We Talk Culture With Random Acts Cinematographer Shawn Peters

By now many have already witnessed the brilliance that is HBO’s ‘Random Acts of Flyness‘. The creativity that tricks the eye and thrills the heart is, in part, created by Shawn Peters, cinematographer and creative partner of the show’s writer/director Terence Nance.

“Terence and I worked on something like 23, 24 projects?” said Peters. “Something like that. It’s wild, man. I’m really glad people are enjoying it. I hope people keep tuning in. It gets a little wilder.”

We caught up with him to talk about the show and his craft.

The Shadow League: You’re responsible for picking the right lens, the right camera, and angle to accomplish many different things in a single episode. What’s that like?
Shawn Peters: It all depends on the story and what’s needed at that moment. We have in each episodes little fragments of stories.  We obviously had a pre-production meeting where we sat down with each other to just talk about what each segment should feel like, you know.

Random Acts Of Flyness: A Whimsical, Morbid Black Trauma Head Trip

Recently, ” Get Out” and ” Atlanta” were standouts in regards to new black cinema. With this year’s introduction to ” Sorry To Bother You”, we as consumers begin to see more films becoming more creative and daring in their interpretation of the Black experience. Enter HBO’s new series, “Random Acts of Flyness”.

Somethings are a little more grounded in reality while other things push the boundaries of reality.  We went there if we needed to, you know?

So-called Afro-surrealism in film is gaining a big audience. In the past, black stories have been told in mostly the same way, linear and somewhat restricted. But offerings like Random Acts of Flyness, Sorry To Bother You and Atlanta shirk those notions.

TSL: Talk about the dualism of Black existence and it’s effect on us, including on our art.

Random Acts Of Flyness (2018) Teaser Trailer | HBO

From the mind of Terence Nance, Random Acts of Flyness premieres August 3 at midnight on HBO. #HBO Subscribe to the HBO YouTube Channel: https://goo.gl/JQUfqt Don’t have HBO?

SP: I do think it has something to do with where we are culturally and how we see ourselves as African people. I think that we deal with a lot of things in our reality, whether you’re from the Caribbean, Africa or in Flatbush, Brooklyn, we deal with a lot of the unseen. Whether it’s Yoruba or Santeria, all these things we deal with different realities.

We walk in this reality but there’s also the assumption of an unseen reality that’s operating in our lives. It’s a hyper-reality. I think that’s a very black and African thing to deal with the subtext to reality. Not even just in a spiritual way, but in a regular everyday way. A lot of our lives are hard to express. We have the internal world, where we live, and the external world that we use to survive. In a way, we’re sort of creating multiple worlds.

Shawn Peters Presents “The Art of Dying Young” at the 2015 Creative Capital Retreat

The Art of Dying Young is a film installation and augmented reality tour that examines the lives, local histories and place-making initiatives of the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bedford Stuyvesant, South Williamsburg and Bushwick, told through the lives of four young men who have been memorialized through murals. Read more: http://creative-capital.org/projects/view/812

TSL: Speaking of “Sorry To Bother You”, recent news that international distributors are refusing to push it overseas is disheartening. The movie had a $3 million budget and is currently at $16 million. Why do they insist on saying black doesn’t sell overseas when “Black Panther” is at $646,753,474 at the foreign box office, and nearing 1.4 billion overall?

SP: I think it’s ridiculous. Human stories are human stories. You would never prohibit a white photographer from National Geographic from doing a photo shoot where ever he wants. He can be Namibia, in Tahiti, the Great Wall of China, or where ever. White people, white males, in particular, can represent any culture. But, for some reason, with black creatives, there’s this weird notion that we’re not universally human.

Like we don’t represent all of humanity. Like our experiences aren’t attractive to all of humanity.  It’s kind of stupid. Sorry To Bother You is not an urban story. But even with urban stories, any hip-hop museum exhibit should tell you that urban stories are universal stories. I was in a small town called Gotsu, in Shimane. This tiny little town way down near the Japanese  Sea, walking around with cornrows and gold teeth in his mouth.  So, our realities, which are varied and not monolithic, transcend their doubts.


Random Acts of Flyness airs on HBO every Friday at midnight ET/PT, offering new, thought-provoking perspectives on cultural idioms such as patriarchy, white supremacy, and sensuality, among others. The show has already been renewed for a second season.