Arianna Ngnomire walked on graduation day in spring 2019 with a screen acting degree in one hand and an idea for a feature film in the other. Her film, “In My Shoes,” is set to shoot in June 2020 and will reflect not only Ngnomire’s experiences at Chapman, but the perspective of a young black woman in a world that consistently misunderstands her.
“The first thing I dealt with was, ‘Who am I?’ This also pertains to predominantly white institutions,” she said. “There’s almost like a fork in the road where you have to choose the path of least resistance or you go against the grain. At some time or another, every black student going to college has to make that decision.”
Ngnomire shared with The Panther the concept trailer that was filmed in October. The trailer was intended to be used for promotion, crowdfunding and attracting donors to help fund the movie.
“You want to be a director in Dodge (College of Film and Media Arts) and the first thing that they see is that you’re black. You might not want to only tell black stories,” Ngnomire said. “You’re carrying this weight of a whole community on your back and you’re expected to do so.”
The former Black Student Union president came up with the idea for the film while enrolled in the “Story Analysis for Producers” course, taught by Chapman film professor Travis Knox.
“We were able to pitch our own ideas – something new, not remakes of a book,” Ngnomire said. “I came up with the ‘Freaky Friday’ of the Trump era, where a 40-year-old white man had to switch bodies with a 21-year-old black girl.”
Knox runs Chapman Filmed Entertainment, a partnership in which Dodge College works with private investors to produce feature films. After receiving feedback in February 2019 from the organization, Ngnomire decided that both protagonists would be the same age and attending the same high school.
“There’s a purpose to everything – how people have grown up, what they learn from their parents and what’s going on in their lives,” she said. “There’s also something that we learn early on: you can’t judge characters.”
Ngnomire cited the celebration of Black History Month in February as one of the guiding forces that led her to write her feature film. She said the experience was a defining moment of her time at Chapman.
“That specific instance got me thinking: how do these two communities have a real conversation with one another? What came out of that was that it will only work if they have to live as that other person,” Ngnomire said. “It’s a conversation starter; it is by no means the answer to racism or classism.”
When it came to casting the concept trailer, Ngnomire made a casting call on Chapman Film Connection, a Facebook group used by Chapman creatives to network. She used the group to find actor Bobby Houston, a sophomore theatre performance major, who will play Zach, the film’s white male protagonist. In addition to Houston, Gabe Thomas, a freshman screen acting major, was cast as the teacher shown in the concept trailer. The remainder of casting for the feature-length film will take place January 2020. Additional information about the process can be found on the film’s Instagram page.
Ngnomire described the classic film trope of characters switching bodies with one another as a catalyst for empathy between two opposing groups, examples of which include movies like “Freaky Friday” (2003) and “Trading Places” (1983).
“It’s not, ‘Oh, I understand what you’re going through’ but, ‘I understand what you’re going through because I’m going through it,’’’ she said. “And I thought, wouldn’t it be odd to have a white guy be able to have the experience where he is now fully in the know of what is going on in the black community?”