Editor’s Note: “The Reel Black List” is our annual spotlight of brothers and sisters in the worlds of advertising, film, TV, music, radio and media who are making a difference through their contributions and creativity. For the next 29 days, you will be able to celebrate these various personalities with us.
Meet Rodney Lucas. He’s an LA-based filmmaker from the South Side of Chicago. He has traveled the world creating short documentaries and branded content for NOWNESS, VICE, Beats by Dre, Upworthy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Toms Shoes–––a relationship that allowed him to catalyze a Toms initiative to financially empower artists to make social changes in their communities.
Rodney, whom you can find on Emerald Pictures’ directors roster, prides himself on being a “servant to the subject,” often wearing a workman’s coat to set–––a move he uses as a method to build a level of solidarity with his subjects, crew, and the community he’s filming. Once homeless, Rodney understands and identifies with the language of the streets, and the plight of the oppressed. Rodney has dedicated his professional life to capturing marginalized communities with a high level of sensitivity, care, artistic expression, and emotional depth.
With an extended background in the music industry–––that includes releasing works with the London-based, platinum-selling group, Bastille–––Rodney attributes the poetic tonality, and rhythmic flow of his films to the time he spent touring the world as a performance artist. Currently, he is writing, directing and producing Sugar Water Babies–––a documentary that journeys the origins, evolution, and universal impact of Chicago house music.
What did You Originally Want to be When You Grow Up? A rapper. All of the guys from my neighborhood that I truly admired were rappers or poets. I saw a vulnerability in how they expressed themselves artistically, and that attracted me to them. The performance aspect of their craft was, in my opinion, started when they woke up that morning; how they dressed, how they talked, how they communicated to women, all was very attractive to me. They became my role models.
How did You Get into Filmmaking? There were many loops, but I actually started as a set design assistant for a company that worked very closely with Annie Leibovitz. Though she’s obviously a portrait photographer, I learned a great deal about how to move on set, basic aspects of production, and ultimately how to present.
From there, I went on to host at VICE News, which set the foundation for my work as a documentary filmmaker, though my biggest break came from a film that I directed with NOWNESS called Southside Forever.
Who Were Your Mentors? So many. I have a diverse group; about once a week I have a coffee or build with a former Chief or Police, an ex record exec, and a convicted drug kingpin from my old neighborhood. The message comes in many genres and vessels, and I’m blessed to have these men as soundboards.
What is Your Biggest Achievement? Being a father. I love my son more than anything on earth. He’s completely changed me, and how I view society. He’s by far my greatest achievement and inspiration.
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What is Your Biggest Disappointment? I can’t think of any off top. To be honest, I don’t have much faith or trust in people, generally, so I rarely allow anyone – or industry – the luxury of remotely disappointing me. I’m a survivor of all obstacles, so I’ve learned to turn every negative into a positive, that way I can’t be disappointed.
Name Your Biggest Pet Peeves? A sink full of dirty dishes. I hate it. I religiously wash dishes in my house. I can’t create knowing there’s dirty dishes in the sink. Just my thing.
Predictions for the Film Industry Over the Next Decade: That I will win an Oscar, and retire my mother.
Name a Job You had that Would Surprise People: I was a bathroom attendant for years. I literally stood in the bathroom of fancy New York City nightclubs and passed out paper towels. To this day, that was one of the greatest jobs I’ve ever had. It allowed me to network, build relationships, and learn New York on whole nother level.
What Famous Actor Plays You in Your Life Story? Mahershala Ali.
What do You Wish You Had More Time For? Probably play with my son. I can spend days just learning his habits and watching him develop.
Favorite Recent Project? My favorite recent piece is the short film “Black Future is Now” I directed for Beats by Dre about up and coming Black creatives. The film combats the notion of Black History only being celebrated once a year, and gives honor to current Black Changemakers and leaders that are pushing the culture forward.
What Drives You to Create? Telling the stories of sub genres within America, and society as a whole. I see my work as a vessel for people without a voice. My revolution WILL be televised.