The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
By The Editors
Last year, Quail Bell Press & Productions produced the poetry film "Butterflies" as part of the Visible Poetry Project initiative. Through the initiative, the director Christine Sloan Stoddard was matched with the poet Teri Elam—two strangers who had never collaborated together before. The film went on to premiere during the most unusual National Poetry Month on record! But, luckily, with all eyes online, this meant that "Butterflies" had a captive audience. The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video UK and has been featured in CURA, a journal published by Fordham University, Sanctuary Magazine, the Huntington Beach Cultural Cinema Showcase, and NPower Network, a Roku channel. While the director has been asked to share a few words about the film, we wanted to ask Teri, who wrote the featured poem, and actress Disnie Sebastien, who stars in the film, to share their thoughts, too.
See what Teri and Disnie had to share about the project in the interview that follows:
How would you describe “Butterflies”? What does it evoke for you?
TE: The butterfly in the poem is the Black girl—and it’s a meditation on their treatment in the world. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Monique Morris, the documentary filmmaker of “Pushout,” it’s about “the criminalization of Black girls in schools.” After seeing a video of a Black girl sitting at her desk being slammed to the ground by a school resource officer in South Carolina, I began writing it. I was so enraged. Then I found other videos, one of a Black girl in North Carolina, then in Texas—most recently in Florida.
The butterfly also represents the power and vulnerability of Black women who are often under verbal assault if not being literally slammed to the ground. For example, I think about the treatment of high-profile women like former First Lady Michelle Obama or Rep. Maxine Waters and, most recently, Meghan Markle and Sheryl Underwood (by her coworker).
The metamorphosis of a butterfly is unique. As caterpillars, they have to continue to grow their own skin, and when leaving their chrysalis, they can’t yet fly. Butterflies get fluids from their belly, so to speak, to help grow their wings—then exercise them to prepare for flight. What’s equally remarkable is how butterflies can camouflage themselves to look like a snake, owl, or part of nature’s background for their own safety and protection. Code-switching.
Butterflies are brilliant, colorful, multidimensional—and also delicate and should be protected. If a butterfly’s wings are broken, they can’t fly again—however, they can still live a productive life. Butterflies, Black girls, and women are also brilliant, colorful, and multidimensional—and also should be protected.
DS: [For me,] "Butterflies" focuses on the sexual assault of Black girls. The butterfly’s journey to adulthood is fueled by nectar. She is always vulnerable to predators who are bigger and more powerful than her. Her life is short-lived for so many reasons. In the same way, the joy of life is stolen from Black girls who are sexually assaulted. They die internally.
The film evokes the need to protect our Black girls and their families from sexual predators and from withering internally. "Butterflies" presents us with the challenge of not looking the other way. The challenge of reaching out in support to our endangered girls. The challenge to be each other's keeper. We must provide the nectar that keeps our human butterflies alive.
Could you describe your role in the process of making the film a reality? What might surprise viewers about the writing/creation/behind-the-scenes aspects?
TE: I was fortunate to have my poem selected by [Christine] in partnership with the Visible Poetry Project. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this process was similar to most filmmaking—the “script” is released to the director and actor to interpret it for the screen. So, I released the poem to [Christine] and was taken with and moved by [her] vision, filming, and direction. Disnie’s embodiment of the poem—her expressions and movements' subtlety and fluidity captured so much, and Deniz [Zeynep]’s score was perfect.
DS: I starred in "Butterflies" and it was one of the most powerful films I had been a part of. I played multiple roles because I was not just acting in the film, I also did the voiceover/narration of the poem. There was even a little freestyle dance and movement. I love to freestyle dance; some may not have seen that side of me. The film allowed me to showcase my versatility as a performing artist. I was thrilled to be a part of this film as a Black woman who understands the challenges facing Black women. It was amazing to watch a script on paper evolve into such a beautiful film...much like how a cocoon transforms into a butterfly.
How did working on this film affect you as an artist? What sorts of future projects does it inspire you to work on?
TE: It was such a remarkable process seeing the poem come to life. As a prose writer and poet, it underscored how vital imagery is for me. As a storyteller, it reminds me of the importance of telling these stories centering Black girls and women. I’m going to challenge myself to be more intentional about this process.
DS: "Butterflies" inspired me to know that I have the capability to spread my wings and fly. I learned that not only eagles fly and soar, I can, too. The film furthered inspired me to continue to reach out to struggling Black girls.
I am inspired to work on more poetry films, since poetry is an excellent way to release pent-up emotions. I would also like to work on documentaries showcasing real-life issues that will bring awareness and resonate with an audience.
What do you hope viewers will gain from watching “Butterflies”?
TE: For viewers not familiar with the wide-ranging mistreatment of Black girls in school, check out Dr. Monique Morris’s documentary “Pushout” or notice in the news or social media how women and girls of color and Black women and girls are often disparately treated. Then become an ally.
DS: I want viewers to not only understand the plight facing Black women, but to take it a step further with public support and action.
Anything else you’d like to add?
DS: I do hope that viewers enjoy and ponder on this wonderful film written by Teri and directed by Christine. Thanks to all who made this film possible and a special thank you to the Visible Poetry Project.
Watch the poetry film here:
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.