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Academy Award nominee Gabourey Sidibe on directorial debut film, Macon Film Festival

Sidibe says she sees “The Tale of Four,” her directorial debut film that is screening at the Macon Film Festival, as an avenue to authentically express her blackness

MACON, Ga. — Academy Award Nominee Gabourey Sidibe has made waves in the entertainment industry since her debut as the lead role in Lee Daniels' drama, indie film "Precious."

The 'American Horror Story' and 'The Big C' actress hasn’t even been in town for 24 hours, but she’s hitting the ground running, quickly checking into her accommodations before getting ready for the Macon Film Festival over the weekend.

“Macon seems kind of small,” Sidibe said.

She says her mother is from Lumpkin, Georgia, a town much smaller than Macon a little less than 40 miles away from Columbus, but Sidibe grew up in the Big Apple.

On Saturday, Sidibe is screening her directorial debut film, “The Tale of Four,” at the Macon Film Festival. It's a drama based on Nina Simone’s 1966 soul classic, “Four Women.” 

"The Tale of Four" chronicles the narrative of four black women, all who bear the same name as the women Simone mentions in her song, in pursuit of love, redemption, or identity.

“We just all tried to be really truthful to what Nina was saying,” Sidibe said. “We were trying to be truthful to the people in my life who raised me that I saw in each of those women.”

She also recently directed an episode of the show, 'Empire,' in which she also has a reoccurring role, but she says directing was not something she was sure she was capable of doing. 

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“It’s not a huge shift from acting,” she said. “Really, the only difference as an actor, I really only care about my lines and my character and my themes, but as the director, I care about every single thing.”

Sidibe says as a director, she was a part of every aspect of the film. She started to pay attention to small details like the paint on the walls.

“It feels -- not as if I’m making more art than I do as an actor,” Sidibe said, “But it’s almost like instead of just buying the sculpture, I get to mold it.”

And that she did – the film is laden with tributes to Afrocentric art in the soundtrack, costuming, and, especially, the set.

Sidibe, the daughter of a Senegalese father, says it’s a part of her philosophy.

“Because I’m blackity-black-black,” Sidibe said without hesitation. “I like to be as Afrocentric and as black as I can be, especially because I sometimes work in a lot of spaces where I don’t get to be.”

She says she looked at the film “The Tale of Four” as an avenue to express her blackness in an authentic way.

“It just kept getting blacker and blacker,” Sidibe said with a chuckle. “And no one was there to stop us.”

While in Macon, Sidibe is screening her short film in the South, the region where many of the issues she touches on in the film -- like police brutality and mass incarceration -- have deep roots.

“I think that there is a timelessness of that song in general,” Sidibe said. “It doesn’t seem to live in a specific time. It seems like it's one of those things that has always been and it’s starting to feel really scary, like it will always be as well."

Sidibe created this film with the help of Refinery 29’s Shatterbox Anthology, an initiative devoted to empowering women to tell their stories through film. Black women are at the forefront of her short film. She says she aimed to shift the narrative about black women by ensuring she put “me first.”

“I had to make sure Daddy got the big piece of chicken and all of these things,” Sidibe said. “We get this lesson that we go last way faster than we realize.”

The “strong black woman” trope exhausts Sidibe, she says. In her film, she wanted to represent black women as emotional, vulnerable, and complex beings.

“When do I get a chance to emote, to feel things? And that’s what I wanted to do with all of those characters. I really just wanted to say, ‘me first,'” she said. “And not just for myself, but for all of us. We don’t get to first think about ourselves before thinking of others.”  

The Macon Film Festival says they are featuring more female filmmakers this year than ever before.

Sidibe says she’s glad to be a part of that victory.  

“It’s really dope,” Sidibe said. “I love that female filmmakers are sort of jumping to the front of the line, because they’ve always existed.”

Sidibe says she wants to make it clear that female filmmakers are not new. Now, they are just given more opportunities to be at the forefront.

“If we don’t let women tell our stories, then we’re missing out on half the stories in the world,” Sidibe said.

She says she hopes the Central Georgia community sees the humanity in the film’s characters so that it may be seen in real women in everyday life.

“The idea of being a strong black woman sort of makes us seem less human than we actually are,” Sidibe said. “And while we are superhuman, I don’t want to be seen as superhuman, really. I want to be seen as human.”

Sidibe will screen Lee Daniels' "Precious" and "The Tale of Four" on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Grand Opera House in downtown Macon.

If you can't make it to the Macon Film Festival, watch the short film above.

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