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Dime Davis could become the first Black woman ever to win an Emmy for directing a television series, HBO's "A Black Lady Sketch Show." She's also nominated as co-executive producer of the show, which is up for outstanding variety sketch series. NPR's Mandalit del Barco caught up with her in Los Angeles.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Dime Davis and I sit at opposite ends of a picnic bench near the nearly hundred-year-old merry-go-round at Griffith Park.
DIME DAVIS: I'm really glad we did this 'cause I think it was much better than anything that we could've done in Zoom. We actually shot a few sketches here, actually.
DEL BARCO: Dime, a nickname for Dimonique, wears gold specs and a necklace with a Harriet Tubman pendant. On one finger is a ring that says, stay woke. The 34-year-old filmmaker spent time over the summer marching in the streets of Los Angeles to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Now she could make history at the Emmys on September 20.
DAVIS: It's still very surreal to me, to be honest with you. You know, it's very surreal. We didn't, like, set out to be nominated, but we did set out to make something that we'd never seen before, something where we felt like we could fully express ourselves in this comedic way that's typically not a space dominated by women or specifically Black women or women of color at all. So it was really cool.
DEL BARCO: Davis directed all six episodes of "A Black Lady Sketch Show," including one for which guest star Angela Bassett was nominated. In this scene, Bassett's character leads the bad b**** support group.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "A BLACK LADY SKETCH SHOW")
ANGELA BASSETT: (As character) The baddest I feel is when my man worships at the temple of my natural flat face.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I wish I could have a flat face all the time.
ROBIN THEDE: (As character) Girl, what?
DEL BARCO: Actress Robin Thede, who created "A Black Lady Sketch Show," says she set out to make something unique.
THEDE: A cinematic narrative sketch series that was Black women living grounded experiences in a magical reality. And that's a big sentence for a lot of people to wrap their heads around, and other directors I'd interviewed for the position flat-out told me they didn't know what I was talking about (laughter).
DEL BARCO: Thede says Davis, on the other hand, understood immediately and had her own ideas for how to make each sketch into its own short film in different genres and styles - for example, a sketch called "The Invisible Spy."
THEDE: She's had such a cinematic eye that, you know, when I told her, OK, I want this to look like "The Bourne Identity," she's like, got it.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "A BLACK LADY SKETCH SHOW")
ASHLEY NICOLE BLACK: (As Trinity) I'm the agent. I'm Trinity.
GINA TORRES: (As character) Trinity is incredible. Her regular-looking face makes her nearly invisible in the field.
DEL BARCO: Thede foresees great things for Dime Davis.
THEDE: She's going to be, like, one of the greats in her generation. I really believe that. She's really, really, really special.
DEL BARCO: Davis says as a director, she never thought she'd have an opportunity to work on something like "A Black Lady Sketch Show."
DAVIS: I think in my work, I really try to tell Black women, hey, you are amazing; you're magical; you are important, right? But with this, I also got to say, you're funny.
DEL BARCO: Davis grew up in Houston, and at her performing arts high school, she met a friend, Elle Lorraine, who's now her producing partner. They both went to Chapman University. Then Davis trained at a prestigious directing workshop at the American Film Institute. There, she made a short film called "Sugar," starring Lorraine as a young woman whose mother has Alzheimer's.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SUGAR")
WENDY RAQUEL ROBINSON: (As character) I missed you.
ELLE LORRAINE: (As character) I know.
DEL BARCO: Two years ago, Davis was hired to write and story edit for Lena Waithe's TV series "The Chi." She was also commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to make a short film about painter Mark Bradford.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WILD WILD WEST: A BEAUTIFUL RANT BY MARK BRADFORD")
MARK BRADFORD: Spend a little time, and go back to whatever road you're on. Don't worry about if you haven't seen it before. Invent it.
DEL BARCO: The film "Wild Wild West: A Beautiful Rant By Mark Bradford" debuted at the Sundance Film Festival two years ago.
BRADFORD: I remember it so vividly when she walked in, and her face would just light up. She has the most incredible smile.
DEL BARCO: Bradford says Davis spent a few days with him in his studio for the film.
BRADFORD: There has to be a trust between the director and the person that they're working with, and we definitely got to that space very quickly. It caught me at that moment. I think that's what good directing does. It looks for something that's a little bit different. And it felt magical in some areas, and I just kind of trusted her.
DEL BARCO: Lena Waithe asked her to work on a comedy show she was developing after watching the Mark Bradford film, Davis says.
DAVIS: It just wasn't a typical approach of how you would kind of document an artist, right? So I think she saw that, and she was like, oh, I want you to direct this pilot, which is such a leap, I think, for some people. But I think for people like her who are able to see something that other people aren't, you know, it was really cool.
DEL BARCO: Davis not only directed eight episodes of "Boomerang." She became its co-executive producer, a title she shares on "A Black Lady Sketch Show." Filmmaker Justin Simien, who also went to high school and college with Davis, says his friend's Emmy nominations are historic.
JUSTIN SIMIEN: Especially for Black people, Black women, that is a big deal. So much of the double jeopardy of being a Black artist is that you're - you know, you're fighting for the work, but you're also fighting for validation just within the industry. Dime is just one of those people that's just been so ready for this moment. I just think she's got it. I'm just so proud of her. I really am.
DEL BARCO: Simien says Dime Davis is someone to watch. She's now working on an animated series, a feature version of "Sugar" and an upcoming episode of the Amazon Studios series "Modern Love."
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.
(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS CANDY SONG, "SUGAR AND WHITEBREAD")
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