It is exquisitely ironic - and fitting - that I ended up attending a screening of Victoria Mahoney's directorial debut Yelling to the Sky, co-sponsored by ImageNation Cinema Foundation and the Film Society of Lincoln Center at the Walter Reade Theatre, about two weeks after seeing the movie The Help.
Shortly after publishing my review of the latter, I read lots of other reviews and opinion pieces about The Help. One of many recurring criticisms regarding The Help is the filtering of the fictional stories of Aibileen Clark (played by Viola Davis) and her friends through the burgeoning young white woman journalist Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) in the novel on which the film is based - and the shortcomings of (albeit well-intentioned) Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, as a voice of and for black women domestics in early 1960s Mississippi.
As a remedy for stereotypical renderings in the movie, for instance, many responses to The Help within the black blogosphere, especially, emphasize the need for films where black women tell our own stories. Accordingly, I have, likewise, read pieces that highlight black women actresses, writers, directors, and producers who are doing just that. Victoria Mahoney and Yelling to the Sky are formidable additions to this inspiring roster* of "sistahz ... doin' it fo' themselves" and their impressive work.
Yelling to the Sky is the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story of Sweetness O'Hara (Zoe Kravitz), who navigates mean streets and an extremely difficult home life, including a(n initially) abusive and often absent father. In the Q & A after the film with Mahoney, Zoe Kravitz, and Gabourey Sidibe (who plays Latonya Williams, Sweetness' bully/nemesis), ImageNation's Moikgantsi Kgama aptly described YTTS as driven by "emotions and moments."
Indeed, as I watched the film, I was struck by its sparse dialogue and clocked its gritty, grainy, saturated texture. Along with these features, Mahoney explained in the Q & A how other cinemaphotographic and directorial elements like lighting and pacing illustrate various aspects of Sweetness' journey. These aesthetic and technical choices place the audience in Sweetness' shoes as she traverses her volatile world.