Black Dreams & Returning to the Root
Dreaming Whilst Black (DWB) is an eight-part web series that tells the story of filmmaker Kwabena as he struggles to contend with his commitments, goals, and inevitable sacrifices. The series uses a slew of analogies and relatable scenarios to give an honest, entertaining and critical portrayal of the struggles a young, ambitious Black man faces in the British creative industry. Curious about the Jamaican influence and presence in the series, BASHY sat down with the series’ writer, producer and lead actor, Adjani Salmon, to talk about his work and personal experience as a filmmaker.
His production company 4Quarter Films is based in Peckham Levels, a hub of creativity, organizing and socializing in South London. But while DWB was conceptualized in London, Salmon and his work were born and raised in Jamaica. Salmon has a refreshing perspective on making film within a specifically ‘Black’ genre as a result of his beginnings as a filmmaker naturally surrounded by other Black people. While he is now based in London where it is near impossible not to depict some of the perspectives of Black British culture, his early work was fuelled by “a level of freedom growing up in a Black space to just … create what you want.”
“I do try to just make films that I wanna make. I still come at it from that perspective...I don’t feel compelled to tell Black stories because my stories naturally are Black. To be honest being in this industry has made me feel responsible for other people, for my community so, seeing that there’s no content with Black people… for me to make a show and not put Black people in there would just be mad,” says Salmon. “[With DWB I thought,] let me tell a story so that everybody can know that I’m here and I have your back. I have a certain platform that you might not have and don’t worry. I’m gonna talk about you. I’m gonna share your experience. Being in England you get a greater sense of responsibility.”
With Dreaming Whilst Black, the topic of representation is prevalent not only in the themes of the storyline but the creation of the show itself. Viewers can relate to the family pressure, frustration of jobs that earn you experience but not much else, and balancing relationships with partners and work colleagues. The wide scope of character experiences is thus reflected in the viewers that have approached the cast and crew sharing their appreciation for the series. The show attracts not only dreamers who are Black but dreamers all round. For example, Salmon recalls one person realising upon watching DWB the true extent of the microaggressions that his friends face, and another sharing that “[they] don’t relate to the race thing but [they] relate to that creative struggle.” While he appreciates the wide reach of the series, Salmon says his ideal target audience when creating DWB was Black creatives. Most importantly, though, he shares, “Mi still a try hit Black Twitter. If Black Twitter just tek we unda dem arms!”
Salmon’s smooth trajectory is not common of film graduates and didn’t inspire that of his character Kwabena. While Kwabena has a support system in his friends from the start, Salmon’s family were not only his support but his partners in filmmaking from the beginning.
“I started making films with my two cousins and we made a web series called the BLiP Online Series. And we were getting loads of hits,” he says. “At the time I remember getting 1000 views in one day was like ‘Ohhhh shit!’ So we kinda started on that high, and then I got a job in the industry, so I kinda went full on into this good space. But, the loss of not getting into festivals, literally everybody has felt that.”
Salmon is aware of how unlikely success straight out of film school can be, citing that half of his coursemates at film school won’t be in the industry in five years’ time – a mentor of his being the source. With an optimism and determination that is not rare to artists, Salmon also notes that five per cent of film graduates make a feature film, so if he stays in the game for five years he could be in what would become 10 per cent of feature filmmaking graduates. Never forgetting where he comes from, Salmon’s work is for all of his classmates who couldn’t continue in filmmaking for practical or personal reasons, and those at home who wrongly believe that his talent has been nurtured primarily in England. So, looking forward, he wants to return to where it all began.
“My next project is going back to Jamaica and making a feature film there,” shares Salmon. He is often categorized as a Black British filmmaker by critics in England, and friends in Jamaica comment on what they believe England has done for his work; however, he pointedly clarifies that his craft was nurtured in Jamaica. “I really wanna go back home and make a feature set in Jamaica using [a] Jamaican cast, as much crew as possible, just so that when I come back out I can be like, ‘Yo this is a Jamaican product, a Jamaican film just as good as anything else you watch in England except it’s Jamaica make it’. I’m not good because I’m in England. It’s Jamaica that make me good,”he says.
Over at 4Quarter Films, Salmon and the team are preparing to release another series of Dreaming Whilst Black alongside a range of other projects. Fans can look forward to seeing longer episodes on TV with more fully developed characters to create a “wholesome full bodied Black world, a full bodied Black experience,” says Salmon of the new season.
While Kwabena might stay in London and consider where the series left him and his filmmaking career, Salmon is moving further afield with a 4Quarter-produced feature film set in Portugal. Since its conception, DWB has started its festival run, has had 10 official selections with 22 nominations and has received three awards. Salmon and his creations remain in the small margin of filmmaking graduates who are able to produce work for the masses and the Black dreamers that aspire to join him.