White Washed Raven Carter

Raven Carter was once asked by a mentor: “What if racism didn’t exist?” Her consideration of that question helped lead to her sci-fi short film “White Washed,” one of the films shown during a recent NewFilmmakers Los Angeles celebration of Black Cinema.

“White Washed” is the story of a Black family living in a fictional reality in which skin bleaching is normal and sometimes encouraged. When he turns 18, Nicholas (Todd Belamy III) is offered the chance to go to a well-known skin-bleaching pool that will change his identity forever. The opinions of the people he loves most weigh heavily on his decision about what to do.

Carter, a Texas native, specializes in directing at Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture Arts. Her stories dissect family, race, and womanhood in bold and playful ways. She says that with every film, she “desires to make the silent feel heard and the hidden feel seen.” Before film school, Raven was class president at her HBCU, Huston-Tillotson, and interned at Austin Film Society, Shout Factory Entertainment, and Academy Gold. After getting her MFA, Raven plans to continue writing, directing, and acting.

“White Washed” was also influenced by the experience of a friend who was bullied in school for her darker complexion. Carter chose to tell the story from a Black male perspective rather than from a Black woman’s point of view because she worried that audiences would misunderstand her intention otherwise: “I thought that if it was about women, people would make it more about beauty standards. With men it would be more of a social commentary,” she notes in the interview below.

Raven Carter on Finding Moments in Her Films

“White Washed” is surprising from its opening scene.

“When a black girl goes underwater and a white girl comes up — I know that that’s crazy. It makes you want to keep watching, though,” Carter explains.

The opening reflects her philosophy that every scene needs to be memorable. She often asks herself: “How can I direct every scene like this is my last one?”

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She does it by focusing on moments.

“Moments at the beginning, with the opening, and then the moment that he has with his best friend playing basketball, and then the moment that he has with his sister … and then of course that final moment that he has with his mother,” she says.

Carter gets lots of questions about the open-ended conclusion of the film, which is intended to convey that whatever Nicholas decides, the real issues raised by the film aren’t going away.

“Skin-bleaching products are still million-dollar industries in some countries,” she says.

Carter says using sci-fi was just one way of making sure the audience is engaged.

“I think that we don’t see Black sci-fi often,” she says. “I can’t name very many movies with Black people at the center that have that science fiction element. Almost every time that you have sci fi, there’s some sort of surprise without the film, and those are my favorite movies. One of the goals is to definitely have surprises in all of the films that I make. … How can I keep people in the seats? How can I make people really want to watch my movie?”

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She finds writing easier than directing, in part because she has no problems with revisions.

“I just love rewriting,” she says. “I’m always willing to make my script better and hear someone out.”

She also seeks a lot of input.

“This process of ‘White Washed’ was not just me writing something and sticking to it. It was me inviting people to make it better, ” she says. “That’s a big part of my process.”

“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: A scene from “White Washed,” directed by Raven Carter.