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  • Writer's pictureTaylor Armstead

Culture Spotlight Featuring Shannon Harris

Shannon Harris is an (AEA/SAG-AFTRA) actor, writer, filmmaker, and educator. Along with playing lead roles in grist and THREE birds, both of which she also wrote, produced, and directed, her screen credits include The Blacklist, Happy!, Ray Donovan, and Marvel’s Luke Cage. Stage credits range from lady in red in for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf in LA to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) in the Hamptons. She holds a BA in English from Barnard College and studied acting at AADA-LA and The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (MA, Classical Acting (Distinction)) in London. Shannon founded her production company Tricoastal Productions, “TCP” for short, to amplify the voices and stories of underrepresented artists – starting with her own!

Tell us about your experience at the Hip Hop Film Festival? My second short film grist world and NYC premiered at HHFF 2021. For that and other reasons, it will always have a special place in my heart. Other reasons include the super helpful marketing cypher early on in the festival and the joint immersive watch party with Cory Davis' Use Your Key and Kenny Allen's A Bittersweet Picture Part 1. Cory, Kenny, actors from our projects, and I had a rich and edifying talkback about complex issues raised within our "conversation pieces" that I'll never forget.

Why are stories from the culture important? Stories from the culture - particularly written, produced, and directed by us - are essential. In them, to echo Audre Lorde, we "define ourselves for ourselves" and in so doing assert our presence and power on our own terms - for ourselves, young people currently coming up, and future generations.

What projects are you working on now? I am a working actor and constantly auditioning. Beyond that, my primary focus right now is optimizing the reach and impact of my two films, THREE birds and grist, on the festival circuit. In particular, either while it's on the festival circuit and/or as soon as possible thereafter, I plan to explore distribution channels for grist, including in the education and advocacy space. I also have the third script written for a planned three-part series of shorts based on idioms, of which THREE birds and grist are the first and second. Because it's time, effort, and money intensive, I'm currently taking a break from filmmaking; but I might start pre-production for this third script later this year or early next. Or perhaps inspiration will strike, and I'll work on a different new film altogether. :)

Why do you think the Harlem Film House and Hip Hop Film Festival are important? Circling back to the importance of stories from the culture, institutions like Harlem Film House and HHFF are essential "homes" for our stories. I founded my production company with the mission to amplify the voices and stories of underrepresented artists - starting with my own. HFH and HHFF are natural partners in this work for me and other similarly situated artists. When I first learned, in an African Voices/Reel Sisters online event, of CR Capers - that she is HHFF's founder and director - I was determined to submit my work to the festival. That grist made its world and NYC premiere at a festival that centers artists and work from my community founded by a fellow black woman was icing on an already super dope cake!

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