Director/writer/producer Chyna Robinson is the quintessential triple threat. Raised in Fort Worth, Robinson graduated from Southwest High School and attended Texas Christian University where she double majored in Radio, Television and Film (RTVF) and English.
Within a decade, Robinson’s gone from writing and directing live theatre to writing and directing a suspenseful historical short film and a couple of dark thrillers. Robinson acknowledges that it’s unusual for a Black woman to write and direct in that genre, but says that other people’s expectations of her don’t weigh her down.
We sat down with her in September to talk about theatre, representation and her award-winning thriller “No Ordinary Love,” which will have a two-day run at the Coyote Drive-In Theater October 24 and 25.
"A director has to have the heart of a poet and the skin of an elephant” - Indian-American Filmmaker Mira Nair
"Being [both] a filmmaker and a Black female, there has been a lot of challenges and obstacles in my path, even more so than my counterparts. There have been a lot of doors shut in my face, but you have to keep pushing. Especially this year. It’s not just injustice and the Black Lives Matter [movement] but with COVID and quarantine you have to keep pushing. You can’t let anything stop you."
You double majored in English and RTVF. Were you hedging your bets in terms of success or failure in the industry?
"I knew I wanted to make films and I knew I wanted to write them. I knew I wanted to produce them and learn how everything worked. If this film thing didn’t work out, maybe I could teach English or theatre or film (laughs)."
Tell me about “Milk Chocolate Nutcracker,” which you produced for a couple of years starting in 2012 and is based on Andre Dumas’ winter ballet “The Nutcracker."
"Theatre is my heart. There is an instant gratification from the audience rather than having to wait for six months for an audience reaction."
"My daughter loved Phantom of the Opera. I took her to the Nutcracker ballet, and nobody looked like us –– there were no Black Ballerinas. So, I decided to put on my own rendition that featured people of color. The first year we had 92 people in the cast. That included a Black Nutcracker and Rat King, and I brought in an African drum group, Chinese Dragon dancers and Black ballerinas. It was an amazing experience for young Black children, and children of all colors."
Your award-winning short film "Greenwood:13 Hours," filmed here in Fort Worth and released in 2017, retells the violent burning of Tulsa’s "Black Wall Street." How did this film come about?
"With a lot of things I write about, I happen upon the subject matter. The research part of it came from my dad [a historian and writer] in how to approach my subjects. I did stage for years before the film – we travelled to Tulsa for a show, and I had never heard of Greenwood. I was out of school and fully grown and had never heard of it. And when I made the movie, I found that so many people had never heard of it either. It was disappointing that we didn’t know this. It’s great that [the movie] is a resource and a starting point for people doing their own research."
Your latest film dives into intimate partner violence. Let's talk about that.
"I had thought about a short film on domestic violence the year before but it wasn’t on the forefront. I was actually working on another script that I put down to do 'No Ordinary Love' [after being approached by Tracy Rector, who’s on the board of SafeHaven, to write the movie].
“No Ordinary Love” is a thriller about two women who are entangled in abusive relationships.
"Someone called it 'a cerebral thriller.' It’s definitely not a documentary, which would have been a harder sell. Bottom line is, the film still has to entertain. I wanted to create a story and characters that endear people to them, and who people care about. I wanted to create a film not just for those who care about domestic violence, but to also show that abuse doesn’t look like one thing or one person or only happen in one neighborhood."
"I shot “No Ordinary Love” in Fort Worth in 2018, and it world premiered in 2019. It’s been an amazing ride."
National release plans have halted due to COVID-19. How have you been spending the last few months?
"It’s been a creative time and then also challenging because of everything that has gone on, not just COVID but everything. It’s emotionally exhausting when you log on [to your computer] and someone has been killed or someone else’s family isn’t getting justice. On those days you don’t want to write, you want to sit and be in your feelings. But there have been good days when I can write all day, and I’ve spent more time with my family. We’ve been bike riding, spending quality time. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect. As Black women, we carry so much. We’re moms and wives and concerned about everybody."
"[A new film called] “Lola/Lisa.” It’s a short thriller, shot in three days back in February. A beautiful, but troubled woman has to face a ghost from her secret past, and she will do whatever it takes to silence, even if it means someone has to die. It’s about to world premiere at the Indie Memphis Film Festival and then it will show at the Lone Star Film Festival next month."