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#WomenatWork: 'LADYLIKE' director Tiffany Johnson schools us on art as freedom

Welcome back to our "Women at Work" series, where you're introduced to a curated selection of working women discussing their professional lives as well as the impact they're making - through an audacious blend of professional and personal passions - on the world around them.

Closing out Women's History Month, meet Tiffany Johnson.

via @tiffanyjenellej

via @tiffanyjenellej

Admittedly, I wait until the morning each WaW story is due to write it. As an entrepreneur whose entire life is now guided by one giant Passion Planner, I get joy out of being able to wake and feel my way to useful words - hopefully, accurate words - describing these women who move me so much.

When I started thinking about Tiffany this morning, I started thinking about freedom. I started thinking about "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint," the "absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government," "the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved."

via @tiffanyjenellej

via @tiffanyjenellej

As a graduate of the Los Angeles Film School - one who majored in Directing and minored in Screen Writing - I can imagine that Tiffany knows a lot about engaging the right to speak, think and act without hindrance. I'm probably projecting my 8-year black girl experience as an English Ph.D. student, but I'm willing to bet Tiffany would bring brilliance to a discussion of art, particularly Hollywood filmmaking, and the feeling of foreign domination.

We just haven't discussed that yet.

I think about freedom when I think about Tiffany because (well, look at her, so in and of herself)  since graduating, she's worked for CBS, Overbrook Entertainment, and Academy Award-winning Producer Peggy Rajski.  She's also worked as an Associate Producer on numerous live television award shows, including MTV Movie Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, People’s Choice Awards and the 2011 Primetime Emmy’s. She also serves as assistant to another fave, Lena Waithe.

Tiffany is a woman not just standing in, but operating from her multiple freedoms: to desire, to choose, to create, to redefine. If you're not quite sure how I got there yet, you will be after further reading.

 

Check out the best from my correspondence with Tiffany below.

 

On owning her professionalism ...

I didn't always, but I definitely do now. I had to learn to change the way I speak. When asked what I did, I would say, "Oh I am an aspiring director." That's bullshit--I am a director. Filmmaking is what I do. 


On the logistics of life ...

There's definitely a lot of music ... Music gets me through my days. As an assistant to a Showrunner/Writer, my day usually consists of lots of emails and reading scripts. In the evenings, I'll sometimes grab drinks with friends, maybe catch a movie I've been wanting to see or go home and binge a new show. It varies.

 

On the last year ...

I actually have 2 important projects I completed last year. One was my short film LADYLIKE.
We screened it at a few festivals and even went to Cannes--such a wild, life changing experience! It's currently streaming on Issa Rae's YouTube channel.
I also completed a short documentary last year, entitled The Ride Home. It's the most emotional and personal film I've ever worked on. It was the first time I turned the cameras on myself--it follows me and my dad on the day he was released from prison and the ride home we shared. 

 

On what's up next ...

I'm currently in post on a short film I recently shot called Dead. Gay. Fictional. It's a fun rom-com send up, written by my good friend Caty Zick.
via wesjanisen.com

via wesjanisen.com

Also, my writing partner, Nick Williams and I are developing LADYLIKE into a feature which I'm really excited about!
via ladylike.com

via ladylike.com

On sustaining your craft ...

I think it's super important for creatives to fuel their craft. What I mean by that is: surround yourself with other creatives that inspire ... and encourage you. Learn from each other. Study those you admire and dedicate time to your [calling]. I'm constantly watching films or reading books or articles on filmmakers I'm obsessed with.  

 

Do you see why I'm thinking about freedom?

Before I began writing this, I kept scribbling a phrase in my journal: "Do not complicate your freedoms."

Over and over.

DO NOT COMPLICATE YOUR FREEDOMS.

It wasn't until I reread Tiffany's correspondence that I realized what that phrase was really getting at. We, like Tiffany, will often have to enter into spaces that others might dictate as never having been meant for us. However, what's important is our presence there, that we have shown up, not the narrative surrounding our entrance.

Tiffany Johnson reminds us all that we have a right to exercise our freedoms, uncomplicated in whatever form they appear to us. We can show up as ourselves, for ourselves, and tell the stories we want to have heard. Or in Tiffany's case, seen.

via @tiffanyjenellej

via @tiffanyjenellej

 She is a vision, with sublime vision. 

The only appropriate way to end this is by butchering Bambara, is to say all of our freedoms are real, all of our dreams, attainable. "The failure to realize is the only unreality."