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The Juneteenth weekend debut of Tim Story's 'The Blackening'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A remote vacation rental. A group of friends. A weekend getaway. A murderous psychopath.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BLACKENING")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Pick a card.

YVONNE ORJI: (As Morgan) OK. Calm down, I just did.

JAY PHAROAH: (As Shawn) Yeah, and you better watch how you talking to my lady, OK?

ORJI: (As Morgan) OK.

PHAROAH: (As Shawn) What you got?

ORJI: (As Morgan) You are a Black character in a horror movie. Prove that you can stay alive. Name one Black character that survived a horror movie. You must answer correctly or you die.

PHAROAH: (As Shawn) Oh, so this is just an aggressively themed trivia game.

MARTIN: Imagine a version where all the main characters are Black people and it's Juneteenth weekend. Director Tim Story brings us "The Blackening," a horror comedy billed on the fact that, until now, that's never really been done before. And Tim Story is with us now to tell us more about it. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

TIM STORY: Oh, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Can you just talk a little bit about, like, how the whole idea got started?

STORY: Yeah. No. Kind of the - how it originated, Dewayne Perkins by himself created this six or seven-minute short. And Tracy, Tracy Oliver, saw this short. A friend of hers called and said, you got to check out this short. It's so much like your kind of humor. She watched it and said she just laughed. And she literally tracked Dewayne down and said, I think this can be a movie. And Dewayne kind of just said, yes, I'll do it. And so they came up with kind of an idea. Then I was approached. I was only supposed to be a producer. I read it. I laughed out loud. And I kind of raised my hand and said, what if I would direct it? And everybody said OK, and off we went.

MARTIN: I read where you told an interviewer that one reason you wanted to direct the film was the sense that you wanted to kind of protect Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins' script from the - what some people seem to feel is, like, the inevitable watering down that comes when projects are developed by Black people but then get to the studio setting, and some of the - sort of the edge is taken off. Is that right?

STORY: I read it, and the first thing was, oh, my God. This is amazing. I get it. I got to do this. And then the second part was, the reason why I want to do it is to protect the voice, to protect us not having to second-guess ourselves. So much of this art is on instinct and just going for it. And sometimes you don't have an amazing reason for it. It just feels good. Or it just - it's true. It's authentic. And so I wanted to just be sure this project had that. And because I have to sometimes censor those cultural references so often in my work, just because not everybody gets it, this film felt like kind of a therapeutic thing for me. And I wanted to be sure it did not ever question itself.

MARTIN: That's so interesting, to hear you say that, because you obviously - you've had a very distinguished career in Hollywood. I mean, you've been playing with different genres your whole career. I'm talking about "Shaft."

STORY: Yeah (laughter).

MARTIN: Sorry, I've just always wanted to say that. (Laughter) And you took on a genre classic, and then "Ride Along," the odd couple buddy movie - "Think Like A Man," which is kind of a screwball romantic comedy. So it's interesting to hear you say that this project was kind of therapeutic for you because a lot of your movies have been kind of, you know, in the Black space. But do you think that this represents kind of a moment in time for you? Or do you think it represents a moment in Hollywood where people can finally start saying what they really want to say?

STORY: Oh, gosh, I want to say it's a little bit of both. I'd like to put a lot on Hollywood and being able to - I'd love to think that is the case. But I do believe myself, as well as many other filmmakers out there, have to constantly fight for what's kind of true because you do come up against, well, I don't understand that. And sometimes you have to fight for, well, put it in front of the audience. And so often with my work, I've made executives watch it with a hundred people, for who the movie was made for. And the ones that I've had great experiences with see that and go, ah, I get it.

MARTIN: OK, here's something sticky I want to ask you about, though, in comedy, OK? It seems really throughout the movies is that Blackness has been used as a trope. I mean, you're - in this film, you're interrogating the idea of kind of the trope of, like, the Black friend - in fact, lots of tropes, right? The Black friend. The Black gay friend.

STORY: Sure. Yeah.

MARTIN: And you're kind of flipping a lot of those on their heads. And so it's always been true. Like, Blackness has been used as a trope, I mean, from, like, the earliest days, like, to exemplify, you know, stupidity or vulgarity or - you know, all the things, right? You know, what about the tropes that center people of color that are made by people of color? To be fair, aren't there some of these tropes that people of color kind of amplify on themselves?

STORY: Sure, sure.

MARTIN: You know? What's that about? And what do you think about that? And did you think about that in the course of making this film?

STORY: Well, yeah. You know, as I try to bring these characters to the screen, I'm always asking those questions because I'm conscious of what society - quote-unquote, "this world" - has seen of Black characters. If I am going to give you something that most consider stereotypical, I try to give them the reason for it. Most of the time when we have these stereotypical characters, they just show up and they're that way. And what I love in the work that I've been able to do is give you more of the information. Sure, if it feels stereotypical, OK. But listen closer or look closer. Or me and the actor are going to give you a reason why - oh, you thought it was because of this. But here's why that character is this way. I don't shy away from any character that might seem stereotypical because they're going to be more than that. Hopefully, I answered the question. It's a passionate thing I've had to deal with pretty much all my career and continue to.

MARTIN: So let's loop back to where we started. You said that this in some ways was kind of healing for you, which is interesting to hear after all the success you've had with so many different types of films. And I'm just wondering, can you say a little bit more about that?

STORY: When I say therapeutic, this was therapeutic in the sense that - I get back to this thing of instinct where art doesn't have brakes. There's something amazing when you're in a room and you have an idea and you can say it, and everybody, first of all, understands where it's coming from. You don't have to explain to somebody why it's important. That's a space that just brings with it humor and just kind of magic. And that's what I think "The Blackening" is. It's - if you have a good time laughing, it's that we're - if you know the culture, you're going to be starting from where we are. And now we're taking it a little bit further. In my opinion, when it comes to representing Black culture, that's where the magic happens.

MARTIN: Tim Story, thank you so much for talking with us today.

STORY: Thank you so much. This was awesome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "SOUR SOUL")

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

"The Blackening" opens in theaters today, just in time for Juneteenth weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "SOUR SOUL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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