We last spoke with Ewurakua Dawson-Amoah for her experimental short To the Girl that Looks Like Me, a powerful film which simultaneously celebrated black women whilst critiquing the way that black culture is commodified. Gold Token takes a lot of the same visual elements of TTGTLLM but applies them to another aspect of black culture – the surface level activism that came alongside the Black Lives Matter movement last year. What Dawson-Amoah does so cleverly with her film is let her images do the talking. By showcasing imagery surrounding Black tokenism and ancestry she is able to directly challenge these ideas. It’s another example of moving, experimental cinema which DN was excited to learn more about. We spoke with Dawson-Amoah about the music of Gold Token, how she transposed her frustration with the response to the BLM movement into challenging art, and the exciting projects she has on the horizon.
There are a lot of stylistic similarities to your previous film To the Girl that Looks Like Me in Gold Token, how would you frame your intentions for this film?
Gold Token is a film that explores Black ancestry, tokenism, cyclical pains, and ultimately how society uses the black experience, especially in recent years, as an aesthetical piece for consumption.
Was there a specific moment or experience that brought you to explore these themes now?
The idea for this film came about during the period an unfortunate amount of people refer to as “the height” of police brutality, 2020. Amidst the COVID pandemic and quarantine, everyone was stuck inside and forced to pay attention to the brutalities that had, in reality, plagued our communities for decades. Only now it was being televised. In response, a wave of social media activism began to spread through the media: hashtags, somber posts, merchandise, TikToks. Everyone was finally talking about it. Everyone was an activist.
I took my frustrations and compiled them into something I could process creatively, in hopes that viewers could process it too.
At in-person protests, it was amazing to see people gathered together to march towards justice. But the flip side was the large group of people that were marching because they had nothing else to do. Who were activists for the time being. Who put Black Lives Matter in their bio but still crossed the street if too many of us were gathered at night. It was clear that for many, BLM was not a movement, it was a moment, a fad. And I was fed up.
The final push happened during a social media storm called “Blackout Tuesday”. Everyone, from businesses to influencers to children and more, were posting black squares on their timelines, in solidarity. At the surface, it was very sweet. But what happened next was not. Following the black-out Tuesday, many profiles went back to their regular timelines. Back to normal. Many treated posting a black box as their activism, and also a reset. “I’ve done my piece, now I can go back to normal”. This inspired the lyrics to the song, “They don’t see you, but they’ll use you”. Black pain was constantly reposted and reshared on the news, but we weren’t actually being viewed as people. We’ve always been used as tokens. In short, I took my frustrations and compiled them into something I could process creatively, in hopes that viewers could process it too.
How did you creatively apply your frustrations into a screenplay? What ideas did you jot down first?
First thing was the song. The opening was actually a sample my friend put together four years ago. I was always obsessed with it and promised to create a continuation to it down the line. We named the song Black Symphony, and I was just waiting for the right idea to expand upon it. After the events of 2020 the lyrics to Gold Token came to mind. “They don’t see you, but they’ll use you” came to me immediately. I wanted to explore this idea of social media activism as looking without seeing, hearing without listening, speaking without thinking.
You mentioned this notion of society using the black experience as an aesthetic piece for consumption, in what ways do you think art such as Gold Token can challenge this?
When I first wrote Gold Token, I wanted it to be for me. Therapy art so to speak. But as I continued to develop it, I got the idea to place visual and auditory breadcrumbs throughout the piece. Things like the empty crib, the color of the sky where the male character dances, the police scanner audio, the lyrics. I wanted to leave pieces that make the viewer rewind and ask questions. The idea was to spark a conversation without outwardly saying a conversation needs to be had, and in that conversation have the viewers understand what this piece is challenging.
Similarly to To the Girl that Looks Like Me there are so many powerful images in Gold Token. How did these images come to you this time? I remember us talking about how a nightmare had inspired the opening shot of TTGTLLM.
After To the Girl that Looks Like Me I feel I’ve become much more comfortable putting my experimental creative side at the forefront. The visuals explored in Gold Token range from societal nods to inspiration from photographs to phrases and folklore. For example, the black boxes were a direct representation of Black-Out Tuesday, mixed with the feeling of being at a funeral. The inspiration for this scene came from my growing frustration of people posting about Black Lives but then returning to their lives once they leave Instagram, Twitter, etc. This is why the pews were empty. Nobody actually shows up for us, they simply drop their post and go. The girls on the playground came from the line, “Speak no evil”, “See no Evil”, “Hear no Evil”. I’ve always found this phrase interesting, as it refers to those who deal with impropriety by turning a blind eye. I felt this phrase strongly represented how people have dealt with racism in America for far too long. If they don’t hear it, it is not. If they don’t see it, it is not. If they don’t speak it, it is not. This scene functioned to represent denial.
I wanted to explore this idea of social media activism as looking without seeing, hearing without listening, speaking without thinking.
You worked with Adeleke Ode in developing the music again, what discussions did you both have when it came to deciding how you wanted the music to be for Gold Token?
Yes! Adeleke and I worked together again, a collaboration I don’t see dissipating anytime soon. Our process for this was a bit different this time around. For Gold Token, I came in with an extremely direct idea of how I wanted the song to flow and move throughout the piece. I was set in the lyrics, in the driving beat, and I needed to tie it together. Adeleke has a brilliant way of taking my ideas and bringing in his own unique musical style to tie that final bow on top.
The actual song was written in a few hours but the process of finishing the song took a very long time due to Covid restrictions and generally wanting everything to fall in perfectly, basically four months. That part was probably the most difficult part of the process, but I’m overjoyed with the final product.
How long did everything take from start to finish?
The film took place over two shooting days and I prepped for seven to eight months leading up to it.
We can’t wait to see what you make next. Is there anything you can tell us about what you have coming up?
Right now I’m working on a psychological thriller script I’d like to develop very soon. I love the horror genre and feel like my past work has hinted at that love for some time. Now I’m ready to take that step and dip completely into that world. Outside of that, I was recently signed to Greenpoint Pictures, an incredible company for commercial storytelling and am in the process of writing my first pilot, as part of the Target Scene in Color Series with Will Packer.
I’m really looking forward to this next sector of my life. I’m surrounded by a ton of crazy talented collaborators that I’m lucky enough to call my friends. From composing with Adeleke, working with my Producer Adrian Sobrado, my AD Farah Jabir and my DP Gabe Connelly, to knowing my actors will be beautifully lit when my Gaffer Dmitry Lesnevskiy is on set, it’s insane! I can’t wait to keep creating with them, and also continue to make new creative friends along the way.