Hidden Gems, interviews

The Word According To Hawes

He put on for Atlanta as the creator of Blue Collar Hustle
He put on for black America as the creator of Black On Both Sides
Now on the precipice of releasing the fiery and unapologetic second season of his critically acclaimed drama, Alonge Hawes wants to put on for something even more important.

Alonge Hawes sits intently staring at his laptop screen, studying lines of dialogue and prose. His eyes dart back and forth rapidly as he soaks in scenes, characters, plot and themes. “A script is the most simplest thing in the world, and at the same time it’s the most complex”, Hawes waxes philosophically, his gaze never wavering. Finally, he looks up and runs his hands through his head as he sighs heavily. “The reason why he’s the best is because he can simplify complex themes and compound upon and expand simple ideas. That is the markings of a true genius.” Hawes looks directly at me, the same intense gaze with which he was staring at the words on the laptop now directed towards me. “That’s what I’m chasing. Genius.”

The script that has so enraptured our article’s subject is Donald Glover’s Pilot from his Emmy award winning series “Atlanta”. Having premiered on September 6th, 2016; Hawes marks this as a day when his own life changed. He had two months prior, begun working on the outline for his own scripted series, to take place in his hometown of Atlanta and feature a group of black men attempting to create a record label. “Atlanta”, sharing the same location and a similar premise, was a source of great intrigue for Hawes (himself already a huge Donald Glover fan) but when he watched the first two episodes that fateful September evening, he became instantaneously aware of two things. “Firstly, that this was going to be the greatest television show of all time. And secondly, I was going to have to commit to myself to reaching that level of greatness or just quit right here and now.” Hawes chose the latter, and on February 12th, 2017, his first web series “Blue Collar Hustle” was made available via Youtube. “I didn’t reach that level with the first season of my first series”, Hawes laughs softly, “But there was enough quality there and enough support that I could keep going.” The “quality” Hawes is speaking of is that Blue Collar Hustle’s six episode first season was picked up by several independent streaming platforms, including Kweli TV, Goindie TV, and most fruitfully Seeka.tv. The “support” that he is speaking of is the 22 official selections and 24 wins that were bestowed upon that first season by film festivals across the globe including Europe (London Independent Film Award for Best Web Series) India (AAB International Film Festival for Best Web Series) and stateside (L.A. Shorts Award for Best Actor and Best Web Series). In early 2018, during filming for Blue Collar Hustle’s second season, Seeka.tv took a risk and entered into a marketing partnership with the fledgling creative. In return for utilizing their marketing and promotional muscle, Blue Collar Hustle season 2 was made available as a 6 month exclusive on the platform. The gamble paid off, as the second season debuted at number 1 on Seeka.tv’s most watched series list, and also marked the highest rated premier of any of Seeka’s 150 shows. Instead of milking his newfound success, Hawes went left and created a brand new series. “I needed a new challenge,” Hawes opines, “We could have easily done three more seasons of Blue Collar Hustle and I would’ve been comfortable. But comfortability is the death of creativity and I needed something new.” That something new was Black On Both Sides. A searing and unflinching look at black identity as told from the perspectives  of four black professionals who are mastering the art of “code switching”. “If you are black and especially if you are black in America, code switching isn’t a term that needs explanation”, he says with another heavy sigh, “It’s simply part of our existence. Our very survival relies upon making white people comfortable, being nonthreatening, being docile and subservient. I thought to myself, what if we used that as a weapon? That’s when I cracked the story.”

Hawes pitched the project to Seeka.TV, who immediately greenlit the series. Upon its release Black On Both Sides was critically acclaimed, scoring 4 star reviews from sites such as Indyred and Reelromp. The first season also earned Hawes Best Director honors from the Global Film Festival (making him the first black man to win in that category) and Best Screenplay from the Oniros Film Awards. These successes led to a greenlight for a second season and also a series development deal with the black owned streaming and entertainment company Jaro Media. With all of these achievements, you’d expect Hawes to be joyful, exuberant, reveling in his good fortune. Instead, as he continues to stare at Donald Glover’s script, he seems pensive and studious. In his mind still trying to crack the code to that ever elusive genius.

Season 2 of Black On Both Sides premiered on October 12th and I must say the first five episodes were pretty intense. Without giving too much away, what can viewers look forward to in the remainder of the season?

The final three episodes will conclude Anansi’s story, so I constructed those episodes to culminate almost like a three act play. Episode 6 is the beginning of the end as Anansi comes to grips with making a final decision regarding who he truly is. Episode 7 is the middle, where the stakes are highest and all pieces move towards the finale. Episode 8 is the end, where the final confrontation between Cyrus and Anansi will take place.

Also, congratulations on your new development deal with Jaro Media! What details can you share with us about this partnership and upcoming series?

In a perfect world, I’d be finishing post production on the project now and freely able to talk about it. However, due to pushbacks stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, we are still early in production so I can’t say a whole lot. I will say that the project is different from any other that I’ve ever done. It will be a serialized ten episode season, it will star my long-time collaborators Quentin Williams and Brittaney Traylor, and it will be dope! Shoutouts to Richard DeVaughn (Founder and CEO of Jaro Media) for greenlighting the project. It’ll be worth the wait!

When did you discover that writing was your passion?

When I was around 7 or 8. I was always writing and creating my own black superhero comic books. Then I wrote a play when I was 12. Then for my 13th birthday my parents brought me a camcorder and me and my siblings would create movies based on little scripts I wrote.

What is the most rewarding part of being an auteur?

Having the control to make sure that your vision comes to fruition 100%. When I write a script I have a specific vision in my head for how I want it to look and feel.  So directing, producing, and acting is just as extension of making sure the script is realized to its maximum potential.

Describe your creative process when writing a script.

First I’ll write an outline for the script. This will help me guide the characters from point A to Point B in broader strokes. Then I begin writing the script, which honestly is just a fine tune of the outline. Once I finish, I send it to my producers to read and then they give me feedback. Once I get the feedback I might change or tune up a few things, then it’s done.

Out of all the scripts you’ve written which script do you feel is the most impactful and why?

The most impactful is probably the 6th episode of Black On Both Sides season 1, titled “The Audacity Of Hope” (the name taken from the autobiography written by Barack Obama) I got a LOT of feedback from that episode and the audience really seemed to like it.

What makes an Alonge Hawes Original Series unique from all other digital content?

When your getting an “Alonge Hawes Original” that means that it came from my brain and heart. It’s unique because no one else has walked in my shoes, lived what I’ve lived, or can be who I am. Just as we are all unique individuals, my stories are unique to my views, thoughts, and experiences.

With so much Black talent in Atlanta, we are curious to know your process of selecting your cast and crew.

Many of my cast members are first time actors, who I’ve known for years and know are talented; they just needed a springboard for their talent. Most times I’ll write a character specifically for a person because I know they can knock it out of the park. My production crew is 100% black talent, from the cinematographer to our sound editing. I’m trying to give unknown or underutilized black talent a springboard to eventually ascend to greater avenues.

I am very impressed that you were the main protagonist for both of your digital series. How do you balance directing and acting?

90% of my directing is in rehearsals and table reads. We rehearse twice per week, so when we’re onset and I yell “ACTION”; everyone pretty knows what I expect. So that helps me concentrate on acting when we’re filming.

2020 has been a very hectic year. How do you feel that the ongoing Pandemic and continuous racial injustice has affected you creatively?

The problem, and what frustrates me the most, is that Black On Both Sides seasons 1 and 2 are really addressing atrocities from 2-3 years ago. The fact that it is so relevant in present day 2020 is more horrifying than anything. Black On Both Sides was meant to be a fictionalized cautionary tale of what can happen when a people are pushed to the brink of despair for no other reason than the colour of their skin, and the consequences that such despair could wrought. But because of the despicable actions caused by the systemic racism of law enforcement, the series is more of a time capsule that will represent the black trauma of the coming decade. I am not proud to say that, but it is what it is.

The character you played on your first digital series Blue Collar Hustle and Black On Both Sides are very dissimilar. Which character would you say you can relate to the most and why?

In some ways I relate to Ajani (from Blue Collar Hustle) and in some ways I relate to Anansi. I am not either of them, but they are both inspired from parts of my psyche. I guess it really depends on the day and mood that I am which one I would identify with more.

As a filmmaker, what has been your most memorable experience thus far?

It’s all been one giant memorable journey for me. I can’t speak to one thing that sticks out. This has just been an incredible experience.

Just last month you were the keynote speaker for the Annual Minnesota Webfest. What was it like to be given that opportunity?

It was amazing! I loved the opportunity and am thankful to the organizers of that incredible festival for having me.

Your key inspirations are Langston Hughes, Spike Lee and Donald Glover. In what ways has each of these creatives inspired you?

Langston Hughes was an incredible poet and author, his work has truly stood the test of time and much of it reads as fresh today as I’m sure it did during his time period.  Spike Lee is one of the greatest auteur filmmakers of all time, and an underrated script writer. Do The Right Thing is my favorite film of all time, and the dialogue is just so lyrical and powerful. Donald Glover is a God in the flesh. He really might be the greatest writer who ever lived if you take into account his music, screenplays, stand up comedy. Look at the episode from season 1 of Atlanta, it’s the seventh episode titled “B.A.N”. It’s one of the SMARTEST episodes of television ever written. If you don’t seek to achieve that level of greatness then you shouldn’t write. Period.

Both of your series have been episodic dramas. Are there plans to venture out into other genres and other forms of digital content in the near future?

There are always plans. Stay tuned.

In your opinion, what are the qualifications for a work to be considered  “for the culture”?

It has to be authentic. Culture cannot be duplicated. It can be appropriated and co-opted, but never duplicated. Culture is authentic, it FEELS real. It TASTES tangible. It’s a unifying force that brings people together. Culture in itself, is spiritual in nature. When you are “For The Culture” then that means you are contributing to that spiritual force, so you better come correct.

To stay updated with Alonge Hawes, make sure to follow him on Instagram at @Alonge_Hawes.

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