For the creators of “Uncode,” a series that showcases stories of the Black experience, being selected for the 41st annual Atlanta Film Festival can be summed up in a single phrase: “Damn good.”
Ali Graham, who created “Uncode” in 2016, and his wife, Myisa Plancq-Graham, aimed to give a comprehensive view of Black life and culture outside of the scope of mainstream outlets. The concept is what shaped the series’ name, which stems from the idea of “undoing the miseducation we’ve all received about one another,” according to creative director Plancq-Graham. The company will continue that undoing when their “Unscripted Pilots” local artists vignette screens Sunday, March 26, at 7 Stages Theatre as part of the festival.
“The platform that ATLFF gives ‘Uncode’ is incredible,” Plancq-Graham said. “The opportunity to show this content to a city that has such a diverse Black community is truly idyllic. Being accepted to screen in a festival amongst so many seasoned filmmakers is an awesome motivational boost.”
Graham, a veteran of the tech industry, serves as the series’ executive producer along with award-winning filmmaker Crystle Roberson. Graham learned that Black people spend most of their time on phones and tablets, so he and his wife, who decided to focus on capturing global stories, settled on short-form video content.
With “Uncode,” Graham, Plancq-Graham and Roberson not only want to transform the way Black people are represented in the media, but they want to let the community define itself.
“Through these stories of everyday and extraordinary people, we will hold up a mirror to the hearts and minds of Black people,” Roberson said. “[We will] define ourselves in a light that is human and beautiful.”
Everyone involved has their own favorite stories that “Uncode” has uncovered. Graham’s is the upcoming spotlight on a Portland, Ore., cannabis dispensary owner, Roberson zeroed in on her first short-film, and “Amora,” which focuses on drag performer Dominic Hearvey coming to terms with his sexuality and religion, is Plancq-Graham’s favorite.
“We’re major proponents of the ‘All Black Lives Matter’ movement,” she said, “the idea that even amongst marginalized communities like our own there are pockets of people who have even smaller voices, and whose lives seem to matter even less. If through ‘Uncode,’ we can start to normalize every possible way that Blackness is embodied, we’ve started to do our job.”
But the road to get here wasn’t easy. Graham and Plancq-Graham, a photographer, gave up their old careers to launch this socially conscious project after Graham grew tired of the tech industry, which included jobs with Verizon Digital, what was then Dr. Dre’s Beats, Apple and Amazon.
“The tech ride got exhausting and I was looking for a way to work with and support my wife,” Graham said. “I was having a hard time managing my 9-to-5 job duties/day-to-day responsibilities when, each morning, I saw breaking news stories or articles written about another Black body lying dead in the street or another protest or another police-involved shooting. I started to notice the lens through which non-Black media outlets … viewed our communities was tinted with poverty, anger, death loss and pain.”
Once “Uncode” was gearing up to film, the creators had to overcome the hurdle of making their subjects feel comfortable with telling their own stories.
“In the early stages, it was difficult to get people to open up and think of themselves, not as interview subjects, but as storytellers,” Graham said. “We want people to tell their own stories. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t immediately think of themselves to be as remarkable or as interesting as I think of them to be. Convincing people they should be on camera and helping them get to a point where they’re comfortable in sharing a personal story was something we had to learn how to do.”
The “Uncode” heads will continue making films going forward and they hope to tell more comprehensive stories, including some through submissions from content creators who join the “Uncode” collective. After their screening at the Atlanta Film Festival, Graham wants to show the series in cities from New York to Los Angeles.
“To me, ‘Uncode’ is more than a project; it’s a mindset, a movement that needs a platform,” Roberson said. “ATLFF is the perfect platform because it brings this movement from the web into the theater where it can permeate the culture from a fresh angle and show viewers exactly what ‘uncoding’ is all about.”