By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Last month, hundreds turned out at a South Side movie theater to support a local African-American film director’s latest project.
The web series, “I Used to Love Her,” premiered at the newly-renovated and Black-owned Studio Grill on West 87th Street in front of a sold-out audience. Mark Harris, creator of the Englewood Film Festival, continues to inspire and tell the stories of Black Americans, and his latest web series filmed in Chicago continues the tradition.
The web series captures the essence of a husband and wife team who boot-strapped an independent recording and distribution company for socially-conscious artists. When a major record label makes them an offer they can’t refuse, they find themselves in a fight that may be too big for them to handle. Each episode of the series tackles social issues that plague pop culture today.
“The stories I tell are so important, not just to our community, but to the world,” said Harris during the audience Q&A session after the screening. “We have to tell our stories for our own self-value and self-worth, but we also play a big role in how our people are seen throughout the world. With all of the negative images there are of Black men…it leads to police officers being afraid of us when they interact with us. I’m trying to change that narrative through film, while also having a Black-owned business that can hire Black cast members.”
The cast of the web series is made up entirely of local talent—something Harris is most proud of. He said Chicago has so much talent and people think you have to leave and go to Hollywood to be a success. Filming all over the world with his 1555 Filmworks Inc., Harris says Chicago stacks up with anywhere else in the world.
“I think the talent in our cast, audio and camera people is right up there with anyone else, but in order to expand, it takes money like anything else. We have to be willing to support good works if we want to change the spectrum.”
Harris was disappointed to see two recent Hollywood Black movies crash at the box office. “Birth of a Nation,” the story of revolutionary Nat Turner and “Queen of Katwe” about a Ugandan chess champion were top films at film festivals, but did not do well with major audiences. Unless the community goes out and supports these films, Harris believes Hollywood will go back to producing movies like “Soul Plane.” In addition to supporting films once they are released, he said it is also important for him to secure financing just to make the film.
“I need to raise $3 million for my next feature film, ‘House Behind the Tracks’ to stay true to the story and characters,” Harris said. “It’s hard out here for positive, historical and uplifting Black content.”
Harris is taking advantage of technology and the new entertainment mediums that allow artists to get their work out to the public. “I Used to Love Her” is available via streaming devices, and Harris is taking advantage of technology and the new entertainment mediums that allow artists to get their work out to the public. He is set to travel to Washington, D.C. to begin filming his fifth feature film.