“Tell your story and invest in yourself. Be the voice and inspiration you wish to see.”
Sychelle is a young writer and producer who, at the age of 20 has already published three books, released three films, all of which have made it to festival screenings including viewings at the British Film Institute (BFI). She is also about to release her fourth book and film. She has a first class BA Hons in Journalism and is currently undertaking an internship at the BBC. She is deeply ambitious and driven to tell new stories and reshape contemporary storytelling with her unique approach. She has overcome adversity after losing her father at 11, but has found courage in the strength of family, (she is one of five children) and also in literature, film and self-expression. Let’s hear a little bit more from incredible story.
So how did it all start?
It all started when I joined Wattpad, an app for sharing stories socially with strangers, and I wrote a story which became a big hit. I received a message saying “you should get published”, and I thought, great - but how am I going to do that? I then went for it and emailed my local MP, Richard Harrington, who provided advice and told me to go to KDP Amazon and investigate self-publishing. I did this and published my first book at 16. I don’t know what I expected but it didn’t go viral! I really wanted to get my story out there so I looked for other ways to achieve this. So, being in college and surrounded by creatives I went to the drama department and found actors who’d like to be part of my film, and then the media side and find camera operators and others to help produce the film. I created my own team and was able to produce a film from my script - my story. I enjoyed this so much I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life.
How did you get the film seen?
One of the actors Andre Fyffe, was involved in the BFI and helped me organise a private screening and got it sent to festivals. This was such a positive experience that I thought - you know what, I’m going to do this again. And with that I’ve done it every year, writing and producing.
Have things got easier or harder as you’ve progressed?
Recently things have changed and I have encountered less obstacles as I’ve invested more into each new project. At the beginning it was a DIY approach using friends and pop-up locations when we could grab them. With the film I’m releasing this year I’ve paid for professional actors, hired locations which has increased the quality so much. It isn’t easy but I’ve worked and saved money from a part-time job and invested funds from my student loan in order to fund the project. You have to invest your time and money and have self-belief to get things done and get your art out there.
This led me to build my own production company where I take on short scripts from young people, 3 or 4 minute dramas, and turn them into films. This provides an opportunity to other aspiring young people who might not know where to start. This also allows me to learn my craft as a producer and share other people’s stories, which is important to me. When my Dad passed away creating stories was a chance for me to express myself when I couldn’t in any other way. When I’m on set and I’m completely invested in the worlds I have created on paper, I don’t have to think about the trials of real life.
What advice would you give others?
Don’t give up. I did a course in journalism and realised in the second year that it wasn’t where my passion lay. Instead of giving up I embraced my love of storytelling and film and focussed on documentary making. For my final project I made a film focussing on the perception of lesbians in the black community. I travelled to London, Paris and New York to conduct interviews. The film has been selected for the Atlanta Black Pride Festival and secured me a first on my Journalism degree. I want to inspire young girls to make their mark in the film industry. I’m now working on a traineeship at the BBC working on Silent Witness. I got the chance to work closely with a female director and female writers. It’s so inspiring to look on and think - wow, she’d done it. Seeing these examples of strong females makes me think why can’t I do it. If I can offer that sense of inspiration for young black women, for young women in general then I’m honoured.
Which figures, contemporary and historic have inspired you?
Rosa Parks inspires me because her stubbornness was an attribute rather than a disadvantage. I love that she stood her ground for all of us, and she's a woman. In terms of contemporary examples I feel there has been a lack of role models for me as a young black female writer/producer. British film tends to portray negative stereotypes of black youth, showing gangs, focusing on crime, is male dominated and not representative of the many wonderful and positive facets of black British culture. So rather than sit in silence I wanted to get in there, get heard and represent the black community in a different way. In order to make a change you need to get out there and produce something new which doesn’t feed into the negative trends that are popular or pushed by narrow-minded media producers. There’s so much more to say, for example, my latest film Mwanzo Sana (screening 18 October 2019 at BFI), talks about African Spirituality and the idea of a religion being taken away from Africa. I want to make a film that informs and has a message beyond the popular themes of gangs and crime.
One contemporary person that has stood out to me is Dave. He’s one of the only modern rappers who doesn’t speak excessively about black culture in a negative way. His music is refreshing and pushes against the norm of a lot of other rappers who focus on vulgarity, violence and crime. He moves away from pushing the negative agenda which is perpetuated by other musicians and I respect him for that. He’s in his early twenties too and his success is impressive and inspiring. The other person I’d like to mention isn’t BAME, but is an incredibly inspirational writer - Jacqueline Wilson. Growing up she was my backbone. I would hide in my room and escape with her books. She got me through a lot of hard times. She writes honestly about all types of people and is someone who offered me strength, even in the hardest of times growing up. If she’s reading I’d love to meet her! My tutors also inspire me and pushed me to go beyond, to reach out to the media and share my stories.
What’s next for you?
In January I was offered a place on the producing course at the NFTS. I was so nervous at the open day. I felt like I wouldn’t fit in and so was totally shocked when I was offered a place. The course leader told me I was the youngest ever person to take the course. I’m really proud that I have made it onto the course but it makes you think about why more young black women aren’t applying. Where are the role models to inspire young black writers and producers? I want others like me to be able to take a course like this and not feel like an acception to the rule, to not have to worry about whether they’ve achieved their place by merit or via a diversity tick-box exercise. I know I’m there on merit and as I make a success of myself I hope to inspire other young black women to make an impact on the industry. The more of us that stand up and tell stories which truly represent the rich culture we grow up in the more people will see beyond the stereotypes. Tell your story and invest in yourself. Be the voice and inspiration you wish to see.
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