In her short film debut, The Color of Sadness, Benin-based photographer Rachel Seidu explores Black joy and community. Rachel has established herself as one to watch in the Nigerian photography scene for her intimate portrait work, which often explores themes of queer identity, intentionally placing LGBTQ Nigerians at the forefront–though, as The Color of Sadness proves, Rachel is not interested in being put in a box and telling just one kind of story. The idea for the film came in March when Rachel decided to explore her complicated feelings about the chaos of the past year. Speaking to FEMME MAG she says, “This year has been a lot for me. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and as usual I want to create work about how I feel”.
You might look at a title like The Color of Sadness and imagine something dreary, with scenes washed in dull hues of black and blue, but the four-minute film is bright and open. It’s really the little details that make the film- from the music to the distance placed between the subjects of the film and the viewer. This was an intentional choice for Rachel–she didn’t want to explore sadness and isolation in the typical sense, because for her (and for most people) it’s just not that simple. “I was trying to communicate different ways I have felt this year. Fear, uncertainty, anxiety and sadness. I was trying to communicate with the film that it’s okay to feel all these things–you’re human after all”.
One moment that stood out to me was the scene where a girl sits, visibly gasping for air as hands pull in from all around the frame to grip her by the neck. I think for all of us, there’s been a moment in our lives, even if only in the midst of all the chaos of the past year, where we’ve felt just like that: gripped. Gripped by anxiety, by fear, by trying to hold ourselves together even though we feel helpless to the things outside of our control. From the outside looking in it may seem like everything is fine, but once you look a little harder the truth reveals itself. “One of the most important themes of the film,” said Rachel, “was the fact that bright colors can tell sad stories too”.
Another important element of the film is the importance of community–in fact, The Color of Sadness couldn’t have come together without the support of Rachel’s own community. “Fun fact: all of us in the film are photographers!”. Shot in July, the film was a labour of love in every sense of the word, made with the help of her friends who worked both in front of the camera and behind it to help everything come together. “I asked some of my friends on campus if they would like to act in the film, and they obliged”. There’s often this idea in the art world of the lone artist, crafting their vision in a small room with no outside influence, but that’s not the reality for most people. Most great art is the work of multiple people, all coming together with their personal strengths to create something special. “The film wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my friends. I’m so grateful for all of them,” said Rachel.
Although this is Rachel’s first film, you can feel her experience as a photographer shining through–after all, what’s a film if not a series of moving images? When asked how different the filmmaking process was from her regular photography, Rachel echoed this sentiment. “My photographs are a different type of storytelling. I just imagined I was taking pictures in moving form.” If you’ve followed her work for a while, you can see this clearly. Rachel’s photographs have always felt evocative, intimate, like you’re being invited to witness something vulnerable, to see yourself in someone else’s story–and especially with her Black LGBTQ subjects, Rachel is doing the work to humanize people who are so often dehumanized. Although, as she points out, with The Color of Sadness, she wanted to explore something more broad, a feeling that all of us can relate to. “Honestly, with the film, I wasn’t aiming to tell queer stories or highlight dark skin. I just wanted to talk about us as humans. Someone saw the film and said he felt something queer in it, and that’s OK too. It’s the beauty of art–everyone can see something different in it”.
So what’s next for Rachel? According to her, the goal is just to keep going forward, while still appreciating where she is now. “I believe I’m where I’m supposed to be. Working harder will take me higher but for now, I’m in the right place. I don’t have any big plans for the future–I believe the future always sorts itself out, but for my work, I hope it keeps making people feel. I want to just travel the world and create more stories.” She did hint at a mystery project she has in the works. “I’m already working on something else, and it should be ready before the end of the year”. We at FEMME MAG are definitely looking forward to Rachel’s future work, whatever it may be!