Hollywood may have embraced Boston already, but filmmaker Thato Rantao Mwosa wants to put Roxbury and its communities in the spotlight. Mwosa, who was born in Botswana and lives in Milton, currently teaches cinema at Emerson College and Brookline High School. But it was her previous teaching position at Roxbury’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School that inspired her first feature film, “Memoirs of a Black Girl”.
The coming-of-age story follows Aisha Johnson (played by Khai Tyler), a bright student who dreams of going to Harvard University and is on her way to success as a finalist for a scholarship. However, when Aisha recounts that a group of “mean” girls broke the rules, the decision comes with a series of repercussions that put her future in jeopardy.
“Memoirs of a Black Girl” screened as part of RoxFilm and the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival earlier this year and will make its digital and streaming debut on October 5. Mwosa sat down with The Globe to discuss the inspiration behind her film and the inspiring beauty of Roxbury.
Q. What inspired you to make your film around this concept of “golden snitch”?
A. As an educator, I have seen the same scenarios that happen to Aisha happen to a lot of my students, where people are afraid to speak up because the snitch makes you a victim. My concern is that if kids don’t report bullying incidents out of fear of being bullied, then it’s hard to deal with these issues as adults. It’s hard to give them the tools to overcome the challenges of high school life if we’re in the dark all the time. The original title was “Memoirs of a Snitch”, but I changed it because I felt there was always a negative reaction to the title when I mentioned it.
Q. Did you always know you wanted to base the movie in Roxbury?
A. For me, I wanted to write a story with Roxbury as a character. Roxbury is a beautiful place, definitely predominantly black, but we don’t see it in Hollywood movies set in Boston. We see a lot of Eastie and South Boston in Hollywood movies, but we don’t see communities of color. There is so much in Roxbury, so much culture. I wanted to capture the murals and show Roxbury in his essence. And [show] the premises, like the first BIPOC-owned bookstore in Boston, are right in the heart of Dudley Square, Frugal Books.
Q. What does black girl magic mean in the context of the film?
A. Aisha had to find the strength within herself to overcome all these horrible circumstances she found herself in. Before [scholarship] interview, the teacher reminds her: “You have the magic of black girls.” You don’t curl up and come home and let nons be nays. Sometimes you can turn a no into a yes, and you can turn a closed door into an open one. Aisha must have found that magic within her to rise above it all, even after going through this horrific circumstance she found herself in earlier today.
Q. As an educator, what makes this film special?
A. I got my students involved in writing the script, and I got them involved in the pre-production as well. One of my students, Cindy Severino, is the production manager in the film. She graduated from Madison Park and went to Emerson. I’ve mentored her over the years, and Cindy is actually one of my many Aishas. She has overcome so much in her life to get to where she is.
There were a few students who are also from Brookline who played in the movie. And if you look at the list, 99% of the music [in the film] came from my talented students who are now professional musicians in Boston. I could not have made this film without a collaboration with my former students. It was important for me as a teacher because it was really a movie for them.
Riana Buchman can be contacted at [email protected]