Suitable Isn’t Your Average Coming-of-Age Tale
BY OLIVIA ARMSTRONG
Filmmakers Thembi Banks and Rochée Jeffrey discuss their short about a tomboy who embraces her sexuality deciding what to wear to prom.
Among the short film finalists of the 2018 American Black Film Festival is Suitable. The 13-minute coming-of-age drama follows tomboy Brandy, her girly friend Ashley and their shared crush, Jason, a popular jock. When prom rolls around, Brandy wonders what to wear, while Ashley opens up in an unexpected way — showing how sexual identity and rebellion can be thwarted by high school’s socially constructed confines.
“Suitable was inspired by Rochée,” said Banks, who met writer Jeffrey through Film Independent’s Project Involve. “It was very personal for her, so we wanted to make a film that talked about a lot of different issues: toxic masculinity, gender roles and nonconforming individuals.”
Project Involve pairs writers with directors to bring their script to screen. The mentorship program selects talent from diverse backgrounds and skill sets and gives them the resources to make a film.
“I thought to keep the script as simple as possible: three characters — no adults — and focus on the coming-of-age aspect,” Jeffrey said. When it came to drafting Suitable, there were a lot of notes. “I learned to stay true to my vision while hearing what others had to say,” she explained.
Banks, who was brought onto the project after pre-production, beamed about the seamless collaboration. “Rochée and I worked together in the past so that made working on this film a lot easier,” she said with a laugh.
In addition to Jeffrey, cinematographer Dennis Zanatta was also a key collaborator for Banks. “We spoke the same visual language from the beginning,” she said. Suitable, which combines dreamy visuals with soulful original music, gives the viewer the sense they’re preparing for prom, alongside the main characters.
“Music is huge for me as a filmmaker,” Banks went on. “And I was happy because it was already baked into Rochée’s script.” Jeffrey wanted her characters, who reside in different social circles, to bond over an unusual connection: obscure bands. Banks and Jeffrey came up with a fictitious artist to represents rebellion: Hood Galaxy. Musician Jacques Brautbar, formerly of punk-pop band Phantom Planet, was able to lend a hand. “I wanted to capture the magical essence of freedom,” Banks said, “And I think we achieved that.”
The duo couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome. “I’ve had friends tell me they learned something about themselves,” said Jeffrey. “After the twist, my friend realized she was imposing her own beliefs onto these characters.”
“We need to tell more stories like this,” Banks concluded, “So people don’t judge a book by its cover.”
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