The Brown Paper bag

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"Yes. It's like racism within the community from slavery days. Light- skinned versus black-skinned. It just opens a window for conversation. It doesn't delve into the topic too heavily. The film isn't about that—in a sense of, this is a way they tested racism. But that would be a whole other topic just to get into that alone."

 

Ephraim Benton is no stranger to the silver screen.

With appearances in controversial films such as Baby Boy and Bamboozled, it's no wonder he decided to try his hand at filmmaking with his feature film Brown Paper Bags; a subject matter that crosses the lines in to humanity, racism and drugs. Benton grasps a delicate topic within the African American community as well as open eyes within other cultures and races.


BSN:
How did you come up with the concept of Brown Paper Bag? Why did you want to attempt this subject matter? 
EB: With me, how I write, I'm a moody writer so I have to come up with a title first. The name just popped in my head. One day I was looking at a brown paper bag. One day I started wrestling with it. Even when I was trying to sleep I kept tossing and turning—ideas kept popping in my head. And when I woke up I had more than a full script of ideas and then I started picking my girlfriend’s brain for other ideas and different ways of how I could use a paper bag. The icing on the cake was someone gave me a book called Our Kind of People by Lawrence Otis Graham and it deals with the whole hidden Black upper class. That pretty much confirmed it. 


BSN:
When you started to shop this story around were people excited about the possibilities of this story?
EB: I really just started submitting it to the festivals but I'm getting a lot of good feedback. People like the project they think it's really funny and innovative.
 
BSN: I was laughing so hard at the part where the girl had to curl her hair with brown paper bag twists. My mom had taught me that trick years ago. 
EB: Yeah. I'm glad you liked it. See, a lot of people can relate to it. The use of a paper bag in today's youth, we know nothing about it—probably covering up beer and the drugs. Aside from that, they don't know the many things that result from it so the film teaches you a thing or too. It teaches you as well as makes you laugh—I hope.
 
BSN: There is a particular part in the film where you touch on the subject matter of skin color. That is a subject still prevalent in the south. 
EB: At the end it sort of feels her pain. No matter how she acts in the beginning; she was stuck up and thought she was above everybody. It hit home because a lot of people know about it. They heard stories about it. Families went through. A lot of people—some people didn't get it. Some people, who are not aware of that, like white people who don't necessarily know about it, they would ask a question 'What is that about?' because they didn't actually get it. But see, my point is if they didn't get it and they ask a question then the film’s done its job.

BSN:  You touch a topic of Blacks against Blacks.
EB: Yes. It's like racism within the community from slavery days. Light- skinned versus black-skinned. It just opens a window for conversation. It doesn't delve into the topic too heavily. The film isn't about that—in a sense of, this is a way they tested racism. But that would be a whole other topic just to get into that alone. 

BSN: Are you going to do that?
EB: I have different projects. Other projects that I'm getting into but my whole thing was just to start a conversation. To open their eyes and from that conversation we could talk about that. As long as you walk away while the topic runs through your mind, my whole point that I was trying to come away with has been done.
 
BSN: This project is your first. How'd you go about implementing it in the mechanical sense? 
EB: This was easy. I surrounded myself with people that knew what they were doing. This is not an 'I' project this is a 'We' project. I had a nice team of people with skills. I would collaborate with them on certain things. I'm an actor but I just got tired of auditions. I wanted to take matters in my own hands and just show them like acting is not my only thing. Just give me a chance. All of that waiting for someone to come and find you—in this day and age that's not happening. You got to go kick down them doors. With this project it kind of showed them what I could do and what I am capable of on my own. So if they did want to get behind me, just imagine what I could do with money.
 
BSN: What were the first steps you took to make your company come to fruition?
EB:  Let me get into the specifics. This is some what of a touchy subject right here. BLACK Beret Films comes from Black Beret Entertainment. Me and my best friend, whom I grew up with, it was a rap group and he came in with the name BLACK Beret which is Blacks Living Amongst Crime and Kaos and the Beret is like the green. So they would go on special missions to take out the enemy so our concept was different in a sense that we were changing everyone's mindset and to let them know there's another way out there. We are survivors. We're going to get through all this chaos. And help whoever we can help. He got murdered in 2005. Rap was his thing that was his love. I've always wanted to act. I needed a name that would express what I'm trying to do as well as keep a name that he created going. It's carrying on something that we still stand for together.
 
BSN: This is an emotional film for you.
EB: Yes. This is. I don't know if you've seen it but at the end of the credit I have that this film is dedicated to my 'Gemini Twins'. My daughter's mother passed away to breast cancer in ’05 too. So it's coming out of 2005. '05 was a very tragic year for me. I had to get back to me. I got strength. With them looking over me. I just go out there and try to conquer and open people's minds. I know I'm going to make it. I have a lot of people dependent on me in my family.


Johnson writes on entertainment, music and celebrities for The Black Star News


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