Advice for commercial airline pilots and budding comedians
What does the world look like when everyone is an Other: when marginalized populations intimately interact, when power is renegotiated and subverted, and when difference, misunderstanding, and discrimination take on new meanings? “Like Fine Silk” is a short film that centers on the point of view of a young Afro-Latina as she’s confronted with culture clashes in the intimate setting of a black hair-care store. It illuminates experiences that are not widely familiar to the mainstream population and gives voice to often unspoken, uncomfortable misunderstandings in order to promote empathy and dialogue.
I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to immigrants from Honduras. My family represents a kaleidoscope of colors and cultural influences, resulting in my frequent negotiation of race, ethnicity, and language. I am most often asked, “Where are you from?” and have spent a great portion of my life explaining.
“Like Fine Silk,” is a part of my broader studies in Gallatin’s graduate program, which focus on storytelling. The film started as a short story and was adapted into a script.
Gallatin Arts Festival curator and Confluence editor Firozah Najmi met with Sandra Manzanares to discuss “Like Fine Silk.”
What was the inspiration behind your original short story?
As an Afro-Latina, I’m constantly negotiating cultural differences, and I’m also very aware of culture clashes in general. So, when I sat down to write the short story last semester for a class, I wanted to explore the idea of collision. I created a story set in a small space where marginalized identities had to collide and contend with misunderstandings. Black hair care stores are frequented and owned by diverse segments of the U.S. population, and this often sparks debates around representation, profit, beauty standards, and cultural awareness. I saw this tragic humor in the stores because they were weighted with unspoken tension, and wanted to consider what it would look like if one could vocalize these narratives. I’m drawn to comedy’s ability to cut through the things that make us uncomfortable and allow us to confront them head on, so I wanted that to be an integral part of the story.
What inspired you to adapt your original short story to a script and then a film?
I really love all three formats, and I’m indecisive. I know for galleries it’s hard to immerse people in a full short story. I felt that if they could see parts of it and then watch the film or see the exhibit with the stills, it would make them feel as if they’d somehow experienced the original format and the evolution of the piece.
The original piece was your brainchild. What is it like to then work collaboratively on a project so near and dear to you?
It’s always interesting to see your project evolve. I knew right away that the story just wouldn’t work in its original structure for a script, and the feedback I got in that regard was the first step in allowing myself to detach a bit from original story I grew to love. Working with Ben Mankoff, with whom I co-directed and co-produced the film, and Careina Yard, who was the photography director. was great because they both think deeply about visuals and production. I had lots of ideas in my head of how it would all come together, but their artistic perspectives gave the story new meaning. Then I witnessed how the cast interpreted the roles and how the crew made it all come to life, and that gave the story another layer. Eventually, I realized that the new version was beautiful in its own way, so any changes or cuts just felt like a natural process.
You have decided to display your initial script, markings, edits, and all, beside stills of the resulting film. What inspired your choice to show all the steps of the creative process?
I’m a writer first. I love how films materialize on the page and how people have to buy into an idea all from sets of words in sequence. It’s a beautiful process to immerse people in something that isn’t tangible just yet in its final form. Films are absolutely collaborative endeavors. But as a fiction writer and screenwriter, it was important for me to give voice to the experience of sitting down to write, rewrite, cut, and add. I think the balance of the final exhibition is as much a testament to the writer’s process as it is to the collaboration process.
What do you want viewers to take away from your film?
I hope the audience can empathize with each character’s complexity of experience and perspective. And that it sparks important conversations beyond the theater.