H.S. Naji and other collaborators on the short film “Radical Joy” were limited by Covid restrictions — “but that didn’t mean that we couldn’t be ambitious with the projects we were choosing,” Naji says. The resulting film, part of New Filmmakers Los Angeles‘ recent focus on Black Cinema, asks an existential question: “What does it mean to bring children into this world?”
The film is deeply rooted not just in Covid restrictions that required an extraordinarily careful, small production, but also the Black Lives Matter protests that began soon after the pandemic began, in response to the murder of George Floyd.
“How do we process everything that’s happening with the civil unrest?” Naji asks in an NFMLA interview with Carolyn McDonald, below. “And it kind of boiled down to an ideological question: Is it worth it to bring a Black child into this world, with all the pressures not only of police brutality, but also climate change, just the future in general?”
The film follows 29-year-old Maya (Lindsey McDowell) as she moves into a new apartment during months of protests against police brutality. Then she discovers that she’s pregnant. She revisits her life and experiences, and seeks guidance and help from her mother and new neighbor.
She ultimately makes a decision about whether or not to give into a cruel world, or choose joy.
Watch the NFMLA interview with H.S. Naji, director of “Radical Joy”:
You can follow H.S. Naji on Twitter @HSNaji and Instagram at @najinx.
‘Radical Joy’ Director H.S. Naji on Cinematic Disruption
Naji arrived to the U.S. in 2001 from Somalia, and used a deep love of music and film to learn English and about American culture at large. They (Naji uses they/them pronouns) began studying video art and music videos, and how to disrupt traditional cinematic language, at Columbia University.
Naji recently finished an MFA at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, where they made “Radical Joy” with a team that included writers Nana Adwoa Frimpong and McKenzi Vanderberg.
Naji has also directed music videos and short narratives in Los Angeles, and their work has been featured on NPR and in SPIN, Rolling Stone, and Out Magazine. Naji says that regardless of their subject matter, they focus on the resourcefulness of fringe characters — both in the world and in a story.
“Radical Joy” 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: Lindsey McDowell in “Radical Joy.”