A talented force that is on the rise is an Atlanta, Georgia local, Ebony Blanding. She uses her talents as a Writer and Director and as a Co-founder of House of June to showcase Black women and Black people in the full cinematic universe they deserve.
Blanding credits her mother for her start in film along with her father’s early investment of buying her a video recorder. She has stuck with the craft throughout her academic studies to present day, gaining several opportunities along the way, such as the Atlanta Film Society Filmmaker Residence Program, Wonder Roots Hughley Fellowship Program, and AIR Serenbe’s 2019 Artist Fellowship.
Most recently Blanding was accepted into the Black Magic Collective “Future Directors of Studio Feature,” which is a one year program where only nine candidates are chosen to help accelerate the careers of talented, qualified women, while giving the proper guidance, equipment, and software to assist them in creating their studio feature films.
Oz got the chance to speak with this cinematic storyteller. Blanding graciously revealed her insight and knowledge on obtaining the achievement of various programs and grants, her activism through film, and some exciting projects to expect from her this year.
Oz: Give a little intro about who you are and your start into film.
Blanding: I went to Tri-Cities High School in East Point and I can credit the experience I had as a student to the film and television magnet program. It was my first true, “I’m a filmmaker”- experience, because I had to interview and prepare before I could even get accepted into the program.
I took it super seriously which set the tone for me to call myself a filmmaker, because I was around all these dope artists that inspired me to create. Earlier on, my mom was into Alfred Hitchcock; she raised me as a baby filmmaker from all the stuff she liked. I grew up watching Vertigo and these black and white films. At that time I didn’t know what I was watching, I just knew I was watching stories that allowed me to sit with my mama and we would talk about it.
My mom was an artist and had this walk of different experiences in art that trickled down to me. She was truly the first person to call me an artist, and if your mom calls you something you run with it.
“I think we owe it to ourselves to show how important the storyteller is to the story.”
– EBONY BLANDING
Your work is beautiful and unlike anything I’ve seen before. When I was watching your reel I didn’t want it to end. What genre would classify yourself as?
Blanding: My partner Amber L.N. Bournett [and my] language was based on wanting to build worlds; however, we didn’t have a George Lucas or a Marvel budget. Arthouse really does tend to that gritty indie element of doing it yourself, but also understanding why you’re doing certain things. Everything has an intention.
Creating arthouse films allowed me to speak to the body of work I wanted to show visually and speak to narratively, but it also allowed my budget to place [us] within the world I wanted to create at the time. I didn’t feel the pressures of something being super perfect and polished. There was charm to learning and through that experimentation and [expletive] up sometimes; you just create something that’s really beautiful.
All your work is so different but has a similar quirkiness to it. How does your work relate to who you are?
Blanding: I grew up on John Hughes films, so The Breakfast Club is one of my favorite films. It would come on TBS like clockwork and I would watch it everytime and be so engrossed in the work he created with coming of age stories, exploring youth finding themselves.
Of course, as a kid, you’re looking for the things that look like you and there was so much of me in the world he created but they were all white kids. You didn’t see Blackness in his work and yet, because the storytelling is so powerful, I connected to it. So, what does it look like if I put myself in these worlds? It looks like my stories. It looks like visiting the candy lady, growing up in Atlanta and playing in the fire hydrant, having a big mama, aunties, spades. It looks like all these sounds of Blackness; I wanted to create that.
I talk about a character losing their job, because I literally lost my job. I’m putting myself in those spaces because they were real, but I also knew other girls could relate as well. We are used to Black women being side characters and now we’re going into Black women being superheros, which is awesome but what does the day-to-day life of a Black woman look like? She might not be saving anybody but herself. Her saving herself might look like her going to get a new set of acrylics. I tell stories like that because they matter to us.
You have your own independent work and then you have work with House of June. How did House Of June come about?
Blanding: Amber and I met at Georgia State and we were in a lighting class together. Two Black women typically stand out in the film space so we were standing in line for equipment and I spoke to her asking what she does. She said she was a DP getting into directing and I said I was a writing and I wanted to direct my works.
We met formally over tea and started creating works, some that will never see the light of day because we were learning our language together. Then we made one and submitted it to the Atlanta Film Festival and we won the competition.
Our micro budget, really our paychecks we used to make it, won at this festival. It gave us confidence and showed there was space for us. It was a Black woman’s narrative in an audience with people of all demographics. That was a very liberating moment that formed the House of June and pushed us to make other works.
Typically how it would work is, she would DP and cut it and also co-direct. I would write, direct and interface with the actors and Amber in the same way but how it feels in the overall frame. We balance and play off of each other very well. We have also been able to bring in other Black women [on production] as well.
“My work is meditative in intimacy and intentionality on amplifying Black women and Black people existing in fullness cinematically.” Can you elaborate/expand your meaning behind this quote found on your website?
Blanding: I write about Black because Blackness is very important, and I do believe there should be some safeguarding around who tells [these stories] because when we talk about nuances, it’s an embodiment of who you are, the DNA, the rhythm. When we talk about documenting experiences and lives of other folks, that for me is very important work that we’re doing.
As a Black woman, I’ve seen what history has done cinematically to my image, so I just don’t trust certain folks to tell my story and I feel like they shouldn’t even have to when they have me and a band of other really fly Black women to tell our own stories.
When I write about a Black woman practicing self care, it’s not just a buzz word for me. Zora Neale Hurston said, “Black women are the mules of the earth.” When I talk about a Black women practicing self care, it’s some super layered [expletive]. That’s me exploring what it looks like to not be beholden to anyone, putting herself first ─ which is something women in general are not taught, for her to expect to be treated a certain way and how her community shows up for her.
It’s not a burden for me, it’s an honor. I understand the words I’m writing and the visuals I’m directing are creating real universes in real time. I want us to know that there are spaces we’re creating for our stories that we are actually telling.