ALLANA DE'NAI, DIRECTOR OF 'MAHOGANY'
3-TIME NOMINEE BEST FEATURE FILM, BEST DIRECTORIAL DEBUT, BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Breaking the Mold: A Conversation with Allana De'Nai, Director of "Mahogany"
In the fiercely competitive world of filmmaking, it's a rare feat to find a new voice that resounds with such authenticity and raw emotional power. Enter Allana De'Nai, an African-American actress, producer, director, and writer whose directorial debut, "Mahogany," has been honored with three nominations at the prestigious Lonely Wolf International Film Festival for Best Feature Film, Best Directorial Debut, and Best Original Screenplay.
"Mahogany" is an unfiltered, coming-of-age drama set in the harsh realities of an urban neighborhood. The narrative centers around Mo, played by De'Nai herself, a young woman determined to rise above her surroundings, which are characterized by drugs, crime, violence, and poverty. As the danger intensifies around her, Mo's decisions and resilience are put to the ultimate test.
Hailing from Killeen, Texas, Allana De'Nai has been steadily building her reputation in the film industry. She started her journey in 2016 with theatre and commercial acting for several local and international brands. She then transitioned to starring in and producing various independent films before taking the reins to write, direct, and produce her own work. This remarkable journey culminated in the creation of her own film company, "Mahogany Films Productions."
Off-screen, De'Nai's influence extends beyond the realms of film and acting. She is also a self-help and personal development author, using her platform to empower others, showcasing the same determination and courage her character, Mo, displays on-screen.
In addition to De'Nai's captivating performance, "Mahogany" features a strong ensemble cast, including Corrigan Coleman as Quan, Bruce CallMeChoko Zelaya as Mike, Jasmin Garlic as Angie, and Kalvin Kosha Fitzgerald as Deshawn.
Join us as we sit down with Allana De'Nai, the inspirational force behind "Mahogany," to discuss her groundbreaking directorial debut, her creative process, and her journey from actress to multi-talented filmmaker. This is a tale of courage, resilience, and the indomitable spirit of a woman who refused to be confined by the boundaries of conventional filmmaking.
What inspired you to create this film? Could you share some insights into the genesis of the idea?
The inspiration for my film "Mahogany" came after my first year of teaching middle school. Many of the students I taught resembled Mahogany in the film, grappling with the risk of becoming products of their environment. I wanted to write something relatable and educational for them, ultimately inspiring them to rise above their circumstances.
How did you approach the subject matter of this film? What research or preparatory work was involved?
As the writer, I aimed to create relatable characters. The music, clothing, and vibrant colors seen throughout the film were all intentional. My goal was to captivate the younger generation since the film was made for them. I want them to watch the film and take something away from it.
Could you share some challenges faced during the film's production? How did you overcome them?
Filming the entire movie in seven days was a challenge in itself. We were constantly racing against time and daylight for our outdoor scenes, which comprised half the movie. Over-planning and preparation were crucial in overcoming this challenge. Being proactive rather than reactive was essential. I devoted ample time in the preproduction phase to create a shooting schedule that ensured we could complete the movie in a week, and we did!
Your film has been described as "powerful" and "innovative." What do you believe gives it these qualities?
Was this something you consciously worked towards?
It's amazing that "Mahogany" has received such praise. I believe the film's power lies in its message, which emphasizes the power of choice, especially for minorities. I wanted to encourage young people to rise above their origins. "Mahogany" is innovative because it presents a unique "coming of age" story. I intentionally chose a female protagonist, as there are few female characters facing struggles related to crime, drugs, and violence at such a young age like Mahogany. This sets my film apart from others.
Could you discuss some of the important themes and messages you aimed to convey through this film?
Although there are multiple messages in the film, the overall theme focuses on the power of choice and rising above one's circumstances.
How does this film resonate with your personal beliefs or experiences?
This film resonates with me because I was once in Mahogany's shoes. I found myself surrounded by people who hindered my growth and eventually realized that my actions, beliefs, and associations had led me to that place. When I started teaching and saw my students heading down the same path, I decided to address the issue through art. Thus, Mahogany was born from my personal experiences and observations during my first year teaching eighth grade.
How have audiences responded to the film so far? Have any reactions particularly surprised or moved you?
The film is currently in the festival circuit, and we've received a lot of positive feedback. Many people have enjoyed it and are eager to know if there will be a sequel based on the ending. Watching the film with an audience for the first time and seeing their real-time reactions was exciting! My team is thrilled for the film to stream in July.