Interview With Amanda Bright, Writer and Star of The Lennox Report
We chat to Amanda Bright, writer and star of powerful short The Lennox Report, about the film’s important messages, being a creative during lockdown and working with a talented cast including Amit Shah and Adjoa Andoh.
The Lennox Report was filmed in lockdown, and you produced a YouTube video explaining how you pulled it off. Did you find it more challenging than other shoots, or did the restrictions spark some extra creativity?
All of the above! Steve [Bright, Amanda’s husband and director of The Lennox Report] and I were actually very ill for the first three weeks of the UK lockdown. As testing wasn’t widely available at that time, we can’t know for sure but we’re pretty certain we had Covid as we had all the symptoms - including loss of smell and taste! I wrote the first draft of the script while bed-ridden in an attempt to keep my spirits up.
Once we’d both recovered, we revisited the script and decided to bring it life as a way of igniting our creativity. At a time of so much uncertainty for everyone - particularly creative freelancers - we relished the opportunity to take control of our situation and keep doing what we love.
I loved the filmmaking process. We were able to enlist a team of cast and creatives who all excel at what they do and, like myself and Steve, were thrilled to have an opportunity to keep doing what they love. It was definitely a challenge though because there were so many moving parts that Steve and I had to manage. With no budget and no ability to connect with people in person, we had to just use what we had available. So I would say the restrictions of lockdown actually forced us to be more creative about how we solved problems.
"All of the actors found ways to bring something unique to the characters"
Yourself and Steve brought in a very impressive cast, including Pearl Mackie and a hilarious Adjoa Andoh. What was it like to work with these talents?
The cast were brilliant! I’d written the characters with them in mind but I was totally blown away when they agreed to be involved. I knew they’d be perfect in the roles, but what was most exciting to see was how they found ways to delve deeper into the characters and find the nuances within their portrayals. Seeing Adjoa relish in finding the mildly sadistic tone within Louise and Pearl channeling the hurt, anger and confusion of Tarnia was so inspiring.
Similarly, I had a clear sense of the character Alex in my mind but as we were rehearsing, Charity Wakefield started playing with something completely different and I encouraged her to go with it as she was making such fun, unexpected choices.
All of the actors found ways to bring something unique to the characters which lifted them and the writing to a level that I couldn’t have imagined. When acting alongside them, it emboldened me to up my game - take more risks and play.
The majority of the short is spent between your character, Kayla, and the brilliant Amit Shah. How was it working with Amit and how did you manage to create a believable chemistry without even being in the same room?
I met Amit about 16 years ago when we were both performing as part of the first year of the Old Vic/New Voices: 24hr Plays. Lifelong friendships were forged during that project - that’s also how I met Charity and our assistant director, Marilyn O’Brien!
Although Amit and I hadn’t worked together since then, I knew he had to be Mark. Amit is able to find great emotional depth within a role and draw out the human complexities that make them feel real while also effortlessly ‘finding the funny’. He was an utter joy to work with and is a very generous performer. I have a lot of respect and admiration for his craft and I loved acting alongside him, so I think that’s what helped create that onscreen chemistry.
The film comments on the prevalence of different forms of racism that are still persistent in the UK and beyond, but it has a particular focus on the behaviour of people who might not even consider that they're being insensitive or ignorant. How important is this to tackle and have open discussions on?
I think it’s vital that we start opening up a dialogue about these issues. For too long people have thought that ‘racism’ was limited to using racial slurs/insults or violence towards minorities. But it’s important that we start talking about microaggressions - ‘Indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group.’
As a Black woman, I experience microaggressions on a weekly, sometimes daily basis - e.g. being followed around in shops by security, people making assumptions about the type of food/music I like because of my race or expressing surprise that I did well at school/how ‘well-spoken’ I am. The impact of microaggressions cannot be understated. Being made to feel ‘othered’ or ‘less than’ on a regular basis can be extremely frustrating and upsetting.
I thought it was important to explore this within the relationship that Kayla has with her friends Alex, Jamie & Charli. Often microaggressions are unintentional. For example, Charli truly thinks she’s being helpful when she warns Kayla against going on a date wearing her hair natural. But what she’s communicating is that Kayla won’t be seen as attractive unless she adheres to European beauty standards.
Also, through these friends I wanted to try to explore the difference between appreciation and appropriation. Jamie uses a lot of phrases that have their roots in African American culture. More and more we’re seeing phrases, fashion and hairstyles that originated in Black communities being promoted by non-Black people. Through Kayla and Tarnia’s differing responses to Jamie, I wanted to spark a discussion around this issue.
"I wanted the film to be a depiction of Black joy - something that we rarely see"
There is one particularly intimate scene between your character and her friend Tarnia which says so much while saying so little. How did this moment come about?
This scene with Tarnia was one of the easiest and hardest to film. It’s also the only one that I found difficult to watch back during the editing process. It was ‘easy’ to film because we did it in just two takes and actually ended up just using the first take. But the reason it was so quick to film was because Pearl and I deeply connected to what we were saying - the pain you see in the film is real.
The scene came about because of the conversations I’d been having at the time. When I first contacted Pearl about the film, Tarnia was only part of the group scene with Charli, Alex and Jamie. Once Pearl and I had finished talking about the film, our conversation drifted towards the murder of George Floyd - this had been happening a lot in the conversations I’d been having with friends. I realise now that we were both grieving and in shock about the events that took place. We described feeling an overwhelming rollercoaster of emotions about the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the global protests.
I’ve since heard this period described as ‘a time of mourning for the global Black community’. I had conversations with my Black friends that I just couldn’t have with my non-Black friends because there would be too much to explain, and, ultimately, they could only approach the conversation from a theoretical sense not from an experiential way.
So I decided to write the scene between Tarnia and Kayla as a way of giving some insight into the impact that these world events were having on the Black community. Sharing a glimpse of the pain and grief that we were experiencing as a way of sharing the struggle but also why it may be difficult to communicate this to others.
While tackling important issues from racism to the pandemic, the film is underpinned by some really enjoyable comedy. How important was it to weave serious messages with serious laughs?
We are living in such ‘strange and unprecedented’ times and I wanted the film to reflect this unique period in our history. Which is why it touches on the pandemic, lockdown and the Black Lives Matter protests. It felt important to accurately depict the experience of living through a period when everyone’s lives were turned upside down.
But, ultimately, I wanted the film to be a depiction of Black joy - something that we rarely see. During 2020 I found myself watching more comedy, rom coms and heroic action films. I had a craving for escapism and laughter. I decided that I would try to create something that would share a positive, hopeful message during some very difficult times.