‘I don’t really fuck with YouTube’ – as she prepares to unleash her Twitter-thread stripper film Zola, the director’s watchlist jumps from bracing Hollywood satire to a meme-worthy Isabelle Huppert moment with ease
Every Friday, Screen Time taps your favourite cult and on-the-rise directors to share their watchlists with Dazed.
When she offered to share her isolation watchlist, director Janicza Bravo was clear on two things: one, her mental pile of seminal films that have remained unwatched in quarantine, and two, her tendency over the years to tell others conversationally that she has, in fact, seen them. Luckily for us, her tastes skirt around the traditionally platformed, preferring to dig around the edges for thrills, humour and storytelling which uncovers truths about human nature. It’s an instinct that drew her to the story of Zola – a woman whose thread of 148 tweets detailing a hellish trip to Florida with a stripper, a pimp, and her boyfriend went viral back in 2015 – and convinced her it was worthy of the silver screen. Zola, which she adapted with playwright Jeremy O’Harris, and which stars Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, and Cousin Greg from Succession, showed to acclaim at Sundance in January. But we may have to wait a while after the other side of lockdown to see it ourselves. Fingers crossed that the film – called a “fucked up fairy tale complete with a dreamy Mica Levi score” by critics – will be watchable IRL in cinemas by the time it comes out.
THE THERAPY FILM
HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE (1987)
Janicza Bravo: I’m not good at picking one. But for the intents and purposes of this exercise I will do my damndest. Most of what I have been watching in this window has been trash, as my brain can not compute. Everything feels hard. So I want ease where I can get it. I made the mistake of watching a lot of my garbage at the top of the year so when this hostage narrative that we are in happened, what was in front of me was most of the movies I’d been lying about watching all my life. I started with Taxi Driver, which I had not seen but pretended I had for years. I did not finish. (I) dropped out when Martin Scorsese — who is in it — delivered a monologue about shooting a woman in the pussy. It wasn’t really where my spirit was at. Where I am, is getting good at piles, and tomorrow. By that I mean I make piles, and (thinking) about addressing them tomorrow. Is this how you hoped this question would go?
“I made the mistake of watching a lot of my garbage at the top of the year so when this hostage narrative that we are in happened, what was in front of me was most of the movies I’d been lying about watching all my life” – Janicza Bravo
I’m gonna say Hollywood Shuffle, directed by Robert Townsend. This one is forever in my top 10. It was on the Criterion Channel in March. Might still be there. It’s his first feature and one of the reasons I thought I could be a filmmaker. It’s tenacious and gutsy and absolutely charming. The ‘How it got made’ is also pretty special. It’s a stellar commentary on the kind of roles available to black and brown folks.
THE NEW OBSESSION
EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962)
Janicza Bravo: This one I will keep short. Experiment in Terror, directed by Blake Edwards. The first 5 minutes are sensational. The opening alone is as they say worth the price of admission. A total knockout. It grips you by the gut and takes its hold ’til the first end credit. Fun fact Blake Edwards was married to Julie Andrews and also directed Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Victor Victoria, 10 and my favorite of his, S.O.B.
THE TELEVISION SERIES
Janicza Bravo: Columbo. I watched almost all of it with my grans. For her, there was only Columbo, and Murder She Wrote, and her stories. The latter is what people born before 1950 call soap operas. I am happy that it’s made its way back into my life. All seasons are on Amazon. The writing is wonderful. Very theatrical. Lots of good parts and tonnes of great cameos. You don’t have to watch it sequentially so if that’s something that scares you – you can jump around. The bit is always the same. Every episode opens with the murder, so you know who your bad guy is. It’s less about the who and more about the why. The pleasure is in how Columbo psychologically breaks down the killer. I remember my mom once saying something about Peter Falk to the effect, of no actress could have a career with an eye like that (the actor has one prosthetic eye). I did think that it wasn’t a very nice thing to say, but she was right.
THE DEEP CUT
Janicza Bravo: I don’t really fuck with YouTube. I went into my history and pulled up the top 3 things that I had revisited. I love repetition. The beauty in repetition is in doing it again.
One: The Eartha Kitt scene in Unzipped. Isaac Mizrahi and Eartha Kitt at her home discussing the gowns he’s going to make for her. My whole face lights up just thinking about it. Also I do a great impression of her.
Two: The death scene in Time of The Wolf. Isabelle Huppert’s husband is shot in the head and then she vomits. Spoiler alert, (but) it’s about 2 minutes into the movie so it’s okay. Unclear why I’ve watched it so much except that I tend to seek out bad vibes. There was a period where I would text that in response to ‘How are you?’
And three: Drunk History starring Will Ferrell and Don Cheadle in which they play Abe Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. A very established actor – one who many would call famous – once congratulated me on my work in this clip. He was sober. He thought I was Don Cheadle. Don Cheadle who was nominated for an Oscar for his work in Hotel Rwanda. Don Cheadle who was so divine in Boogie Nights. He saw his face and saw mine. He saw Will Ferrell and thought that I would be cast opposite him. Of all the actors they could offer Frederick Douglass to in his mind — they went out to me. I’ve watched it a bunch because I like to pull it up and hold it next to my face and ask if we look alike. We do not.
“Isabelle Huppert’s husband is shot in the head and then she vomits... Unclear why I’ve watched it so much except that I tend to seek out bad vibes. There was a period where I would text that in response to ‘How are you?’’’ – Janicza Bravo
THE UNEXPECTED PLEASURE
LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT (1999-PRESENT)
Janicza Bravo: SVU. It’s so soothing. My phone ring is the theme song. I genuinely feel held by it. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been halfway through an episode, realized I had already seen it, and still stay with it through (to) the end. There are about 900 episodes and 69 seasons. I’ve even watched it on television with commercials. If there’s a marathon, I get excited.