Interview: Filmmaker Tonya Pinkins Discusses Her Debut Feature Film RED PILL

This Tony Award recipient continues her evolution as an artist and activist, with her usual determination.

By: Feb. 22, 2021
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Interview: Filmmaker Tonya Pinkins Discusses Her Debut Feature Film RED PILL

There is this woman. By nature of her birth, she is a woman, but by virtue of her nature, she is a force - a wild, tenacious, wonderful, unstoppable force. Through her artistry and her outspoken activism she has been a leader to many - to women, to like-minded artists, to the BIPOC community, to anyone with an eye toward social consciousness. Rather than rest on the accolades and respect she has garnered as an actress on every kind of stage in the business, she has chosen to use her voice to inspire and inform, making particularly good use of social media and the skill of podcasting. This month, the woman stands on a precipice, prepared to speak out in a new way, from a new platform, with a new visibility - that of a film director. The woman's name is Tonya Pinkins.

Ms. Pinkins, a Tony Award recipient and multiple nominee, has built for herself a renowned career and devoted following, not just among fans who look to her for guidance and motivation, but including colleagues who look forward to working with her, who are excited to be beside her on their first day at a new job. Among the actors working alongside Pinkins in her feature film directorial debut are Kathryn Erbe, Catherin Curtin, Ruben Blades, Luba Mason, Colby Minifie, Adesola Osakalumi, and Jake O'Flaherty, and their excitement on day one of shooting was on two levels because not only was Pinkins their leader from the director's seat, she was their fellow actor on the project.

RED PILL is described as a socio-political horror film and a "visually stunning metaphor for all our fears" and will premiere at the all-virtual PAN AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL, the largest black film festival in the United States. A longtime devotee of Pinkins' work, I couldn't miss an opportunity to discuss her new work with her, so I reached out to her to talk about RED PILL, her upcoming TV series, and a popular podcast where she can say anything... but you can't.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minimal edits.

Tonya Pinkins, welcome to Broadway World, and may I congratulate you on RED PILL. How exciting is this new chapter for you!

Thank you. It feels like a huge accomplishment.

Red Pill is your debut feature film in the role of writer and director: how long have you had the desire to branch out into this kind of work?

I did a two-year film certificate at LACC (Los Angeles City College) back in 1998. So I would say my interest is that old. I shadowed television directors for four years and I also spent two years on an ABC writer development program.

What are some of the differences you found in your creative process as a filmmaker when compared to your work as a performing storyteller?

I've been working professionally in the theater for over 40 years. I know so much about theater that I can do most roles in my sleep. I am rarely challenged and I live to be challenged to stretch my limits.

When I work as an actor in a film it is still so new to me that I can be the director's tool in a way that I can't really do in the theater anymore. I simply know too much.

So being the writer and director of a film is a great responsibility to lead people to a vision in your head that they can't see until the film is done.

Did your style as a director develop instinctually from being on set as an actor over the years, or did you actively ask questions and observe directors and crew craftspeople during those occasions?

Interview: Filmmaker Tonya Pinkins Discusses Her Debut Feature Film RED PILL I love actors and I trust them. I am fortunate to have cast the exact actors I wanted and I wrote specifically for them. I did not have time for much direction. It was more paint by numbers with the directing. Take a ten count on that line, take your time before you say the first line.

I'd made a couple of shorts. Most failed to meet my vision. One of my shorts "What Came After" based on a play by Christopher Peña played some festivals.

My DP, John Hudak, and I had great rapport. I really made the movie to please myself.

Red Pill will have its premiere at The Pan African Film Festival. This is the biggest black film festival in the States, and Red Pill is a nominee for Best Narrative Feature. Once your film was completed, what steps brought you and Red Pill to this outcome, and can anyone attend this all-virtual film festival?

The Pan African Film Festival tickets are available internationally at I am so happy to have RED PILL premiere at a Black festival. It is a Black woman's gaze on white America. And as I see in the news everyday white America is still unwilling to look at itself.

Interview: Filmmaker Tonya Pinkins Discusses Her Debut Feature Film RED PILL

Festivals are all about gatekeepers. These were the gatekeepers who welcomed me. I honestly never had an intention to apply to Sundance because my one experience there was reflective of things that happen in the movie.

Let's get people excited about Red Pill: can you give me the high-concept sentence on what the film is about?

Six progressives. One deadly weekend.

Or the logline was:

The weekend of the 2020 election a posse of progressives ride into Ted country armed with heart, humor, and naivetê. They should have brought heavy artillery

Interview: Filmmaker Tonya Pinkins Discusses Her Debut Feature Film RED PILL

Is it fair to ask what your inspiration was for the story?

My inspiration for RED PILL is all the Black women who have started movements, who've seen the hat was coming, and who have been shut out, shut down, and ignored. Even when we have the solutions.

Aside from Red Pill, you've been busily working on your podcast "You Can't Say That", the television show "Women of The Movement", and you're incredibly generous with your contributions to your social media. Do you have a particular system or personal schedule that helps you get it all done, every day?

Interview: Filmmaker Tonya Pinkins Discusses Her Debut Feature Film RED PILL I have no routines. I wish I did. Because I am the entire film studio on RED PILL every day is a series of lessons about things I did not know that I did not know about the movie business.

Now that the film is complete, it's my job to be the promoter, salesperson. I have to use my relationship and resources to ensure the success and distribution of the film no matter what any gatekeeper says. That is a new task that keeps me on my toes.

Put a picture in my head of the podcasting experience from your viewpoint.

I love connecting with people and listening to their stories. I think everyone's story is valuable. Because I am genuine, people share things with me that they may have never shared before

Interview: Filmmaker Tonya Pinkins Discusses Her Debut Feature Film RED PILL Since this interview is for the Broadway World Cabaret page, it would be remiss of me to not ask if, when we return to live entertainment, there is a chance for a Tonya Pinkins nightclub act?

I have done some great cabaret acts both uptown and downtown. The frustration of Cabaret was always filling the seats. Maybe after I learn to do it for RED PILL I will have the skills to build on an audience for my cabarets

Tonya, you are one of the strongest women in the business, in the public eye, indeed in the lives of the people who know you. What do you consider to be your center of strength?

My strength is in my acceptance of my absolute vulnerability and powerlessness over most things. From that place, I simply try to do what feels instinctually right and to accept the consequences of those decisions. Every decision has consequences.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and this exciting time with us. I am, personally, indebted to you.

Well, thank you for your kind words. It is always a pleasure to share a piece of my story because there may be somebody out there feeling that no one has ever gone through what they are going through. Maybe my story can get them through another day. ??

Secure tickets to RED PILL online HERE

Follow Tonya Pinkins on Instagram @tonyapinkins

Visit the YOU CAN'T SAY THAT Podcast page at the Broadway Podcast Network HERE


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