[INTERVIEW]<br />
Tonya Lewis Lee:<br />
She Got Her Own
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down to Alabama and happen to be there when the 16th street bombings happen during the Civil Rights Movement.  We will be shooting that this fall and we have Chris Rock attached to play the dad.

We are also producing another film based on the book Monster by Walter Dean Meyers. That is a contemporary story about 15-year-old African American boy on trial for his alleged part in a felony murder during a robbery. 

EBONY: What would you say has been the most challenging thing you’ve faced as you set out to bring these books to life?

TLL: Both of these films really deal with issues of identity with black boys.  As the mother of a Black boy, I will tell you, having an opportunity to work on this right now is giving me such clarity about what it might mean when my son is out in the world without me. If he’s driving our car somewhere with his music up loud and he has his hoodie on, I worry about that. I worry about him. People in our neighborhood know who he is, but what if one day there’s a cop who doesn’t? 

I think our boys think about what it means to them to be a Black boy. When my son was 3 years old, I remember him touching his hands to his face and saying “I’m brown.”  I’m watching him now coming to terms with what that means to him and what that will mean for him in society.  I’m excited about being able to explore the identity of a young black boy.  We rarely see stories from their points of view so this is a challenge.  And I’m grateful that authors like Walter Dean Meyers give us these perspectives because it is important for these young men and this society to see these images on a larger scale.

EBONY: Speaking of creating diverse images, your husband has been very vocal about his dislike for Tyler Perry’s productions, dismissing them as “coonery and buffoonery.”  Do you agree with that characterization and are your projects a response to those productions in any way?

TLL: I don’t want to knock Tyler Perry because evidently there are a whole lot of people that really like Tyler Perry’s work.  That is completely their option.  He can do the work that he wants to do how he wants to do it. There is definitely an audience that his work is serving.  There is silly entertainment, like The Three Stooges -- and I’m not equating Tyler Perry to The Three Stooges -- but the problem is that there are just not enough other kinds of material out there to provide a balance. 

So the real issue for me is, how do I get my stories out there? I need to be able to push my points of view out the way that he does. It’s so hard because it feels like what Hollywood goes for and the audience seems to go for seems to be more of that escapist kind of film. So the challenge for [our production company] is we have to be smarter about how we get our messages out.

EBONY:  You’ve written books with your husband, but do you ever consult each other on film projects?

TLL:  We are really lucky to be working in the same fields and to also have different mindsets and provide different points of view for each other. Every now and then I consult him and I know he’ll always be really honest with me. But we’re actually very shy with each other when it comes to seeking out advice because we know that we’re our toughest critics as well as each other’s biggest cheerleaders. So before I come to him, I make sure I’ve dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s.

EBONY: In addition to the books you’ve written with your husband, you’re also a best-selling author of the novel, Gotham Diaries. What does it take to be a best-selling author?

TLL:   It takes patience and perseverance because nothing happens overnight. For me it is a process you and you have to really hang in there and enjoy the process because you never know if your book will get sold. For a writer, sitting down and working on something is fun but getting out in to the world and really hustling it and getting other people excited about your work is the hard part. But if you’ve got a compelling story and you’ve got perseverance, you’ve got all you need.  With e-books there really are no more barriers to book publishing and success.

EBONY: What is the end-goal for your books? Are you considering turning your own books into films? 

TLL:  I would love to do a children’s series off of Please, Baby, Please. That is something I’ve been thinking about for years and