Jade Jenise Dixon is the owner of Stepping Stone Productions, LLC, and Utopia Films, Inc. She is also an actress, producer, director, writer, and casting director.
Dixon’s latest work, Truth Hall, has garnered eight film festival wins and nominations, including a “Best Director” win at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City, in addition to a “Best Director – First Feature” Award at the Pan-African Film Festival. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Jade Jenise Dixon’s work has been compared to that of Spike Lee, a fellow NYU alumnus.
Upon the commercial release of Truth Hall, Dixon managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on the early influence of Ntozake Shange’s 1975 stage play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, the current climate for female African-American directors, and the need for film to address overlooked social issues.
As Truth Hall transformed from the written text to the silver screen, you wore several different hats along the way. You served as the writer, the director, the producer, and even an actor. How difficult did you find it to manage all those pieces?
I was told in the beginning that it was going to be a difficult thing to do. I didn't find it difficult. It really depends on the team that you have, and I had a really wonderful team. I had a wonderful DP [director of photography, Pierre Chemaly]. My first AD [assistant director, Frank Faucette] was very attentive as far as when I was actually on set or actually in character and not actually being the director. They were very good at managing the role that I would normally manage. Of course, there were a couple of times that I would be in character, doing a reel cut. But after a couple of days it all worked itself out, and I actually found it to be not very difficult. I used to be a cheerleader captain, and one thing that I did was to visually arrange people so that it looked pleasing to the eye for our competitions. I didn't find it any more difficult than that, really.
One of the things that I admire most about Truth Hall is its willingness to tackle taboo social issues dead-on, especially within the African-American community. The film addresses two, in particular, with a heavy hand: HIV awareness and homophobia. Why did you feel compelled to incorporate those two themes?
Well, I did feel compelled to tell those stories because first of all, they need to be told. We, as filmmakers, I feel like we have a responsibility to tell stories that matter. I always wonder why people choose to tell the stories that they tell, which is probably why you're asking me the question. I chose to tell it not because there was any personal experience, but because of what I see. I see people that feel like their spin is less than the next person's spin because of whatever they've been ingrained with, whatever they believe. So I wanted to show or tell the story that points a finger at everyone, to show that everyone is part of the human race and that no one’s standing is less than someone else's. I actually did have a friend who once said to me, “Hey, I'm a lesbian.” She thought that she couldn't get HIV, and I thought that was very interesting. I just didn't feel like that could be true. “Why are you exempt, and no one else is?” So I did some research and found that the research hasn't been done, and there are a lot of people out there who falsely think that their group is exempt. There's no group that's exempt. I wanted to bring that out, as well.