Lisa Cortés and Farrah X | In episode 55 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks to the co-directors of “The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion” Lisa Cortés and Farah X
Lisa Cortés worked in the music industry as an early Def Jam A&R and then pivoted to film. Since then she’s earned Oscar and Emmy Award nominations for a number of project, Precious to name one. Farrax X is a young woman passionate about film who Lisa brought on as the co-director of this film. Lisa and Farrah join David to discuss their Netflix documentary, The Remix, about the untold, behind-the-scenes stories of the women rappers and designers who helped make luxury fashion synonymous with hip hop.Read Transcript
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Lisa Cortes is the producer and co-director of The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion, as in collab. The important new documentary on Netflix that explores the numerous black designers who created the signature looks behind the biggest 90’s music artists, which would later be appropriated by white culture and luxury apparel. And we’re gonna get to that a bit later when we are joined by the docs co-director Farah X. But first, Miss Cortes, full disclosure, we’ve been running in overlapping circles since Lisa, fresh out of Yale, established herself as a music industry powerhouse. First at Def Jam and then at Mercury where she founded loose cannon records. From there she successfully pivoted to film, Oscar and Emmy award nominations followed. Most notably for the film Precious and The Apollo, an HBO doc that explores African American cultural and political history through the story of the legendary Apollo Theater. Next up, is All In: The Fight For Democracy, a doc about voter suppression, co-directed with Liz Garbus and produced with Stacey Abrams, among others. So, I think it’s fair to call Lisa an activist bringing light to the darker corners of the American cultural experience, where the contributions of people of color, though seminal, have been marginalized and exploited. Welcome, Lisa.
Hello, David. [laughter] Greetings from the creative trenches.
I hear ya. This has been your calling for some time. Is it satisfying to find yourself no longer on the fringes but right in the middle of the conversation? Given Black Lives Matter, Me Too…
I think I’ve always been on the edge of the zeitgeist, and then the zeitgeist and I find a moment to align. And certainly the work of people who have boots on the ground, you know, their trajectory is very different to mine, but our intentions are aligned.
Today, you feel like you’re in the center, at this point? Your intentions are aligned and the culture is reflecting your views as well?
I don’t know if I ever feel in center, David. You know, cause I’m looking at that next shiny, sparkling thing on the horizon that I creatively want to address and reframe for conversation. I am, of course, both enraged and excited by this moment because it’s a reckoning that I believe we have been waiting for for quite some time. For centuries, actually.
So you think it’s actually arrived?
It’s as real as it was when John Lewis marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It’s as real as it was when post-Reconstruction. It’s as real as it was at the inception of this country, when only six percent of the population, who were white men, could vote. So, like, there’s this continuum in my desire to recenter and provide platforms for the voices and the stories of the community that made me.
And the community that you refer to, was that the music? What attracted you to music in the first place and why did you shift your focus?
I first started out when I was quite young as, uh, as a singer. And, um, I used to go to the Children’s Theater Workshop when I was a kid. It was a dance school that put on many musicals. So, I can sing the entire score, forwards and backwards, to classic musicals like Gypsy and Showboat.
Wow. I want to see you in Gypsy. [laughs]
Oh, once I was a Schleppa, now I’m Miss Mazzeppa. I’ll bring it. That’s our next zooming musicals with David Hershkovits
Well, I’d love to see you produce a musical. That would be awesome.
There is a conversation happening, actually, Which, excites me. Cause, you know, every- everybody wants their EGOT. But I started out as a musician. Music has always been incredibly important to me. My earliest memories are my mom, you know, putting an album on on Saturdays, and she’s like, “Okay. We can play this album two times.” In this case, it was Ray Charles’ Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul. And she says, “By the time we played it two times, we’ll have finished cleaning the house.” So, music is- it was an early way that I found voices that really started to speak to me. And when I was at Yale, I was in a lot of bands. And then I found my way to the music industry, thinking that was going to be a way to get discovered. And I quickly realized that the path to being discovered, it wasn’t just about your talent, it was about having the stars align for that to happen.
And that wasn’t happening for you?
Well, it started to happen, but I had so much fun at 298 Elizabeth Street, at that seminal moment, you know, working with Lyor Cohen, and Russell Simmons, and Bill Adler, and when Public Enemy comes in for the first time, and being on the road with Run DMC, and realizing that I could actually exercise both art and commerce. I could be involved creatively, but I also could be involved in deal making and the business of music. And that is a much more stimulating place to occupy.
What happened? And why did you give up music?
You know, I think when I left 298 Elizabeth Street, which is where Rush, Artist Management, and Def Jam was, and I went to work at Mercury Records, it was an exciting fast rise. But it also was a corporate environment that ultimately was not the best for my creative spirit. I had come from a community where you had an idea, they’d say go off and make it happen. And then I found myself in a structure where there were silos, where oftentimes, even though you’re a part of the same company, people had different agendas.
And did you wind up parting amicably? I seem to have seen somewhere that you wound up suing Mercury Records for racial discrimination, was it?
Yeah. Uh. Not only race but gender.
Oh. And gender.
There was a lot of disparity in the treatment of myself, as a Label President, and of the Label itself within the system. I think there were a lot of growing pains, for both parties.
So, this was in the 90’s right? In the mid-90’s?
Uh. The late-90’s.
But it was kind of early, uh, when people weren’t really making those claims as much as we hear today, as far as the Me Too. now it’s- it’s quite common to hear those things. So, what was the reaction, when you made those claims?
Well, you know, I was discouraged from making these claims. But, you know, there was that small steady voice that I heard in my head from my parents and that I saw from their work as activists, that I saw from the sacrifices that they made for me. That if things are not right, then it is my responsibility to be that voice, even though I knew, was like, “Girl, you ain’t gonna work in the music industry no more.” But it did not sit right with me. And ultimately, you know, there was vindication.
What made you then think that film would be better and more suitable for your personality?
In the midst of all this craziness, I decided to completely change my life and go to India. This is pre- Eat, Pray, Love. I went with a friend who was there with me, for like seven days, and then I was by myself for three months travelling around India. It was so revelatory. I actually was kind of drawn to visit the country, because I had seen a film, and I wanted to go visit this place. And one day, I was in a theater and I went to see one of these three-and-a-half-hour, four-hour Bollywood musicals. Because it was an air conditioned place I could take shelter in. And I was watching this movie, and I was like, “I don’t know what they’re saying.” But I had this epiphany that was like, “It doesn’t matter that I don’t know what they’re saying. I know what’s happening.” And as trite as it sounds, a picture is truly worth a thousand words. And it was then that I came back to the States. I had studied film as an undergrad. Both, you know, filmmaking with the legendary director Michael Roemer, who had directed one of my favorite films, Nothing But A Man. I also studied with Annette Insdorf. And I came back and went to film school, and then I just started working in the Independent film community. You know, it always comes back to voice and story. So, the artist that I had signed when I was an A&R person, you know, they had unique voices. People like, Reggie Gaines, a spoken word artist who then went on to write Bring the Noise, Bring the Funk. Artists like, you know, The Black Sheep. Voice and story, um, is something that is really important to me and- and what excites me is to find ways, whether it’s with an album or with a film, to present and give these voices a platform.
You know, again, that sounds like musical theater,
There’s definitely a connection there.
You mentioned, having been at Yale. So, how did you feel there? Were you welcomed at Yale? Did you feel part of the community, were you an outlier? Did you feel microaggressions, discrimination, any of that there as well?
You know, one is never immune, as a person of color, as a woman of color, to microaggressions and discrimination. I think what was unique in my time at Yale, is I found my tribe. People who I am still very close to to this day. And I think what we all share in common is our passion for human rights, for shining the light, on social injustice. The work I do now is work I’ve been doing for a long time. And oftentimes with a community that I met when I was seventeen-years-old.
And in the film world you find that more open than the music world? Is it very different or more the same?
I never want to speak in broad generalities. A lot of it comes down to the team that you work with. And I pick who I work with very carefully. I pick who I give opportunities to. And, I’m really proud that a lot of people in fantastic positions, in the film and music business, were mentored by me, and I kind of gave them that intro.
Yeah. Well, that’s something that people remember and value quite a bit. So, that’s definitely something to your credit.
Well, some people do. And the ones that do, oftentimes, are- it’s lovely when, you know, you get your call through and you get your project made. You know, that’s always, uh, a great plus.
But, community is very important to me. Cause you have to pour into others. And I think, you know, David, as you’ve seen me through the years, you’ve seen me out helping, supporting, being present, not just about me, but also about the hip hop community, the music community, the film community. I understand that I would not be here if it wasn’t for the work of others. And that I want to help and support I want to pass the torch on.
Well, right now, you’re working on what sounds like a very important project, All In: The Fight For Democracy, which is about voter suppression. You’re slightly out of your cultural sweet spot here. Why did you get involved, and what are we going to learn when it’s released before the elections?
Well, I would say that it is a part of my cultural sweet spot, cause, I’ve been involved and working on campaigns since I was very young. I have gone out stumping in places where I was met by very angry white people who didn’t want to see me or hear what I was talking about. So, it’s really great when you take your personal journey and put it into your work. And- and it’s not only my personal journey, it’s out of my parents, and of grandparents, and my grandfather, who did tremendous work, you know, starting in the 30’s. And it’s, once again, the elevation of voices and invisible, marginalized communities. So, what brought me to this project is a combination of working with Liz Garbus, a fantastic filmmaker, working with Stacey Abrams and with Dan Cogan, um, and being able to reference what I’ve been doing since I was an American Studies major, which is to look at contemporary culture through the lens of history, and to make history not feel like spinach. In this case, it’s a history of voting suppression. But also, for this film to give people a sense of what has happened in the past, how it happens now, the connection between them, but not to be discouraged, not to feel alone and that it only happens to you. But if anything, to put a fire in your belly, to go and vote, to stay in line, to make certain that you’re registered, to make certain that your friends and family are. Cause we are going into a season that’s going to be a unique moment in American political history.
Well, it sure is. I mean, it already is, isn’t it. And God knows what’s ahead. You mentioned Stacey Abrams. She’s been mentioned as a possible VP candidate. I imagine you would like that.
I would like whatever is best. [laughs]- for everyone. All I can say is that she is an incredible person. She is so smart and thoughtful, and our country would be so lucky to have her.
Alright. We’ll see what happens. It’s gonna be announced, quite shortly. And now I’d like to turn to the Remix Project, because that’s on Netflix right now. I feel that it’s a very strong piece, especially since it’s cultural, it’s what I like most, and it’s politics, in the sense that it addresses some inequities that aren’t particularly recognized and don’t come to the forefront that much, because it is cultural, it’s not political in the regular sense of politics. So, how did that come about? A Hip-Hop and fashion project. Is that something you had in mind and were thinking about since the 90’s when you got involved in hip hop? What was the genesis of that?
Well, there’s a couple of things, David. I found a letter that I wrote to FILA in the late-80’s, because Whodini had a song called, “Do the Fila,” and I wrote to them and I was like, “You need to do an endorsement deal with Whodini.” And they wrote back, and they were like, “Well, we tried endorsement deals with Sheena Easton, and it didn’t work out.” And I wrote to them and I was like, “This is not Sheena Easton. This is a whole other community that is setting trends and is an important aspect of youth culture.” And then I also worked really closely on the Adidas endorsement deal with Run DMC. So, kind of this intersection of influencers from the community and sportswear, in those particular cases, is something that I’ve been interested in for a long time. But, in the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of wonderful documentaries looking, surveying hip hop culture. And typically, it is told through the male gaze, and I, as a woman who was working in hip hop, I kept saying, “Where am I? Where is Kara Lewis? Where is Julie Greenwald? Where is Mona Scott? Where are all- all these women? Monica Lynch. Heidi Smith.” You know, I could go on and on, who were also a part of the culture. “Where is Cindy Campbell, Kool Herc’s sister?” Who is throwing the parties that he DJs for the first time. And it just felt that the examination of the tremendous contributions of women behind the scene was ripe for storytelling. And so, a couple of years ago, I was working with Tony Gerber and Lynn Nottage, wonderful filmmakers, on an idea. And we couldn’t find the right characters. And then this opportunity came from Tribeca Studios and MCM, where they were looking for ideas that looked at fashion and women. And, I spoke with Emil Wlbekin, who you know. And, um, I said like, “Maybe stylists. Maybe that’s where we want to go.” And, he said, “Well, let me introduce you to Misa Hylton.” And it was this really horrible, cold, snowy day. And we didn’t think we were gonna align. But we did meet, and it was just like, “Wow. She’s got such a great revelatory story. She’s a great character.” Uh. And little did we know, when we then went down the process of making the film, the layers that we would then discover.
When you went about doing this project, you felt like you wanted to call another director, have a co-director. You were also producing this film and you called Farah X. Tell me about what made you introduce you to her? And I’d also like to bring her on at this point as well, so she could hear what you have to say.
Absolutely. And welcome, welcome, Farah.
Hey! So, you know, in the- in the process of making this film, I was also producing The Apollo. And, I think, I know as a producer, it’s so important to delegate. And my first stop was, connecting with an incredible powerhouse producer, her name is Hillary Cutter. And I went to Hillary with the vision and timeline, and Hillary was incredibly generous in her spirit and support. And as we were developing, I said, “I cannot do this by myself. I want a partner. I’m looking for suggestions.” Hillary had worked with Farah before, and when I first saw the body of work that Farah had produced, and then spoke with her, I just knew that Farah was the perfect, perfect compliment for our film. And, it was a great joy for her to join our team.
Well, Farah, welcome. Thank you for joining us here as well. What did you think when, uh, Lisa contacted you?
Well, thanks for having me. I got on a call with Lisa and Hillary. Hillary had actually reached out to me and said, “You know, there’s this amazing woman, and we’re doing a documentary. And she’s looking for a little bit of help. There might be some directing opportunities in it.” But the majority of my career, barring some directing of music videos and live concerts, and stuff like that, has been in editing of music videos, and commercials, and fashion. So, when Hillary reached out to me, it was really about, we need an editor for this documentary but there’s probably gonna be some directing opportunity as well. And I said, “That sounds perfect.” So, I got on a call with Lisa and Hillary, and the subject immediately spoke to me. Because I did not know anything about women in hip hop fashion. And when I got off the call and tried to research it, I could not find anything about women in hip hop fashion. And that made me realize how much this story needed to be told. So, I was thrilled. The minute I got off the phone, I was like, “Let’s do this.”
You were kind of a prodigy at film school. As an editor, you were working at a very early age. How did you get involved with editing of all, you know, the different aspects of filmmaking that are available?
I feel like with a lot of people who are editors, we kind of fall into it. Right? Because it’s not something you really talk about when you watch a movie as a kid. You hear about the director, you hear about the producer, sometimes you hear about the camera person. But I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do. And like a good, Pakistani daughter, I thought, “Okay, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I don’t want to be a doctor. I don’t want to be a lawyer.” I wanted to do something creative, but I had no idea what that was. So, I’m just going to go to business school, like my sister did. So, my sister went to Berkeley, and I said, “Okay, I’m gonna do the same thing.” So, I applied to Berkeley in this program where if you go to Community College for two years, you can transfer into the Haas School of Business maintaining a certain GPA. So that was my track. And I ended up at Santa Monica College. And at Santa Monica College, I found out that there’s a cinema club. And film had never crossed my mind, even though I was living in LA, as something that anyone at my age can do. You know, I was twenty. And I thought film was just something you do as, you know, a forty-plus and you’re born into it. It just seemed like this elite Hollywood club that had no outsiders allowed. But when I walked into the cinema club, I saw all these kids my age with their camera, filming Super 8 movies, screening them, talking about them, and then going out and making more movies. So, I got really fascinated in that. I think it was even at that moment that I’m like, “I’m not gonna go to business school.” And I started looking into what film could look like for me. And I had a friend, and he was an editor at the time. So, I went to his house and he was cutting something, but he had, you know, this is the 90’s, so he had a massive, massive AVID system in his living room that basically took up half the apartment. And I was watching him work and I could not believe how cool it was to me that he was just pressing buttons and creating scenes, and creating dialogue and stuff. So that really was it for me. I was like, “Okay. This seems like a cool way to get into something.” And it seemed like something tangible and I love technical stuff. So, I was like, “I just want to learn how to edit.” And so, I went to a boot camp one summer before I ended up going to USC. I went to an AVID boot camp and, for two or three months, I just spent my summer learning the AVID.
The rest is history, or will be history shortly, as you continue on in your career for sure. I want to talk about the film, The Remix. But before that, I can’t let you not talk about Prince, since there is something you guys did, I don’t know what. I want you to tell me all about it and what it was like.
So, I was very fortunate in film school. I signed up with Film Independent. They have a mentorship program called Project Involve, where they pair under-represented filmmakers with people working in the field. I was paired with editor/director Sanaa Hamri, and she, at the time, was working with Mariah Carey. I started working with her immediately after college. And as she was working with Mariah Carey, she also really wanted to work with Prince. And Mariah introduced her to Prince, and then her and Prince started working together, which meant I started working with Prince. And so, while Sanaa was an editor/director, she was now getting more advanced in her directing career, so she wasn’t having the time to edit. So, I became the editor for Prince on a project they were doing together. And that project was a film called 3121[Thirty-One Twenty-One], based on his album of the same name. The film, I believe, lives in his vault. I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day, cause I don’t know if they ever finished it cause it went through many iterations. Prince and I became very close, in that we would work together every night. I mean, we had long hours.
He worked all night. Right? It was- he’s famous for those all-night sessions.
Yeah. I started setting a limit where I left by midnight. Because I would get there at ten in the morning and then I would leave at midnight, and leave him a note, “See you tomorrow.” If I could sneak out before he came down, I was good. [laughs] And then, you know, a lot of times, he would have people over for dinner. And he was a very good host, and I think that’s something that everyone says about him. So, if I was there working, and it was dinnertime, I would stop. He would come to the edit bay and make me stop, and sit down and have dinner with him and his guests. And then afterwards, it would be a party. So then there was no going back to work after that. So, not too bad. [laughs]
So back to The Remix. So, where did you start? So, did you guys like work together from the beginning and where did you, you know, what were the first things you shot, Lisa?
Yeah. We worked from the beginning. And also on our team was, you know, Emil Wilbekin, and, um, Andrew Mer. Cause, as you know, Andrew has had a long passion for fashion, and street culture, and cinema. And it all began with, actually, a crazy request, which was to create a little trailer because MCM was so excited about this journey we were going on, and they were going to have a party during the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018. And they were like, “We wanna show the film.” And we’re like, “We’ve only been working on it for two weeks.” So, we shot interviews with Michael Holman, and with Nikki Ogunnaike, and Misa Hylton. Those were three very different perspectives on the story. We know Michael’s great history, having been there and being like a major ambassador for hip hop culture, and for historical overview of the roots of the culture in fashion and why kids wanted to dress a certain way. Then we had the perspective of Misa, you know, kind of coming of age with the music, discovering it, being inspired by it. And then Nikki Ogunnaike, who is from the fashion world, and kind of gave that vantage point. In terms of starting the journey, though for this little trailer, it actually was really helpful. Because it informed multiple strands of voices that we wanted to encompass in the film.
I’d like to talk about Misa for a minute. Uh, feel free to jump in. She’s amazing. She and Dapper Dan are mesmerizing. But also, just in terms of the actual culture in fashion, historically, she seems to be a jump from what we call street, of the early days of hip hop when you had Adidas that was hot, but, by the time Misa got involved that wasn’t enough. I guess the rise of the video, which Farah can talk to as well. Originally it was fake luxury, right? You had your knock-off Gucci, and then it became the real Gucci. So, how did that happen? How did we go from the street to luxury?
There’s an interesting combination that began happening. Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger became huge brands in the hip hop community. And then the way people would wear these luxury brands in the streets was very different than the way people would wear them on the runways. Um. So, what began happening is that the fashion brands would see their looks being worn in, almost, a cooler, more interesting, more unique way. And they would then be inspired so their next collection would reflect what was happening on the streets. The part about that that was disturbing is that the streets weren’t getting the credit. Right? It was like they were taking whatever looks they saw on these black bodies and putting them on white bodies, and saying that this is now cool. But if a black person’s wearing it, it’s not cool. It’s like in the beginning of the film, Misa’s wearing a shirt that says, Ghetto Until Proven Fashionable, and that’s kind of the theme of what was happening. It’s like, it’s not cool if it’s on black bodies, but as soon as you put it on white bodies, it’s cool. So, there was the appropriation that began. And I think that was an ongoing struggle that Misa dealt with in her journey. And how to take all these amazing looks she was creating and not have them be appropriated into mainstream culture without getting credit.
How can somebody do that? I mean, isn’t that something that goes on constantly in a lot of areas? People appropriate and I guess you wanted to make the distinction what’s between appreciate and appropriate.
Absolutely. You know, I think, David, we have to look- go get in the time machine and realize that, right now, how images travel and the commentary on the creative process happens in real time, in a way that was not happening then. I think there’s a bigger conversation about high-low. What’s high culture, what’s low culture? What actually is luxury? And I think you could speak to this in your time at Paper. Who are the arbiters of saying this is luxury because this company created and x-body wears it. You know, that is the politics that we are excavating in this film.
I think a lot of it goes to hip hop and video, and even the NBA. You know, let’s give the NBA a lot of credit, especially when it comes to men’s fashion. And even the women, I think a lot of these looks of luxury, and what became the fashion industry, depended on those people to wear the clothes, because nobody, otherwise, would even dare to do what they did. You know, the looks that Misa came up with for Lil’ Kim, for example. You know, they’re outrageous. Not so much today, probably. But at that time, most people wouldn’t wear it, but rappers would. You know, women rappers who are, even today, like out there competing against each other to be who has the most outrageous looks. I think it was propagated by this community. That’s how I see it.
I believe it was. And it’s interesting because it’s not only rappers today, right, you have pop stars now trying to be most outrageous. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, it’s mainstream culture. Like hip hop fashion is now mainstream culture. And it’s a good question, like who decided that and when did that get decided? And that’s something that I don’t have an answer to.
It speaks to what I view as the arrival of the culture into pop culture. When it has completely crossed over from community and underground you know below the surface. And today, you listen to radio, it’s pop music, it’s not hip hop as much as a genre as it was once before. And I think it speaks to what you actually talk about in the film, which is, how, this culture has come to define our world today, wherever you come from it’s a global culture today.
Yeah, David. I think part of this is the economic conversation. You know, there was this time in the music industry, someone started out in the urban department and there’s an urban budget, they’re an urban artist. And then that artist sells a million copies and they are in the pop department. And they are a pop artist. But fundamentally, they’re the same. In our capitalist system, it’s this valuing of, based on, sales we don’t go into that explicitly in the film, but you see that happening. You see Misa talking about certain things that happen and then this stratospheric rise, in terms of where an artist goes and who they’re accepted by.
Uh. Angelo Baque, do you know him? He has Awake New York is his company now. He used to be, uh, kind of creative director at Supreme. And, his mission of his whole company, today, is very political. And he makes a point about ownership. How that there will never be credit properly given unless the people who make the designs are owners as well. And we sort of had that with April Walker, Cross Colours, Karl Kani, even Phat Farm. There was a moment when a lot of the brands were owned by black people who started them, and that kind of disappeared. And today, you know, people are trying to get back to that. But that was something that, I feel, impacted this as well.
Yeah. We definitely touch on that in the film, because that’s a huge part of the conversation. Is, who’s making the decision, who’s making the profit? If you have other people, who aren’t of your culture, representing your culture then they’re not gonna be as sensitive to it. They’re not going to really try to push forward the aspects that need to be pushed forward. So, I think it’s really about who keeps ownership. And I know that’s something that, you know, Kerby at Pyer Moss is really really aiming to keep a hold of. Is that ownership should belong one hundred percent in his hands, or his family hands, or black hands. Because that’s the only way you’ll get authentic representation within the culture.
And ownership also equals equity, and it equals legacy. You know, if you’re doing for others but you’re not able to have an imprint that you own and see a return on, then your contributions can very quickly become appropriated without your copyright staying in place. This comes down to IP.
The movie was primarily interested in showing the contribution of women, but, you also have men in it, as you mentioned, Pyer Moss, Kerby Jean-Raymond from there. And also, Dapper Dan, who is a fascinating figure for me. I think his story is incredible, and he’s a very, you know, dynamic person. How was it interviewing him?
I mean, he got it right away, because he’s lived it, right? He’s only now within the past, what, five years being able to tell his story to the masses. So, he was really an amazing person to interview, and I felt like we were living in history. You know, sitting in his atelier and just looking at this legend, who really started so much of what we see out in the street today.
Yeah. He’s part of the origin story. But he’s also a great ally to women. And in addition to giving him his flowers, it was important for us to show the relationship with Misa, and that they’ve collaborated through the years. And his recognition of her contributions. Um. Cause oftentimes, you know, when we tell these stories, the beautiful collaborations between black men and black women are not highlighted. And I think that their friendship, and what they have produced and, you know, will probably, who knows what they’ll do in the future, is something that was an important part of the storytelling. Cause this film is also about, you know, dismantling certain tropes that exist in the depiction of people of color. And that certainly is that there are allies within our community, was important for us to share.
In case people aren’t familiar with the story of Dapper Dan, who was a Harlem, uh, you know, creative designer, but who would take materials from fashion brands and create his own work out of it and sell it to the rich people who could afford his work, but maybe weren’t working on Wall Street. And, from there, he also did like Gucci clothes, and then Gucci copied Dapper Dan, right? But they wouldn’t give him the credit. Thankfully, I think the Internet caught on and the word got out, and Gucci ended up supporting him and opening his own atelier in Harlem, today.
That’s correct. Yeah. He wasn’t even given access to the materials from brands, but he saw the fascination with local brands and its customers. So, he taught himself how to print textiles of those logo brands.
Because he wasn’t- there was no access for him or people like him.
Oh, wow. I didn’t realize that. Also, the whole idea of people not getting credit, you know, let’s say, starting with hip hop. But if you want to go back, African Americans, have been stylish forever, and, you know, we have the work of James Van Der Zee, showing how important fashion has always been a part of this community.
It was really incredible to connect with Donna Van Der Zee, Mr. Van Der Zee’s widow. And she gave us access to the archives. Personally, I’ve always just loved those images that he shot in his Harlem studio, starting the 20’s. Because of the beauty, the grace, the elegance, the high sense of fashion. And really, the pictures are a window into the souls of the community. And it shows how much what you wear informs how you show up and carry yourselves. You know, fashion, as Bevy Smith says, has always been political for black people.
And one other thing before I let you all go, is I want to talk about the music. Because you use a lot of great music in the film as well. Tell me about the process and who picked the music, and how that all came together. I imagine Farah has something to do with that as well,
I did pick some of the tracks that were in the film, but I have to give most credit- we had two other editors, Sarah Laties and, um, R. A. Fedde. And Fedde was really instrumental in pulling a lot of these tracks that weren’t done by the composer. You know, on a film like this you have a composer and you have a lot of library tracks. The library tracks were really picked by our co-editor. But, um, we had this amazing composer that we brought on named, Wendell Hanes, and I know, um, Lisa has – I think you’ve worked with him since – but he just basically took this film and ran with it. Within minutes. It’s like, “Oh. Here’s a scene.” And he’d send us back a few options and- and they were just perfect, and he got it right away. And he was such a pleasure to work with.
And, Farah, so, in terms of editing, did you think of it as a music video? You know, kind of, in the same vibe when you were making it?
Absolutely. I had always said when I was editing, that the only thing I want to direct is documentaries and music-related documentaries. So, to me, every film is like a music video, because you can put a different track underneath it and you’re gonna get a whole different scene, a whole different vibe, a whole different message. So, music is just another character in our film and a very important one, especially given our topic. It did feel like cutting a music video sometimes. And you have these little musical moments that kind of give the viewer a break to digest some information, but also take you on an immer- emotional journey at the same time.
Lisa, are you happy with the results? have you heard some great reactions?
I’m incredibly happy. It’s been a great dream for a long time to start to showcase these stories and for people to start recognizing the past contributions, but the current state of women in hip hop, which I think is super important. Heard from people I haven’t heard from in twenty years or so. Heard from young people who are inspired. And, uh, are not only being educated by this film, but are seeing themselves and seeing the promise that they can have in this space. What I love about this film is it’s educational, but it’s not spinach. And it leaves you thinking about what you wear, why you wear, and the role that culture plays in, um, assigning value.
So, thank you very much for being on my show. Thank you, Lisa Cortes, Farah X, for your great work and contribution. I think this is one of those films that’s gonna last. You know, people will be looking at this for years to come. And, hope to see you again soon.
And, David, thank you through the years for all of your contributions for forwarding these important conversations about culture, fashion, politics, I think back to some of the incredible work of Paper and really appreciate the space that you gave for moving the culture forward in a very thoughtful, intentional way.
Aw. Thank you. Appreciate that.
Yeah, same. Thank you so much. It’s such an honor I was a big fan of Paper Magazine.
So, thank you so much for having us on your show.
Okay. Now we’re all, like, mutual admiration society. [laughter] See you all later.