The other night, a post by my friend Kasimu popped onto my timeline. All I saw was something about Moleskine and She’s Gotta Have It. Yes, you heard me. On the cover of a muted fuchsia notebook was a picture of Nola Darling and apparently my eyes weren’t deceiving me. I love Moleskine. Love…one of several things that my long lost friend Jay Electronica and I have in common. I asked Kasimu where he got it from and he said on the 40 Acres and a Mule website. So being the Thirsty Thelma that I am, I went to the site but didn’t see it anywhere (Spike, it’s about time you hired someone to upgrade your joint…you need somebody, I got somebody).
So come to find out, my boy Adrian Franks was the designer! Adrian was one of a dozen artists featured in my (H)AUNTED exhibition (the first major curatorial response to the murder of Trayvon Martin). He’s the artist behind Spike Lee’s ongoing campaign of portraits of Black men, women, girls and boys murdered by police. Besides a number of other dope projects, he’s busy designing something special for Tony and I’s wedding this Fall. All of that, and dude is still one of the humblest cats I know. It must be because he’s from the South. So as soon as I read that, of course I called him on speed dial. And what follows is our brief chit chat on his approach to aesthetics. Working with Spike Lee. And the tea behind this gorgeous limited addition notebook commemorating one of the best cinematic pieces of all time.
SL: Nola Darling?! When I saw that Kasimu posted his picture of of a pink notebook with Nola Daring on the cover, I did a double take. I loveeeee Moleskine.
AF: I’ve been using them now since 2000. My cousin introduced me to the brand back in the late 90s. He’s an artist and writer and uses a lot of sketch books. They’re the best! So I’ve at least been using them for the past sixteen years.
SPL: That’s amazing! So tell me about the project…I’m just so enchanted. The fact that a major design brand just put the contemporary image of such a radical woman whose personality and persona is such a non-stereotypical Black woman, on the front cover of a sketchbook is both fascinating and fitting.
AF: We’ve been working on this project since January. Ultimately Spike wanted to do something that was memorable around the film. How do you celebrate 30 years of filmmaking and simultaneously celebrate 40 Acres and a Mule? Obviously he could re-screen the film. I think he’s going to do that anyway. We went through rounds and rounds of ideas and landed on something to celebrate the spirit of the film via photography. You know all the photography was shot by his brother, right? So I figured that his photography was the best way to bring out those characters.
SB: I didn’t know that. But I did read that the reason why you all chose to create a pink book was because it was his mother’s favorite color.
AF: Yes. He mentioned that in the initial meeting. It’s interesting because the movie is mostly and black and white. Yet, pink celebrates the memory of his mom.
SB: Considering that you each have a very distinct aesthetic, how did you create a vision that reflected a truly collaborative design?
AF: The thing that’s different from a designer versus a visual artist is that when in comes to creating a consumer product, you have to ask who are going to be the people that will buy it? What certain kinds of experiences would they like to have? The aesthetic had to play into that but also so did the narrative – a woman having the right to control herself, completely. How do you simultaneously celebrate a milestone, intersect aesthetics and not compromise the narrative? Well photography does that very well. And being that photography is dual tone, it brought out those pink hues.
SB: And it was executed so well!
AF: Thank you. So the thing that we also wanted to do is celebrate the people who made the movie. When get your copy, you’ll see a bunch of credits for the film. People know about the movie, but who were the people involved with the project? It’s a way to give thanks to the people that kicked off the 40 Acres experience. I think a lot of the people will appreciate that the backstory.
SB: Ironically, yesterday I had a conversation with Mama Xenobia [Bailey] and she just happened to mention that she crocheted hats for a couple of Spike’s films back in the day. My girl Renee Cox, shot the poster for School Daze. I think it’s dope that he’s consistently incorporated so many creatives to help establish the overall aesthetic of his projects.
AF: Yeah he has an appreciation for artists regardless if you’re a filmmaker or not. He simply supports creatives.
SB: So who do you think is going to be the biggest audience for these commemoration books? Fans of Spike? Fans of the film? Women, writers, everyone?
AF: I think it’s going to be fans of his work but more so it’s going to be Black women who I’m calling Nola 1s and Nola 2s. Nola 1 is younger, and maybe more recently acquainted with the film. She’s just now coming into her own. Nola 2, are women who got to know Nola Daring in real time, she was in her early twenties and thirties when the film was first released whose story was told. Overall, it will primarily be Black women who are going to be champion the book.
Moleskine has done a bunch collaborations – with Blue Note and some jazz musicians. But, I’ve never seen the face of a Black women like one of their books. So the fact that Spike is married to a Black woman, has a Black daughter, a Black mama, this is obviously is an homage to Black women. So I think the primary user will be sisters. Black women who embody a certain sense of pride and control over their lives, impressive creative thinkers…
SB: Those who own their sexual freedom.
AF: Empowerment . . .(laughs) right.
SB: I remember first seeing the film, maybe in middle school. I had the hugest crush on Spike – I was in my short dude, big eye, flat top phase. (Laughs) But I remember seeing She’s Gotta Have It and it went straight over my head. I had a similar experience with The Color Purple, which I read it in the sixth grade. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. So it took me being much older, in my early twenties, to really connect with the film, to connect with Nola. Thirty years is something to celebrate.
AF: This special commemoration of She’s Gotta Have It, is not only a celebration of this film but the past thirty years of contemporary independent filmmaking. There’s a whole crew of young indy African Americans producing now – Nate Parker, Ava Duvernay, you, myself. It’s about legacy building. Maybe the next time I won’t design the book. Maybe it will some emerging designer. And that’s dope because it’s about setting up a foundation to build a legacy and pass it on to the next generation.
SB: That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about the 5th anniversary of the BlackStar Film Festival. Spike actually came down to Philly to support the festival a couple of years ago (S/O to my co-witch Numa Perrier for making that happen!). Filmmaking and storytelling are so critical for us. After every single moment of outrage in our community, people ask what can they do? I think a significant part of our long term strategy has to be the creation and control of our imagery and narratives. All of that impacts our wellness and longevity as a people. There are still so many stories yet to be told – about the Haitian revolution, about Mansa Musa, about the Black Catholic church in New Orleans, about Surinamese soccer players in the Netherlands. The list is endless.
AF: That’s the reason I started my company Pepper. I want to create a curated platform accessible to dope creatives for all these types of stories because they are not being told by Hollywood or mainstream media. So thank God for technology and the capacity to own our own media companies and our own agencies.