Anitra Stevens was inspired by her own family to make her short film “Explain It,” the story of a white father trying to explain Black Lives Matter and the issues surrounding the movement to his biracial daughter. The film recently screened as part of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles‘ focus on Black Cinema.
“I’m a mom of a little one who is biracial, and so the story kind of stemmed from conversations that I’ve had with my husband, and it made me think: If I wasn’t around, what would be his take on how to raise our daughter?” Stevens tells interviewer Carolyn McDonald in the video below.
“Of course she will always be looked at as a person of color. And so from a white perspective — a white male trying to raise a Black woman — what does that look like?,” Stevens adds. “What are the words that he could tell her to make her feel comfortable and safe and also strong?”
Watch the NFMLA interview with Anitra Stevens, writer and director of “Explain It”:
Stevens started as a production assistant in film and television and has risen in the ranks to become an assistant director and director. Her credits include hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
“Explain It” leaves several questions open for viewers, rather than trying to spell out the answers. For example, the girl’s mother does not appear in the film, and Stevens chose to focus on the father-daughter dynamic rather than explain where the mother is. The father is played by Justin Nesbitt and the daughter by Lila Kolozsvari.
“I just want to keep it simple. I just want to make one small statement, and this is what it is,” she says. “I can give it all to you. As a filmmaker, there are projects where you want to give it all to your audience. This particular project, for me, I didn’t want that. I wanted it to be a question.”
Anitra Stevens on Making ‘Explain It’ Alongside Another Film
There’s an element of spontaneity to “Explain It” — Stevens initially set out to make another short film, but was inspired to make “Explain It” at the same time.
“I talked to my producer and I was just like, ‘Hey — since we have the crew, can we shoot this also?’ And everyone was just like, ‘Sure, this is great.'”
And, she adds, “this one has gotten more attention than the other one.”
The strong response to “Explain It” has inspired her to write a feature-length story expanding on its themes: “I’ve been actually working on a script that tells the story of a single Caucasian male raising a Black little girl,” she says.
“Explain It” was part of NFMLA’s February Film Festival and annual InFocus: Black Cinema program, spotlighting Black stories and emerging Black talent in front of and behind the camera.
The day began with InFocus: Black Cinema Shorts I, telling stories of family, loss, and joy. It continued with director Stuart McClave’s debut feature documentary “On The Line: The Richard Williams Story,” and concluded with InFocus: Black Cinema Shorts II, featuring stories of connection, community, identity, mental health, climate activism, and motherhood.
NFMLA showcases films by filmmakers of all backgrounds throughout the year in addition to its special InFocus programming, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and region. All filmmakers are welcome and encouraged to submit their projects which will be considered for all upcoming NFMLA Festivals, regardless of the InFocus programming.
Main image: Justin Nesbitt plays a dad in Anitra Stevens’ short film “Explain It.”