Inspired by ‘Get Out,’ Tonya Pinkins Enters the Black Horror Film Arena with ‘Red Pill’

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

Red Pill is the self-funded directorial debut from Tonya Pinkins, a Tony Award-winning veteran of nine Broadway shows, numerous off-broadway shows, day-time dramas, nighttime series, an author and podcast host. Photo Credit: Tonya Pinkins

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 OutRed 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 BlackStranger ThingsHomeland), Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), Tonya Pinkins (Fear The Walking DeadMadame Secretary), Colby Minifie (The BoysFear the Walking Dead), Luba Mason (Person of InterestNYPD Blue), Jake O’Flaherty (Criminal MindsShameless), 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 GloriasSaltCaptive StateFightingThe Giver), and Edited by Minji Kang (The FiveAnd the Dream That MatteredAnniversary).

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?”

In Red Pill, 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. Photo Credit: Tonya Pinkins

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.

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