'Stomp the Yard' Director Sylvain White
TONY COX, host:
The film "Stomp the Yard" is number one at the box-office again, earning over $13 million in its second week. The film is about stepping a dance-like tradition among black fraternities and sororities in the United States. The new film uses "Matrix"-like special effects to blend classic step-show moves with modern hip-hop dancing.
Sylvain White directed "Stomp the Yard" and he says "Stomp" takes on a unique part of black college life.
Mr. SYLVAIN WHITE (Director, "Stomp the Yard"): Stepping is new to most people or to the mainstream, I should say, but it's been around for over 100 years. It's a traditional form of African-American dancing. It's traditionally a part of college life, black college life. So, you know, I think that's interesting to people.
(Soundbite of movie, "Stomp the Yard")
COX: I know that you came to the United States and you spent some time getting your, you know, degree in filmmaking at a college in Southern California, Pomona College, correct?
Mr. WHITE: That's correct. Yes.
COX: But that is - that college experience is very, very different than going to an HBCU in the South. When you first got to the campuses where this Greek life actually lives everyday, what was your thought, what was you impression of what you saw and felt?
Mr. WHITE: Well, I really tried to - I mean I used that to my advantage. You know, I grew up in Paris, France. I've been in the States for a few years. I did go to college. That was completely different. So I was really foreign, you know, to the world in many ways.
Luckily I had two producers that are heavily involved in the fraternity life, that are Alphas. But the first and foremost thing that really impressed me the most as we - in the period of research - while we were spending time in the colleges and went into fraternities and go into step shows and hanging backstage and seeing the practices and all that stuff was the level of dedication and tradition within it. That was just amazing.
COX: Now, you have a history in filmmaking. You've won awards. You've done what has been described to me as kind of cutting edge in approach. Would that be a fair characterization of some of your prior film work?
Mr. WHITE: You know, people say to me all kinds of things on how they react to my work and it's all great. One of the interesting things they say is, you know, when the work I do here in the States, people always say, oh, it's very edgy. It's very European. And the work I do in Europe, people say, oh, it's very commercial. It's very American. I like it. So -
COX: All right, damned if you do, damned if you don't, right?
Mr. WHITE: Exactly, but I kind of like that because, you know, I kind of grew up with both cultures and I think that's a quality that I bring to the table.
COX: I want to ask you about your discovery of some of the pushback in American culture with regard to how African-Americans and African-American cultural traditions are shown in Hollywood. I'm talking now specifically about the Greek organizations who felt and have said so publicly that they were concerned about the portrayal.
(Soundbite of movie, "Stomp the Yard")
Unidentified Man: There's a screening process. All applicants go through it. You want to apply? That's up to you. If it's a sweet deal, it's really what you're looking for, (unintelligible) ain't for you. A fraternity, now that's a brotherhood. You may forge a lifetime bond.
COX: So what did you discover about, you know, stepping in to that world, if I can use that term?
Mr. WHITE: I think what happened is that we, you know, spent a lot of time trying to make it as accurate as possible within a commercial framework and as respectful as possible of the culture. What happened, eventually, the issue got resolved really fast, is that the people who were apprehensive about it saw the movie and basically endorsed it. You know, it was endorsed by the Alphas and all the other groups, but as well by NAACP. So I think it just took for people to see the movie.
COX: Setting aside the content of the film for a moment, let's talk a little bit about the directing of it and the cinematography. What were you trying to do from a cinematic point of view to separate this film?
Mr. WHITE: To make it different - to make it feel different, I studied instead a lot of sports movies and how, you know, football was shot and also some Korean kung fu films, and I instead try to apply that to stepping because stepping is interesting in a sense that yes, it's a dance form. Sometimes it almost looks like a martial art as well. I thought I could apply these different techniques and really try and bring the audience within the performance, because stepping is really about the unity of the group. And I was hoping to try and give that feeling to the audience, being part of the team, especially as they go into the big final competition at the end.
COX: The film is "Stomp the Yard" and the director joining us, Sylvain White. Thank you very much.
Mr. WHITE: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.