanted to tackle a race issue about identity, and knowing yourself and your culture, whatever that may be. Obviously, the way I like to do films, is that I like to involve myself and transform myself as a creative by the end. As I did more research and conducted surveys for the film, I realised that social media had a big impact on women and their minds and the way they view themselves.

As a storyteller, you have to find the best medium to tell your story so that people can relate, without you just lecturing or grilling them. After doing a lot of research, I found the best way to tell this story would be through themes like social media and peer pressure. It was an idea that came later, but I do believe it was the best way to

tell the story in a relatable and realistic way, especially in today's time.

Near the end, social media is portrayed as a very scary, hellish place.

Yeah, I wanted to tell it from a psychological view, because I do believe that the battle people are facing is mental. Telling the story in that psychological way was a fitting element to show people that the battle is deeper than just buying and wasting your money on an app - it affects people in a psychological way. I wanted to show that all the

things the main character went through had built up in her mind and eventually created this dark place.

How do you think social media can be used in a more positive way, to tackle some of the issues you described above?

Let me put it like this – anything in the world that has power or influence can be used for good, because of its power. But am I saying that social media is being used in that way? Probably not (laughs). But it can do, because of its outreach. It clearly influences people. But we live in a time of digital currency. People could put up a post to shine a light on something negative, like police brutality, or a particular scam. But 90% of the time today, if people put that post up, it’s not because they’re trying to help. It's because they want the views. They want to be known as the person who put that post up and gain the rewards. There’s a thin line between someone caring, and someone just wanting to do it for their own gain, I think.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is not bad in itself. But it’s so hard to use social media as a positive tool in today’s climate. So, for me, I’m not pessimistic, but I’m realistic. I try to make sure that it’s not my only source of communication. I want to document more of what we do here at Zems, but show more of the gritty and hard truths to show people the reality of working in this industry.

You co-directed this film with Naeem Mahmood. What was it like to work with someone else? Did you two have different creative visions or find that you ever clashed with one another?

Definitely clashed (laughs). It was a new experience, and I’m a big advocate of learning from my mistakes and failing forward. For me, I had to do it to understand where I am in my directing journey. Some things I have to give credit to Naeem and what he did for the movie. It was difficult for him as well.

We got it done, but it does take a level of collaboration that you need to be aware of before you start. I didn’t realise how daunting it would be when two strong people have two different artistic languages, and neither will budge. You have to have the same vision prior to it, and not rely on talent alone to get you though. We both had different visions, and you can see that in the film with the different styles. It was mainly difficult because we were both at an early stage and we had our own voices to explore. But there was definitely a lot of positives as well, alongside all the challenges. Article by Zaynah Khan


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