Terence Nance Comes Home

By Bradford William Davis

The Random Acts of Flyness debut was a family reunion.

From the moment Terence Nance arrived at the Lightbox Film Center in Philadelphia, it was all love. Attendees greeted him in front of the small theater, congratulating him on the debut of his new series, Random Acts of Flyness. A range of embraces -- from group selfies to daps -- were shared with fans, creative peers, press, and lifelong friends. This screening was much more than another stop on the promotional tour. For Nance, it was a family reunion.

Family isn’t entirely figurative here. Much of Nance’s family filled the front and center rows -- including his mother, siblings and in-laws -- at the final pre-air screening of the premiere episode (Random Acts airs Fridays at midnight on HBO). For many in the room, their bond with Nance stretched back years, well before the network deal and the glossy profiles in the New York Times and New Yorker. When the auditorium went dark, signaling the start of the episode, the crowd cheered and applauded for a solid minute.

The first episode of Random Acts, titled “What are your thoughts on raising free black children?” had traveled all across the country before hitting Philadelphia’s Blackstar Film Festival: including stops at Miami, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, to name a few. Whether it was screened as part of a small, private-event, or presented to a wide audience like at Essence Festival, the first episode was well-received by the audience. Still, it was clear to many who had been with Nance through this run that he fed off Blackstar’s energy for reasons beyond simple eagerness for the show’s launch.

Nelson Nance, a writer, director and composer on the show who also happens to be Terence’s younger brother, spoke about what made this screening different. “Blackstar values people that want to show things that are experimental,” Nelson Nance explained. He credited the organizers for their efforts in welcoming his brother’s avant garde style and past filmography, including the 2012 release, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. In Nelson’s eyes, Blackstar has long been a perfect fit for Terence’s work.

Maori Karmael Holmes, the founder and artistic director of Blackstar, took pride in cultivating a space for Nance’s work. She introduced him as the festival’s “personal, homegrown indie superstar,” while treasuring the length and depth of their relationship. The feeling was mutual. Nance told the crowd he was grateful the show’s release had been scheduled for August because it allowed him to schedule a sneak preview just for them.

When the first episode of Random Acts of Flyness was complete, a title card flashed with a message from Terence announcing a special treat for the attendees, something no one else besides select collaborators on the show had seen.

“Since we family, here’s episode two.”