It’s been estimated that Black Americans make up nearly one million of the total 2.3 million prison population. Despite that staggering fact, precious little in art has been created to examine the lives of the incarcerated. For Colored Boys: Redemption, a dramatic web series by filmmaker Stacey Muhammad, is the story of one father’s attempt to repair his broken family after being released from prison.
Inspired by Ntozake Shange’s 1975 choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, the series centers on the struggle of Benjamin Boyd, Sr. to rekindle his relationship with wife and reassume his role as father to two teenage children.
“The spouses, friends, children and community of incarcerated individuals are the voices we don’t hear,” says Muhammad. “Oftentimes when a parent is removed from a home as a result of incarceration, children or young adults must assume a level of responsibility they are often ill-equipped to handle. For Colored Boys: Redemption is a story that gives a voice to the voiceless by exploring the lives of everyone affected by incarceration.”
The series stars Pariah’s Rob Morgan as Benjamin Boyd, The Wire’s Julito McCullum and veteran actor Tim Reid amongst others. With a talented cast and the help of award-winning actor Isaiah Washington and professor Marc Lamont Hill as executive producers, For Colored Boys has quickly became a sensation among web audiences. The season one finale airs this Sunday at 7 p.m. exclusively on YouTube. EBONY.com caught up with Muhammad to discuss the series, its impact and the migration of Black film to the web.
EBONY.com: Start by telling us a little bit about For Colored Boys.
Stacey Muhammad: It’s a narrative web series that addresses the prison industrial complex through a full cast of characters. It looks at the ways in which mass incarceration affects not just the people incarcerated but also their families. I think it’s a challenging topic to address for a number of reasons. But for me as a filmmaker, it’s been important to look at the ways the environment makes it difficult for us to love one another in healthy and affirming ways. It was my intention with the series to examine the prison industrial complex, its effects, but also to look at the ways we persevere.
EBONY: You’ve spoken before about “post-incarceration syndrome.” Exactly what is that, and how does it relate to For Colored Boys?
SM: I’m not sure if it’s been classified as an actual disorder. In fact, there’s not much on it, but I’ve done quite a bit of research. In a sense, it’s the effect of all the trauma associated with having been incarcerated, and very similar to [post-traumatic stress disorder]. You know, oftentimes we don’t look at what re-entry looks like for people who’ve dealt with real trauma in prison. In preparation for this project, I looked at post-incarceration syndrome and questions like, “what does having lived in cage do to someone?”
EBONY: The series is independent and you raised funds through Indiegogo. But you also have the help of Isaiah Washington and Marc Lamont Hill as executive producers. Explain what that support means for an independent project like For Colored Boys.
SM: It means everything. One of the most challenging things for independent artists is trying to figure out what we’re going to do with the content. There are a lot of very good series online that are really giving content away for free. People like Isaiah Washington and Marc Lamont Hill help facilitate funding for one. With Isaiah on board, we’re also now in talks with networks, and the project is getting a certain level of visibly that it wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Marc. Finally having Black male input is really important to me. These are largely Black male stories I’m telling, but I’m not trying to get into the mind of a Black man, just to tell the stories with love and compassion for Black men.
EBONY: What do you think about this surge of web-based projects by Black filmmakers?
SM: I think more now than ever before, people are watching TV on the web. It’s creating a space where content creators can tell their stories without gatekeepers. I value doing quality work, and we were blessed with a significant budget. So I really made an effort to stand out in terms of the quality, in everything from cast, story and production.
EBONY: What are your thoughts on Orange Is the New Black, another popular web series centered on the topic of incarceration?
SM: I love it. I think they’re bringing attention to incarceration, and they did a really good job of giving you the experiences of several women and connecting to the audience. I hope we’re doing the same thing. It’s unfortunate that we have to humanize people who have been dehumanized in our society. But that’s why it was so important to me to have a full spectrum of Black male characters, so people can see the fullness of the experience.
EBONY: You’re now approaching the last episode of the series. What’s been the response, and what can they look forward to in season two?
SM: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. People can really go in on YouTube. They say whatever they want to, so I’ve really been happy with the positive response online and elsewhere. Mass incarceration is a tremendous issue with so many Black men and women attempting to navigate our relationships through this crisis, and what’s been most affirming for me is when people can attach the series to their own stories. We’re already working on season two now, and we’re definitely going to delve into post-incarceration syndrome much more and take the audience on a few more turns. What seems to be the case this season may not be the next.