In 2009, a film by the name of Precious proved to be just that. In an industry dominated by popcorn fluff, the harrowing indie drama captured the world's attention while shedding light on some of the most problematic aspects of society. Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, the film offered a stunning foray into perils of poverty, incest, and the American school system.
The fact that icons, such as Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey, took on supporting roles added to the film's buzz and appeal. By the time awards season rolled around, no one would forget the incredible story of an abused teen whose vivid daydreams save her from destruction. A major reason for this was the film's sharply written screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher. What could have been an off-putting misrepresentation of urban life was an artfully crafted statement of hope and inspiration.
Fletcher's beautifully woven story received the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award, making him the first African-American to obtain the honor. Now the accomplished writer and adjunct professor is collaborating with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to help students find their own creative voices. The International Business Times was fortunate enough to ask Fletcher about the project and how he has managed to thrive in the film world.
Why did you decide to become involved with the Visiting Artist's Program?
I wanted to be involved because I went through quite a journey from college to today. There are so many things that happened, so many experiences that I thought I could share with others that might help their own journey. Just letting people know how hard it can be and that it may not happen exactly as they thought it would may help them to persevere. We may reach some of our dreams but with a few more bumps and scrapes than anticipated. Even the challenges faced can conspire to make you a better storyteller as you learn more about yourself and the world around you through adversity.
The program aims to support aspiring filmmakers and provide them with suitable advice. What do you say to those that want to break into the industry but aren't well connected in the film business?
One piece of advice I would give is for them to keep working on their craft and try every door because you never know where your opportunity will come from and you always want to be ready for when it arrives.
How should an aspiring screenwriter who wants to write unconventional films avoid discouragement?
I would say that no matter the subject matter, if it's something that you're really passionate about, it can find its way. Others will feel the inspiration you have for it. It may take hundreds of pages before you begin to get a handle on the craft of writing and your first scripts may not work. The next five to twenty may not either. However, the ones that do work owe everything to the ones that didn't.
Before the film Precious was even released, many were put off by its subject matter. However, you decided to tell the story in a more optimistic light. How did you manage to convey elements of hope while adapting the novel?
Precious is strangely uplifting. It goes down into the valley but it also goes to the mountain tops. A lot of difficult realities are explored in Precious but the peaks make the valleys and the valleys make the peaks.
I think at its core Precious is a very optimistic story but it often takes us to some grim realities and places. There are a lot of things that aren't even happening on camera and often times the audience will know what is happening and what is about to happen and not see it. That's how the audience participates. It lets them create something far more harrowing than filmmakers can.
I thought from page one that it was brimming with life and found Precious to be a very heroic character that I greatly admired with more resilience than most people. Ultimately the film is journey of inspiration and it was clear that if people saw how strong she was they could get through adversities in their own lives.
How has winning the Academy Award changed your professional life?
It has created opportunities. I still feel as if I'm just starting out, however, with many challenges ahead. It is a cherished honor on a continuing journey.
The Discover the Academy program will take place next Friday, April 13th, at Columbia University.