Halima Jibril speaks to Ezeike about the complexity of Blackness, masculinity and the obstacles she had to overcome while filming this project
Ella Ezeike is committed to Blackness. From her first short film, Bluebird (2021), Words We Don’t Say (2022), to her latest film, Do My Thing, the Dazed 100 alum’s work is always centred on exploring the Black experience with truth, honesty and vulnerability.
From a young age, the Nigerian-American (who was born and raised in Los Angeles) photographer and filmmaker has been running around with a camera, trying to capture everything. However, she only got into filmmaking properly nearly two years ago after studying fashion and media at the London College of Fashion. She found inspiration in the work of Christopher Nolan and Terrence Malick, and continues to follow in their footsteps with her own daring and wistful storytelling.
Her latest film, Do My Thing, is an insightful examination of the special bond between brothers, exploring both their synchronicity and individuality. Inspired by the relationship between Ezeike’s own brothers, the fashion film captures the remarkable kinship between twins. Shot in 35mm film in the desert of Palmdale, California, the film explores the complexities of sibling relationships and the unbreakable bonds that tie us together.
We spoke to Ezeike about the complexity of Blackness, masculinity and the obstacles she had to overcome while filming her latest project.
The last film we interviewed you about was Words We Don’t Say. It explored the relationship between an estranged Black father and daughter, while your latest film, Do My Thing, is a poignant reflection on the unique relationship between two Black brothers. Both these films heavily deal with Black masculinity. Why are you interested in exploring this topic, specifically in a family setting?
Ella Ezeike: I take inspiration from my personal life. I grew up with Black men, from my fathers to my brothers. We always see the Black male identity from one specific viewpoint in the media, and I want to explore how multi-layered Black masculinity can be. Blackness isn’t a monolith; we’re complex, interesting and have a lot of love to give.
What have these projects taught you about Black masculinity?
Ella Ezeike: There is a sensitivity to Black men and their stories. With all the Black men in my life, I feel it’s my due diligence to honour their vulnerability in a society that often tries to stifle it.
What were your cinematic inspirations for this film? Towards the film’s end, the car scene reminded me of scenes from Moonlight by Barry Jenkins or Training Day by Antoine Fuqua.
Ella Ezeike: I love both of those films. Those are cool references I wish I had remembered and watched before making this! But a lot of my visual inspiration I took from photos. I looked at some Alex Webb documentary photography and Tyler Mitchell’s work. I like to look at photography a lot of the time for inspiration and let my mind wander and build worlds around framing.
“There is a sensitivity to Black men and their stories. With all the Black men in my life, I feel it’s my due diligence to honour their vulnerability in a society that often tries to stifle it”– Ella Ezeike
What made you want to make a fashion film?
Ella Ezeike: Well, my most recent work covers quite heavy topics, and I wanted to merge fashion with other elements of my interests and personality, which is, more often than not, very light-hearted and fun. I like exploring different perspectives of what I’m interested in. My interests are vast and varied.
How did you use clothing and styling to convey the personalities and emotions of the twin brothers?
Ella Ezeike: The twins I cast, Jabari and Malik, were similar but different. They have a very close bond, but Jabari is a little more serious than Malik, so I wanted warmer tones for Malik and darker tones for Jabari to highlight the difference in their personalities.
From the location to the styling, the film has a very 70s-inspired aesthetic. Why did you take inspiration from that era?
Ella Ezeike: I love that era. When I think about Black excellence, I usually think about the 70s. It was such a notable time for Black history, and the fashion was incredible and so distinctive. I feel like Black people at that time celebrated their Blackness, authenticity and power.
Did you face any specific challenges while filming Do My Thing that helped shape the final product?
Ella Ezeike: One challenge that sticks out for me on this project was shooting it in 35mm 4-perf. I believe we only had 14 minutes of actual shooting footage, so there wasn’t a lot of room for mistakes. Shots had to be storyboarded and precise.
The twins I worked with also weren’t used to moving on camera, so it was important for me to make them feel comfortable on camera but also be really direct and firm with them. Being on set is such a fun environment, but it can also be stressful because you often face limitations. Still, as the director, you must create harmony on set and lead with conviction.
Can you talk about the soundtrack and how it enhanced the storytelling?
Ella Ezeike: I grew up listening to African Highlife – listening to the likes of Fela Kuti and Bola Johnson. Even now, as an adult, it’s a huge part of my everyday listening. There’s so much soul at the core of Afrobeat, and I wanted that spirit and energy for this film. The track used in this project (“Lagos Sisi” by Bolu Johnson) has grit, almost as if James Brown were Nigerian.
What’s next for you as a filmmaker?
Ella Ezeike: Learning. I love learning different ways to develop and expand my craft. I’m excited to see how my style and perspectives develop and shift – and I’m looking forward to the people I meet along the way. I want to continue making honest work that connects to the viewer.
Watch Do My Thing here.