Halloween weekend of the 2020 election, six old friends ride into red country armed with humor and naiveté.
When the meet an immovable force their plans are thwarted and their fight to win the election becomes a fight for their lives.
Host, Tonya Pinkins, the Tony award winner who brought down the house with “Lot’s Wife” in CAROLINE, OR CHANGE….the woman who roasted herself on YouTube….who started #BlackPerspectivesMatter and #OtherPerspectivesMatter when she published an essay on leaving the titular role of MOTHER COURAGE, will get down and dirty with her peers about life on The Boards.
RED PILL is a multiple award winning feature film from veteran actress turned director Tonya Pinkins, who makes her feature directorial debut. Conversation with Tonya on the making of the film from conception to distribution.
Halloween weekend of the 2020 election, six old friends ride into red country armed with humor and naiveté.
When the meet an immovable force their plans are thwarted and their fight to win the election becomes a fight for their lives. Six progressives, one deadly weekend.
Film plays for FREE this upcoming Saturday all day. Bookmark the page HERE.
Tonya Pinkins knew she wanted to make a movie, and she knew she wanted it to address the terrors presented by our modern political climate. She knew she wanted it to be a horror movie, and she knew it should be a horror movie that centred the experiences of Black people in the United States.
But Pinkins quickly learned that many production companies weren’t willing to take a chance on a political horror film directed, written and produced by a Black woman. So Pinkins, a Tony-award winning actress with an impressive list of credits (including “All My Children,” “Fear the Walking Dead,” and the title role in the original Broadway production of “Caroline, Or Change”) decided to do it herself.
And, she’s reaping the rewards for it. “Red Pill,” her first feature film as a writer/director, just won Outstanding Direction of a Feature at the 2021 Micheaux Film Festival in Los Angeles and that was just one of 15 awards at 10 film festivals “Red Pill” has received.
The trailer of my debut horror film starring Kathryne Erbe, Catherine Curtin, Luba Mason, Colby Minifie, jake Oflaherty, Adesola Osakalumi and Ruben Blades. Follow us Like us SHARE the trailer . Help us bring the film to you!
“Red Pill,” is a gory horror film written, casted, directed, produced and edited by Pinkins, who also plays the lead role. “Red Pill” follows a group of Democratic Party canvassers who have travelled to America’s Deep South on the eve of the 2020 United States election (the movie was written and produced in 2019). Strange, eerie things begin to happen in the group’s Airbnb, and the people of colour in the group begin to go missing. The mystery and horror unfold from there as the gang soon realizes that they have found themselves in the middle of a dark conspiracy fuelled by far-right-wing ideology and white supremacy.
Pinkins, 58, also did the production design and provided food on set. In an interview with The Spectator, Pinkins said the idea for the movie came from her ability to intuit future events; specifically, her sense of foresight about how the 2020 United States election would play out.
“Before the 2016 election, I was just very clear on how that was going to go,” said Pinkins, who said she accurately predicted Donald Trump’s stunning win. “And people treated me with contempt.”
This “clairvoyance,” as Pinkins calls it, and the ensuing rebukes she’s often afforded as a result of her predictions led her to name the protagonist of “Red Pill” Cassandra, after the mythological Greek woman who is blessed with the power to see the future but cursed with the burden of never being believed by others.
Pinkins plays the role of Cassandra in the film, and is joined by a cast that includes Catherine Curtin (“Stranger Things,” “Insecure”), Kathryn Erbe (“Law and Order: Criminal Intent”), and Ruben Blades (“Fear the Walking Dead.”)
Inspired by filmmakers Ava Duvernay (who directed “Selma” and “13th”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out,” “Us”), Pinkins hoped to create a film that discussed Black history and touched on the ongoing violence wrought by white supremacy in America and, like the films of Duvernay and Peele, she wanted her film to be a creation unique to her.
“It’s incredibly empowering to get to express something that is so fully my vision,” said Pinkins. “And now I’m in that space that all Black female filmmakers before me have faced, which is trying to get it into the world.”
Getting the film into festivals like the Hamilton Black Film Festival will be key to that goal. As The Spectator has previously reported, the festival was created local Black filmmakers in an effort to platform and display films made by Black people that may not be platformed elsewhere. Pinkins found the festival online, applied to have “Red Pill” join the roster, and was accepted. She said the film has gotten into 17 festivals so far, which she said is “about six per cent” of what she has applied for in total.
“Horror has always been a place where we can talk about the taboo thing that the world doesn’t want to deal with,” she said. “There’s a little distancing in a horror movie where the violence is not so real. But the world that I live in is really violent.”
The Hamilton Black Film Festival’s inaugural series runs from May 28-30 at The Westdale theatre, 1014 King St. W. Vist hbff.ca for more information.
In the horror film, Red Pill, a group of liberal friends finds themselves fighting for their lives on the eve of the 2020 election in the hands of White supremacists
On the eve of the 2020 election, six old friends ride into red country armed with humor and naiveté. When they meet an immovable force, their plans are thwarted and their fight to win the election becomes a fight for their lives. Writer, director, producer and actress, Tonya Pinkins, states, “I wrote my own personal Get Out. Red Pill is a dose of what’s coming to America if liberal White people don’t wake up.”
Red Pill premiered at the Pan African Film Festival that ran from February 28th to March 14th. The cast of Red Pill is impressive and includes the likes of Rubén Blades (Fear the Walking Dead), Catherine Curtain (Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, Homeland), Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), Tonya Pinkins (Fear The Walking Dead, Madame Secretary), Colby Minifie (The Boys, Fear the Walking Dead), Luba Mason (Person of Interest, NYPD Blue), Jake O’Flaherty (Criminal Minds, Shameless), and Adesola Osakalum (Sex and The City 2,Ice). Red Pill is written and directed by Tonya Pinkins, produced by Katie Rosin (Closure), and Paul Hsu (The Glorias, Salt, Captive State, Fighting, The Giver), and Edited by Minji Kang (The Five, And the Dream That Mattered, Anniversary).
The film is the self-funded directorial debut from Pinkins, a Tony Award-winning veteran of nine Broadway shows, numerous off-broadway shows, day-time dramas, nighttime series, an author and podcast host.
On a video call with Tonya Pinkins in Mississippi and Okayplayer contributor Ciku Kimeria in Nairobi, Pinkins discusses the inspiration for her film, invisibility of Black women, and the ongoing horrors of white supremacy in America.
What was your inspiration for telling this particular story?
The film came to me as a vision. The vision is a culmination of the invisibility I experience as a Black woman daily in America. This is the same way that Cass [played by Pinkins in the film] is gaslit and not believed in the film. That and all the ways that I have experienced White women’s violence inspired me to make this film.
Interesting – this was something I noticed a lot in the film. The fact that the major atrocities were committed by White women. I would love to hear you speak more about this.
When White people created the mythology of the Black person as this violent, sexual, dangerous being that has no feelings, they also created another mythology of the White woman as innocent, the damsel in distress, in need of protection. Let’s not forget that White women were slave owners too. They were sometimes more brutal than the male slave owners. When slavery ended, white women controlled the institutions that took Native American children from their homes. They have been as deeply involved in the oppression of non-white people, as white men have been. To say otherwise is a lie and it prevents us from moving towards equality. They need to acknowledge and own their role in that.
Let’s talk about the opening scene. There is a recurring theme of pregnancy, the weaponization of women’s wombs, babies, and brutality all around this.
Yes, the opening scene is about the fact that there is violence against Black women everywhere, all day, every day. This is why we open the film with a scene of violence against a pregnant Black woman. Another scene with sexual violence against White women harks back to the White supremacist organizations that have a theory that they need to overpopulate the world with White babies to take power back. They have this obsession with White women’s bodies and White women’s vaginas. It’s an obsession I found in carrying out my research when I looked at manosphere sites on the internet [manosphere is a collection of websites, blogs, and online forums promoting masculinity, hostility towards women, strong opposition to feminism, and exaggerated misogyny.] Many espouse that they should rape White women in order for them to have more babies. These women shouldn’t even get the right to vote. They should settle down and have more White babies so that they don’t get erased from the world. They even celebrate mass shooters such as the Santa Barbara one who kill white women saying, “Yeah, these women don’t want to have sex with us. What do you think we should do to them?”
This is all quite terrifying. You also talk about a concept called Redpilling. I would love to hear more of the concept.
Originally people think of The Matrix when we talk about Redpilling. You take the red pill to wake up to reality. There is also that in White supremacy circles. The idea that White supremacists will cloak themselves as liberals, get jobs in certain organizations, and over time convince everyone in the organization to believe their ideals. Infiltrating a group and destroying it from the inside is what I define as redpilling. What we haven’t seen so much is redpilling in reverse – where black people infiltrate White supremacist organizations and destroy them. Perhaps this is what is going on with the Black leader of the Proud Boys. Redpilling has been historically used to destroy organizations such as The Black Panthers, Nation of Islam — by infiltrating and then destroying it from the inside.
Why is Virginia the chosen location?
When the US abolished the transatlantic slave trade, Virginia was the center of where they were raping Black women to make more slaves. They would send men to gangrape women and if you weren’t producing babies, you were therefore useless and killed. That’s also the irony of the film – that there is a couple (Rocky and Emilia) who get a surrogate from Virginia. “Is the irony of hiring a surrogate from the slave breeding capital of the world not lost on you?,” Cassie says.
The film alludes to many horrific acts of white supremacists that might not be known by the average person. What was your research process like?
I’m a curious person and I find people interesting. I’m a chameleon. I have a podcast where I often have conversations with people I don’t agree with. My awareness as a Black Woman is vital to my survival – I have to be aware because my survival depends on it. People who are racist are actually incongruity with their authentic selves and a lot of Northern “liberal” progressives are not in congruity with themselves. They are performing tolerance, allyship. I feel safer with an outright racist than I feel with many Northerners because I can see that incongruity and I know that when it serves them, they will always align themselves to their races. When it gets uncomfortable, they will choose whiteness over protecting me. That’s something I know in my being – which means that I never feel safe.
What has the reception been like?
We just recently picked up awards in Sweden, another in Amsterdam, another in Birmingham UK. It was very important to me that I got this film to international festivals. It was clear that America was not going to be receptive to what I put out there as we are in such denial about who we are. Every time there is a mass shooting or the insurrection people say, “This is not who we are.” The truth is that it is exactly who we are and who we have always been. The international community will get it. The US will not. I knew the film would make White people uncomfortable. I make art in order for someone to feel something/get a reaction. Being invisible is much harder for me than getting a negative response.
I would love audiences in Africa to see it too as I know the concept of Blackness doesn’t really exist there – since being Black is the norm in most countries. I want them to see this through the lens of a Black woman – a view that rarely exists in films. I want them to see my world through my eyes.
What are your next projects?
I have so many scripts that I am working on. I have a film about a Black activist assassinated by the system because she is having a lot of success creating autonomous communities in the US. It’s Afrofuturistic – goes into the future and past multiverse. I have another story that is a trilogy on social justice, the environment, and my experience as a Black woman. It’s called Blarachnophobia — black people and our fear of spiders and spiders are the monster heroes. I would love to shoot it in Madagascar.
Where can people watch Redpill?
They can buy single film tickets at the Pan African film festival. Through the movie site too, they can subscribe to the newsletter that will update them when it’s available in different locations. I’m also happy to have people reach out directly to me through social media and also directly via email ([email protected] ). I would love to hear viewers’ reactions.
Finding your editor (videos on ShowBizStories.com) –
The prescience of the film –
How previous experiences prepare you for this moment –
Lessons learned –
Interview with Tonya Pinkins –
Part III –
Film and the festival circuit –
What’s next for the film –
How do we follow this part of the journey (website? Social media?) –
Interview with Tonya Pinkins –
Part IV –
Tonya as activist –
Thoughts on EDI –
What’s next? –
Final thoughts –
Synopsis: We come to the end of celebration of Women’s HERstory Month with a powerful conversation with multi-award-winning, multihyphenate TONYA PINKINS as we explore RED PILL which she wrote, directed, produced and starred in.
Tonya Pinkins: Tony Award-Winning
Actress, Writer, Producer and Director
Tonya Pinkins is a Tony award-winning actor on stage, television and film. Twenty years in daytime television, nine Broadway shows, including the original Merrily We Role Along; Caroline, or Change (Tony Nominee) and Jelly’s Last Jam (Tony-winner, Best Supporting Actress).
(Courtesy of Tonya Pinkins Website)
Tonya Pinkins Film, Red Pill will be featured at The Hamilton Black Film Festival (just outside Toronto,
May 28 – 30). It will also be featured at the Michaeux Film Festival (named for the first African American Feature Filmmaker), this year’s theme is disruptors, and the dates are April 26 – May 2 (more details to come to be updated here as soon as available!)
TSM: It’s so lovely to meet you, and thank you so much for interviewing for the magazine.
TP: My pleasure.
TSM: I read that your first love was writing. What inspired you to start writing?
TP: I was an only child, and my mother had me when she was fourteen, so I grew up like a sister to her. Everybody was an adult, and I was always around adults. I had a really active imagination and used to write stories. I read from a very young age and wrote my first novel from first to fourth grade.
TSM: What got you into acting?
TP: I think it was just my mom trying to find activities to keep me busy and not hanging out in the neighbourhood. My mother had me in classes to do articulation, pronunciation and etiquette to walk and talk properly. Where I grew up was considered being too white, and kids would want to fight me. I didn’t have many friends, and I spent a lot of time in my room. My mom would take me downtown to an acting school where the first things I was in were Peter Pan and The Sound of Music.
TSM: What inspired you to write and make Red Pill?
TP: I feel like as a black woman in America, we live in a very different world. We hear a lot in the news about black men murdered by police and violence against black men, but that violence is equal against black women. Black women don’t get the press. We hear a lot about the black civil rights leaders, but black women were really the originators of all the movements, including the Dred Scott decision. That legal case was pressed by his wife, who didn’t have the right to sue, so it was very much about this experience. Even though I’ve been in this business for almost fifty years, I walk into rooms, and I speak from my experience. There’s just kind of erasure of my existence like we’ll politely listen to you, and now we’re moving on. A lot of times, because of that invisibility, it means that people will say things in front of you because you don’t matter. I wanted to tell a story with the black female gaze on white America.
TSM: What would you say has been the most challenging part of creating the film?
TP: That I didn’t know what I was doing, and I have never done it before. For most of the process, I learnt things throughout the production and reached out and asked for help. I failed at a lot of things, and things probably took more time. It cost more than they would have had to if we had started with a huge budget and a great staff. I paid for the costs out of my acting work. As I got more money, I hired more people to help me. However, if something needed to be done, I had to do it. I had to learn right on my feet how to do things, but I love that because I like to grow and the challenge. I think the most challenging thing personally, and I’ve been wrestling with this in the last few days because the film is now going out into the world. It’s premiering at a festival, and I knew that the perspective I was putting forth is rarely seen and valued. So, as the feedback comes in, I am always just so honoured. When women of colour, not just black women, but women of colour going, yes, this is my experience, and I know this experience. People who identify more as white, it’s not their experience. The things that they want it to be are something else. They want it to be something else, but it’s just not that something else because what’s scary to you is not to us. I want to invite people to look at the world through my eyes and to try to feel what I feel. Most people of colour who have watched the film say that the violence isn’t the scary part, but it’s when nothing’s happening. That’s what is scary because you know something will happen, that’s terrible, and that’s what is scary.
TSM: If you were to shoot the film again, would you do anything differently?
TP: If I were to shoot it again and had lots of money, sure. However, if I were to film it again, and the budget was the same as before, I would do some technical things that I learned, that we were losing time every day taking too long lunches. So I lost a lot of time on lunch that was more than was needed. The person who was my A.D. was new to her. So, she was shortening my day by half an hour, and my lunches were too long. I would also not bring in a hair and make-up person for a horror movie. I was losing two hours a day with my ladies, who are main television stars. I had a really top-notch, hotshot, make-up and hair person. If I were to do it again with what we had, we would not have a hair and make-up person at all.
TSM: What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
TP: I hope that bipoc women go, “that’s my experience. That’s my truth.” I hope that they can see themselves reflected in it and feel that resonance, validation, and uplifting of that perspective. My biggest hope is that biopic women get it and feel uplifted and that it inspires other people to tell that story because it is valid.
TSM: Later this year, I know that you’re co-starring in a series for ABC called Women of the Movement. Can you tell us a bit about it?
TP:Women of the Movement is a new ABC anthology series, so they hope that it’ll come back every year. It is actually the perfect job for me to get that with Red Pill coming out because it is focused on the black women’s part in starting the civil rights movement. We are doing Marmie Till’s story, her son, Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955. That was the seat for the modern civil rights movement. This series is really about centering Black women in the struggle for freedom and equality worldwide. I’m playing Alma Carthan, who was Emmett Till’s grandmother.
TSM: What is the inspiration behind your podcast, “You Can’t Say That”?
TP: I love people and I think everybody has a really interesting story if you actually take the time to listen to them. And because I’m genuinely curious and interested in people. People tend to tell me things that they’ve never spoken before, and so I feel like that’s a gift I have. I wanted the ability to share people that I’ve learned from or who have interesting stories with other people to share.
TSM: Out of all your acting roles to date, is there one role in particular that stands out as a favourite for you and why?
TP: One of my favourites was ‘Lady Liv’ in a show called Play On because I got to have the range. I got to be really funny, silly and dramatic. I also got to sing some great songs and work with amazing people.
TSM: Is there a role that you would love to play that you haven’t yet?
TP: Not really, I’m loving the role of Writer/ Producer/ Director I’m playing in, and I want to play it more. Branden Jacob- Jenkins and I are co-creating a new version of Mother Courage. When we both get around to it with our schedules, we have some theatres that want to put us on.
TSM: I know that you starred in the classic film, See No Evil, Hear No Evil. What was your experience like working with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder?
TP: It was lovely to get to spend the day with the two of them. Richard Pryor is a muse and an inspiration for me, both as an artist, and even as a human being. Because of his ability to take the most painful things that ever happened in his life, and find humour in them, that’s something that I always aspire to whenever I’m in a really tough spot. I think if on the other side of this I can find a way to make somebody laugh about it, then I really know I’ve survived. So getting to spend a day just hanging out and talking with him was really a transformative thing.
TSM: Who are your artistic influences?
TP: Definitely George C. Wolfe, as he inspires me. When you get to a certain level in your work, finding peers is so important. That is because you’re going through things and need insight from people who are not only going through them but who have got past them, plus also going through some things that will be coming. George C. Wolfe is definitely that person for me.
In the visual arts, there so many painters that I love. They include Egon Schiele, Kerry James Marshall and a South African portrait artist, Zanele Muholi.
In Music, I’m very into Cold Train, Kumasi Washington, and I actually love rap a lot.
TSM: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
TP: On a deep spiritual level, I believe that the world is working as it is supposed to work. Everybody is where they’re supposed to be, and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. That means that it is my mission to try to help those who are less fortunate than myself, even if they’re where they’re supposed to be. I have ambition for great wealth, so that way I can give it to women, and they’re able to have their businesses or have the freedom not to be economic slaves. I would like to have wealth so that I can give it away.
TSM: What is one of your favourite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
TP: “Brilliance lies in the moment that might not work” – George C. Wolfe
What that means is if you’re not risking failure, you’re not risking being a genius or being brilliant.
TSM: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can readers find out more about you and your work?
TP: My website is https://www.tonyapinkins.com that has a bit of stuff. I’m doing a lot of promotion around Red Pill right now. You can follow us at https://redpillmovie2020.com. Over there, there is merchandise, and you can find out about the film and screenings. I’m generally pretty available, people can DM me and I’ll respond myself.
TSM: Thank you so much again for doing the interview.
Red Pill is a horror film that is a blend of The Handmaid’s Tale and Get Out centered on a Black woman who needs to know her friends a hell of a lot better. Tony Award-Winning Actress Tonya Pinkins’ wrote, directed, stars and produced this horror film that feels like I’m watching FOX News and when I turn off the channel it’s a new reality.
Red Pill is grounded in our current reality and I want to get out since it evokes very strong emotions. Cassandra (Tonya Pinkins) & Bobby (Adesola A. Osakalumi) go on a road trip with her friends on the eve of the presidential election. It’s a mix of old couple friends that include Rocky (Rubén Blades) & Emelia (Luba Mason) Nick (Jake O’Flaherty) & Lily (Kathryn Erbe) all of whom are the type of liberals who pat themselves on the back for having ONE Black (or ethnic or LGBTQ) friend that they sort of look down on.
She’s the canary in the coal mine pointing out the odd happenings, signs (literally a damn sign), and her friends dismiss everything she has to say about not feeling safe. It’s a movie that can make you feel uncomfortable navigating America as a Black person AND a woman so quite a few of the scenes made me feel like the first time seeing Roots (without the gentile slave owners). I don’t want to give anything away since it has quite a few unexpected twists that had me gue#ssing till the end. Watching Cassandra navigate her friends Whiteness or proximity and trying to explain to them that they are in danger was more terrifying that Jason coming out of the lake. Its especially telling when she tries to explain to her immigrant friends and didn’t grow up with USA racism but are still ‘White’ enough that they don’t deal with anything since they can ‘pass’. A few scenes reminded me of trying to tell people about microaggressions and being dismissed, told that I’m not understanding or ‘what did I do’.
This challenging and provocative horror film centered on a Black woman is a double whammy of when the worst happens. It’s a good film but difficult to watch since it’s a little too close to how easily we can slip backwards. I recommend watching and thinking about what Tonya is telling us about who we surround and trust. Afterwards watch videos of puppies and kittens!
“I wrote my own personal GET OUT,” says Pinkins, RED PILL’s is a dose of what’s coming to America if liberal White people don’t wake up.” ~Tonya Pinkins
SYNOPSIS: RED PILLfollows six liberal friends who drive down to Virginia to rally democratic voters for the 2020 election; their dreams of getting the vote out are quickly slashed—death is their final ballot entry.
STARRING: Rubén Blades (Fear The Walking Dead), Catherine Curtain (Orange Is The New Black, Stranger Things, Homeland), Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), Tonya Pinkins (Fear The Walking Dead, Madame Secretary), Colby Minifie (The Boys, Fear The Walking Dead), Luba Mason (Person Of Interest, NYPD Blue), Jake O’Flaherty (Criminal Minds, Shameless) and Adesola Osakalum (Sex & The City 2, Ice).
FILM PREMIERE: At the 2021 Pan African Film Festival in February
NOMINATIONS: The film is nominated for Best Narrative Feature at PAFF
nspired by horror films like Get Out and Midsommar and enraged by 401 years of American white supremacy culminating into the Trump administration, the clearest mode of catharsis for Tonya Pinkns was to write, direct, produce, and star as Cassandra, in a film about the 2020 election, Red Pill. BGN had a fascinating conversation with Pinkins via zoom.
What attracted you to using the horror genre for your first feature film?
I love horror. I’m one of those people who watches two or three horror films a day. I think it is a space where you can say truth and be authentic. Because it’s a non-realistic world, you can actually say things that are true that we don’t normally say.
So this film, for you, was a form of catharsis?
Yes. I don’t even think I knew how much it was until it was done. Like, I thought, “Oh, here’s some things that I think are going to happen, and if I say them people are gonna laugh at me or treat me with contempt, the way they did when I said that he [Trump] would win in 2016, so I can just put this in a story and then ha ha ha.” And sure enough, when people read the script, they said that it was so extreme and so farfetched, it just came to pass. Like today I did an interview with NY1 [a local news TV station in NYC], and they asked me if I rewrote the ending after the election. I was like, “No.” [Laughs.]
You define the red pill as a person who infiltrates a group and destroys the group from the inside. Which character is the red pill in your story?
I wanna ask you which character is the red pill in the story for you?
I want it to be Cassandra? But I don’t think it is.
To destroy them? It’s not Cassandra. Not for me. It’s not Cassandra, but people have different ideas. I’ll say for me as an artist, I’m more interested in people’s response to my work than telling them how they should experience my work. I feel like existentially we all experience this world in a specific and alone way. Art and music are ways to share your experience with someone else. Then the way they experience it, you get to get some of their experience, and all of it is how the divine experiences itself, in exponentially larger ways, as everybody’s reacting and responding, and the divine is having greater and greater expression. But, for a factual point, to me, who I structurally laid out the red pill to be is… [she proceeds to tell me, but you should watch the film to figure it out for yourselves].
The white supremist cult women in the town take the sacred symbol ॐ “Om”, which represents the self within or the soul in Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, and turn the symbol on it’s side, appropriating it as their totem, “W.S.” (white supremacy). Tell me more about your take on the appropriation of this symbol in Red Pill.
Theft is what the identity of whiteness does all the time. Hitler did it with the forked cross. The writer Yuval Noah Harari talks about how “the lie” is one of the most powerful organizing forces in the world. I think that is what they [many white folks] do. They organize around these lies. Actually that symbol shift just came to me as a burst. I saw the “W” and the “S” in the image when it’s sideways. I was like, “Okay, well, here’s a lie they can organize around.” Taking a symbol from the beginning of time and using it to say, “This is the proof that we are it!” So this is me just showing them a part of themselves.
How does it feel to use a horror film to rip the Band-Aid off and reveal the raw ugliness of whiteness?
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It feels really freeing and naughty. It’s also scary. One white female filmmaker friend of mine said, “You know they’re going to crucify you.” I said, “Well, I’d rather be crucified than buried.” It’s an interesting moment in time. I did my first interview with a white person about Red Pill today and he was very tippy toey…and so, I pushed him. I think my film will mess with white people’s heads, and I delight in that. More importantly, what I always felt about this story was that most Black people were just going to know the truth of Cassandra’s experience and understand what’s going on and be laughing because they get it, while most white people will be like, “What’s going on?” because they don’t know how to know that they are the monster.
I know I’ve broken lots of rules, but hopefully, I break these rules, I’m successful, other creative people will break a whole bunch more rules, and we’ll begin to see stories that actually reflect the authenticity of how the majority of the people on the planet experience the planet. We are in a moment where this is possible, and they [some white folks] are going to keep trying to deny the reality. But we got the receipts now. Smearing [bleep] on the walls of Congress. Who’s looting? Who’s a savage? Okay? They’re gonna deny it; they’re gonna do what they do. We got the receipts.
What were the biggest challenges in writing, directing, and producing this project?
Doing it all by myself. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t have a person to brainstorm off of, I didn’t have a helper. So, I had to learn every aspect of making a movie. I failed again and again, but I felt like I was supposed to tell this story. If it was meant to be, it was going to be. I was just walking blindly. I originally thought this film was gonna come out in March 2020. We had a screening set, and it didn’t happen. Six months later, I still didn’t have a rough cut and at the end of nine months from shooting I still didn’t have a rough cut. I thought, okay I failed. Then, I found myself in South Korea with a new editor! I didn’t fail. That nine months was what it took to get ready for this person in Korea because she was supposed to be here. My, sort of, “spiritual practice” is non-attachment to outcome. I’m just going to keep showing up and putting one foot in front of the other and the outcome is not in my hands.
How was it to have your community of actors show up for you?
What that said to me was that somehow that with the reputation or whatever that I have, I’ve done something right. The fact that I could pick up the phone and ask some very successful actors to come work for me for two dollars, and they were like, “Yes. Because you do fantastic work!”
What was your greatest joy of this project?
I feel like I found what I was born to do. I got to build a world. I built a world that I have never seen on the screen before. Most of the people who have the ability to get this film out in the world very quickly are white people, and…it’s just not going to speak to them! Did I know that when I decided to make Red Pill? Absolutely. Even when white people tell me what they think would be scary, I’m just like, “I’m not making a movie to scare you. I’m showing you what scares us…and it’s you!”
Red Pill written, directed, produced by Tonya Pinkins. Starring Rubén Blades, Catherine Curtain, Kathryn Erbe, Tonya Pinkins, Colby Ninifie, Luba Mason, Jake O’Flaherty, Adesola Osakalumi. Streaming at the Pan African Film Festival, February 29–March 14, 2021.
Red Pill has bright colors, particularly its use of red, and some good acting. But its critique, albeit justified, of white people through a horror vehicle feels too heavy-handed. There are scenes that feel too graphic—some will also be traumatic and triggering—particularly in the current climate; however, there is an important message within this film. This will not be a film you love, it may anger a lot who watch it, but the discomfort is at least part of the point for Tonya Pinkins, the writer, director, and lead of the film. Tonya Pinkins said she wanted to create her own personal Get Out. While both films critique liberal white people, this film is obvious…but also, for the most part, frighteningly possible. That makes it a whole new level of terrifying.
Synopsis: On the eve of the 2020 election, six old friends ride into red country armed with humor and naiveté. When they meet an immovable force, their plans are thwarted and their fight to win the election becomes a fight for their lives.
Two things I’m not a fan of are gross scenes and gory scenes, precisely because of their over-the-top feel. Plus gross scenes will literally make me gag. Red Pill film has gross and uncomfortable parts. It begins with the opening scene of white women holding down a pregnant Black woman. Other disturbing scenes had to do with the cult of white women, their behavior in its entirety was almost Stepford, but that would deny their responsibility in choosing. A lot of scenes are just uncomfortable, however, and nothing that would make me flee from viewing. Also, that discomfort wasn’t solely from their weird dance or piss-drinking games, but from the fact that they are white women, period.
Tonya Pinkins’ character, Cassandra, is gaslit throughout as increasingly uncomfortable and disconcerting events unfold. This is a message more people need to be confronted with but rarely acknowledge of the internet. It showcases how easily liberal #listentoBlackwomen or #votelikeBlackwomen can trend and wind up in a bio. Yet it happens without any effort to implement that mindset in real life. Cassandra is the first to start questioning whether they should leave immediately. Yet, everyone around her discounts her worries. They claim she always does this or she must be tired. They use any excuse to turn her rightful discomfort into an individual issue—hers.
The camaraderie between the group is interesting as couples and singles hangout is always both funny and awkward. I love seeing Rubén Blades also in a role outside of Fear The Walking Dead and quite a few of the other actresses and actors present are from the show too. If you’re a fan of horror films, you’ll also recognize Kathryn Erbe from Stir of Echoes, playing Kevin Bacon’s stressed and disbelieving wife. This film showcases how easily white men, white women, and Black men ignore Black women. It also brings to the forefront the threat white women pose, as they fall behind their perceived fragility when necessary but are just as much a participant in white supremacy as their male counterparts. They’re just able to hide it better.
Nowadays, it takes a lot to believe in white women because of how often they espouse liberal views until there’s a cost they have to pay, then it’s a jump back into white supremacy. As though they ever really left it behind. This film is not a stretch because there are racist right-wing groups that do exist. These groups exist and, if you remember the hygiene debate on social media, none of this is wholly unbelievable. While Get Out was about the danger of liberal white people. Red Pill is about the dangers of both actively racist white people and those who come in the guise of woke, liberal friendship to destroy. This is a film many won’t be prepared for, but it’s here nonetheless.