Against All Odds (with A.V. Rockwell & Kola Bokinni) | Crooked Media
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April 13, 2023
Stuck with Damon Young
Against All Odds (with A.V. Rockwell & Kola Bokinni)

In This Episode

This week on Stuck with Damon Young, A.V. Rockwell, writer and director of the Sundance award winning “A Thousand and One” breaks down her inspirations for the film and its connections to her own experience growing up in New York City. Ted Lasso’s Kola Bokinni then joins Damon to consider when a “parent’s partner” becomes a “step-parent.”

Send your questions, confessions and/or conundrums in for consideration to be responded to on the podcast at deardamon@crooked.com.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Damon Young: My only bone to pick. And this is a really small, slight, petty one is that Inez, she’s small, but she’s kind of brolic. And, you know, the character is like you know, you could have shown her doing a push up [laughter] or doing something to maintain [laughter] you know, because she had like the 16 pack [laughter] showing for like the first half of the movie, it’s like, wow, she must work out or something— 

 

A.V. Rockwell: I mean [both speaking] Teyana does not work out, some people just naturally got it, you know. [laughter] Oof.

 

Damon Young: So welcome back, everyone to Stuck with Damon Young, the show where we just want to know Teyana Taylor’s core routine because I haven’t seen my abs in seven years and I miss them. So the movie A Thousand and One has become an indie darling, creating buzz at festivals and with audiences, even winning the grand Jury Prize at Sundance. And to talk about something integral and recurring themes in the movie, I’m joined by A.V. Rockwell, who wrote and directed it. And then Kola Bokinni, who you might know from a little old show called Tell Lasso, helps me solve a listener’s etiquette conundrum about labels when they use them, who deserves them, and how they can dictate the direction of relationship. All right y’all. Let’s get it. [music plays] A.V. Rockwell’s the writer and director of A Thousand and One, which is creating all types of buzz with audiences and festivals and even won a grand jury prize at Sundance. A.V. What’s good? 

 

A.V. Rockwell: I’m doing great today. How are you? 

 

Damon Young: I’m doing good. I’m doing good. [laughter] You know. It’s a good day. Happy to be here. Like any other day. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Me too, me too. 

 

Damon Young: So I want to just get right into it. All right. So I dropped a book in 2019, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker. And when I was on tour, sometimes people would ask me, how long did it take you to write the book? And I could have said, two years, because that’s how long it took me to physically write it. But the actual answer was 39 years, because that’s everything. You know, it’s my first book is a memoir. So all of that life experience had been building, building, building. And then I released it. And so, like with this movie, it’s your first feature film. And I’m wondering why this topic? Why this story? It’s a decades long look of relationship of a bond between a young mother and her son and also takes place in Harlem. And, you know, for people who are familiar with Harlem in the in the late nineties, early aughts, there are a lot of changes happening in that neighborhood, too. And I guess I just want to know, you know, is this a story that’s been a creation for many years, for decades, and you’ve been wanting to just tell it? 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah. I mean, I think you you articulated it really well and just speaking to the fact that even though the literal time you spent working on your book could be quantified, you kind of also spent a lifetime. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Gaining all the experiences that you needed to get to that point. And I feel like it was similar for me with this, in which I feel like the story had been building in me for for just as much. Not only in observing how the city was changing, but also in me just becoming a woman after coming of age within New York and feeling like I had a full understanding of myself and what that experience was and and could bring it to this story. I think what made it urgent was not only in me one thing personally, to say farewell to the New York that I love and grew up with, but just seeing the human price of how the city was changing, seeing the way that our communities were being targeted all together. And then realizing through my research that like, oh, it’s not just us being a target now with gentrifications, which is the tension that the story the film explores as it progresses. But oh, we were under attack the entire time. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: I think the work that I had to do in writing this movie helped me realize that, yes, New York actually never did love us, you know, as much as I might have loved as a citizen, a native New Yorker. So I think just seeing that and seeing what was at stake and being erased, especially with a neighborhood like Harlem. I wanted to put the human price, you know, put the human connection to that. You know, people have been fighting over generations to get to where they were. But I also want to contextualize me as a as a young woman just wanting to contextualize the matriarchs of this community, like celebrating them, women that are made to feel misunderstood not only in within society overall, but within our own communities. Women like Inez, and I think just a lot of people to experience through her journey, a lot of what we go through as Black women specifically. I just really wanted to use this story to present the question that, like damn, we fight for everybody, but who’s who’s fighting for us? And, you know, I think it’s noble to call us like superheroes. And I appreciate all of that. But I really wanted our humanity to be seen as well. And I wanted people to see that we all worthy of being loved and wants to be fully loved and not just needed, not just who you call when you need us to come save the day. 

 

Damon Young: You brought up a point about, you know, the idea that Black women have this inherent strength, inherent like superhuman ability to endure, to have this stamina, this power, and. I see where that has been meant to be a positive characterization, a positive comment. But it actually is like, you know what? No. [laughs] Right. Like Black women are human beings. It feels weird to be saying this out loud. But, you know, Black women are human beings just like everybody else. And y’all are not built to endure things in a greater capacity to other people. Our shit circumstances have made it such that in order to survive, this characteristic had to be developed. But it’s not like some inherent natural thing. Like, you know, we could put everything on a Black woman, we could put all this stuff on her, and she will find a way to carry it all. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Right. And so, like, whenever there’s a celebrity being interviewed and they talk about, you know, what they love about Black women, and the first thing they say is like, oh their strength. It’s like, come on, come on. [laughter] Like, come on, come on fam. Right. There’s one in particular I don’t want to name. I want to call them out. But. But, yeah, it always fucks with me. But so one thing that I really appreciate about A Thousand and One is how it was a love letter to a city, to a neighborhood. And in that vein, it kind of reminded me of like Spike Lee movies, Scorsese movies, you know, movies that are about a people or about a situation a dynamic, but they’re also, I don’t know, they also have this clear affinity for where they come from for the people that populate the neighborhoods, where they come from, for the language, for just all the sounds and smells that are distinct, you know, and unique to New York City. But you mentioned earlier that the city that you recognize that the city didn’t necessarily love you back. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: The way that you loved it. So how does that feel? I mean, or I guess can you walk me through that, creating this love letter to a city that maybe doesn’t have the same love for us or for you? 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah. I mean, I consider it more of like a heartbreak letter or even a breakup letter. And I think that’s what is visible the most in the way that I shape the story. But there is no heartbreak without first love, you know, and I do love New York City still. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Even though we were working through some things, you know. [laughter] It’s complicated right. But yeah, I think that it was really weird to reconcile the fact that myself and so many other natives, not only as people, but also have artists have expressed our deep affinity for the city, our deep love for it, our deep passion for it. It’s been our muse. But what I realize is that, like, this place doesn’t give a damn about us. It didn’t give a damn about us during the time that I grew up. It didn’t give a damn about us now. And it actually never did like. And I think the movie, for me, it’s been kind of, you know, like I really had to take a deep dive into what New York was in the period, but also what New York has been as a city overall. I really wanted to understand the personality of the city and the ways that it has evolved in order to better understand what this time period that the movie represents would, would would be in. And I think that what I realize is that our relationship to the city has always been about like the progress of New York City being at our expense and even within Manhattan Island. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: So New York City was a small settlement below Wall Street. Right. 

 

Damon Young: Hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: And as it pushed past that, the African-American population that was there was pushed pushed up the island as well. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: And then while we settled in Central Park, we were pushed from there and then we moved over to the West Side. We were pushed from there, all that rubble in West Side Story that you see that was a Black and brown community. So now here we are up in Harlem, which became over dense and overpopulated after so many people had to like, rejoin the community that was building up there. Now, that became our hub and that became the place where we built so much of our culture and overcame so much devastation. And so to me, gentrification was just kind of like the last straw of us having a stake—

 

A.V. Rockwell: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: —on Manhattan Island. So now it’s just kind of like, okay, now that New York has reached, it’s like Manifest Destiny. Now you don’t need us. Like, thank you for your hard work and labor, but now peace out, you know? And so I think this movie was just kind of me reconciling that and me saying, like, I’m hurt, you know, me wanted some answers. You got some explaining to do. New York City. I think I was saying all of it, but I think I just needed to confront that, that I couldn’t make another romanticized depiction of the city. 

 

Damon Young: No, no, I feel you. And so without spoiling the movie, you know too much for people who haven’t seen it. Gentrification is like this unseen terror, right, that, you know, is there, you know, lurking behind the shadows, behind the camera, behind a lens, you know, it’s there. And then as the movie progresses, it becomes more present, right? With a character that’s introduced kind of half way or I guess maybe 60% into the movie, that gets introduced. And it becomes a thing that changes the life of the people in the story of the people in the movie. And I’m curious, you know, you talked about, I guess, gentrification in a larger context with New York City, and it exists— 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: —in other cities in the country. You know, I live in Pittsburgh, born and raised, and the part of city that I’m from is currently undergoing. It’s like a motherfucking space ship landing. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Right. [laughs] And just flatten out everything that existed before. Like, if you if someone was in a coma for the last twenty years, they would think they were on another country. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: Right. It is so distinct from what was there before. And so I’m curious, like, what’s your personal relationship with gentrification, I guess, has been if you’ve ever if you ever personally been displaced, have you ever been forced to move out? What is your relationship with that? 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah, I think for me, part of what drew me to want to tell this story in terms of the personal connection was I was living in Brooklyn. And I remember just one day in particular where I felt like I was on the verge of like a panic attack because I just realized that, like, the walls were closing in, you know, on me. You know, I was that I think that’s when it clicked for me that, like, no matter where I move within Brooklyn, no matter where I move within the city, that made me feel like I could enjoy the New York that I love. And as I knew it, it was all changing. It was all being targeted. And so I remember just kind of riding around on my bike and just being like, why does my neighborhood that I’m living in? It feels dramatically more quiet, dramatically less colorful, not only in terms of personality and energy, but also the people. I’m walking into these stores and people are treating me like I’m an alien, like I don’t belong here. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: I think all of that was really, really difficult for me, and I wasn’t where I’m at now. So it was a little bit more scary for me to feel like, will I be able to afford being in the city much longer, being in the apartment that I was in at the time for much longer. And I’m fortunate that life has been on my side, the timing of life. But if I was born just a decade later and would have been entering and the new New York now, I don’t know if I would have made it through that period. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: So I think that’s what opened the doors for me in terms of my experience with it personally, in the way that I felt weird and felt like my days were numbered. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: In addition to seeing people that were experiencing it to much, much more drastic degrees and more painful, horrific degrees, seeing what they’re going through, seeing articles, talking about the ugliness of it, and then, yeah, just going around the country, seeing how it was changing, like all these neighborhoods and cities around the country are going through the same thing and becoming a lot more, you know, homogenous because of it. So I was just seeing the way that that all of the neighborhoods like Harlem, and the neighborhoods like Bed Stuy and Crown Heights and all that, all of them are being shaped in ways that just really, really had a dark implications. [laughs] You know, it’s just— 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, no, no, no I feel you. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: —So I want to speak to that. You know, I mean, I think the movie definitely touches on it. I felt like a space cadet too, just walking around downtown Brooklyn where I went to high school and just feeling like, where am I? It’s like it’s like the the dramatic transportation. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Like, I literally I’m like this corner that I walked a million times as a teenager. I have no idea where I’m at now. Like, the signs still says these cross streets that I know. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: But everything around me, I just, you know, it’s like a culture shock. It’s been difficult, but I think change is inevitable. You know, so that’s not the issue here. And New York is ever changing. It was really just the fact that these changes aren’t being designed for the community that existed there and what is the price of that, what like what happens when you push people out? What happens when we lose places like Harlem that are such a part of not only like Black identity and heritage, but American history in general?

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. And to your point about the homogeneity, I think that there’s this, like, grand misnomer about gentrification, about gentrified spaces. There’s this idea that it is characteristic-lessness. Right. But that’s not actually true. Parts of Pittsburgh, D.C., Brooklyn, Harlem, Oakland, wherever Black people were and gentrification happened, it all looks the same. Right. Like it all—

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: —is the same type of buildings, the same type of lofts with no curtains. [laughs] Where you can look right into the apartments, the same type of boutique shops, the same type of craft beer, you know, whatever the fuck. And it’s not a characteristic-lessness, it’s the character—

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: —lessness. Right where the character of the neighborhood’s been replaced, it has some of the same characteristics as a virus. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Mm. 

 

Damon Young: Where again, it looks the same regardless of where it is. It just ends up replacing what existed before. And that idea of displacement is a recurring theme in the movie because you know what happens to the people in Harlem who are displaced? And then also what happens to the people who are displaced out of foster care or age out of foster care? That’s also another recurring theme in the movie. You know, a central theme in a movie is the idea of what happens to these kids who are in this system. You know, if someone doesn’t take care of them, if someone doesn’t make it their to life duty to remove them, you know, nurture them, grow them. What happens to those kids? 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah, I mean, I think that foster care is in my story. I think like, like gentrification. I had my experiences with it. But I think the way you see displacement take shape in the movie that was based off research, seeing what other people were going through. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Or how other people were being targeted by the slumlords and so forth that went after them. And I think foster care the same thing. I had a proximity to it. And I know people and I’ve seen how it affected their lives. But I think it was great to showcase that in this movie because I think it fits so well in trying to show who are the most vulnerable people. When you think about the the antagonisms that are placed on our community throughout the film. Who is most vulnerable and who does the idea of home? Who does the the idea of stability and who does the idea of family, who does that mean the most to? And Inez and Terry, they definitely those are things that they all are desperately looking for, you know, alongside Lucky. And so I think that that was important for me, too, to address, as well as the ways that the city failed them. You know, the city prioritized a lot of a lot of changes that was supposed to be for the better of the city. But a lot of those changes were at the expense of the citizens in it. It was a lot of it was either superficial or it was commerce based, but it didn’t prioritize things that community actually needed. 

 

Damon Young: Mm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: The social services and so forth that actually would have improved these neighborhoods and these people’s lives from the ground up. You see the commentary in that and how it takes place throughout the story and how the foster care system is or isn’t, you know, being acknowledged. 

 

Damon Young: So when you were first writing this movie and fleshing out like these characters in your head and you create a character of Inez, did you have an actor in mind when you were doing that? And if so, how did her depiction of Inez match up to what you anticipated in your head when you were first fleshing out and really conceiving this character? 

 

A.V. Rockwell: I didn’t have any actress in mind. I knew that. Inez was going to be a discovery. So I think where we landed is certainly not where I expected it to be. And I was so grateful that I have partners that didn’t require me to have a star or something like that because I was like, I want somebody who has the chops, you know, somebody that can really handle a character with the level of depth that I needed for Inez, the level of craft that needed and required of an actress to take on this kind of role. But I also needed truth. I also needed to feel like she really embodied this New York City girl. She really embodied this inner city girl who grew up on the streets. And so I was like, where do I find that in Hollywood, there’s not really much of that. And as much as I admire so many of the actresses that are in the business, I feel like we don’t all have the same experience as Black women. And I didn’t want anything about Inez to come off performative. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: In all of her colors and shades as a character, but also her colors and shades as this underprivileged woman. So we looked around everywhere, and that’s how I landed on Teyana. And I think that as complex as the role was, I think that as her director, I tried to be the best support system to her, giving her the tools that we need. So a lot of the colors and shades that I talked about, it was a part of the discussions we had in the preparation process. You know, she loves to talk about the fact that there was a rainbow script that she was working off of by the time we finished the process. And with a lot of conversation, just talking about the character, talking about her backstory, talking about what she’s going through over the course of the film, but then using that guideline that we created, the way that I kind of deconstructed the character for her so that she had those points that she could tap into as she worked day to day and moment to moment on set. I think all of that was really, you know, helpful to her. And so I think if I feel surprised by anything, I think I was surprised that, you know, I didn’t see this in Teyana Taylor and so happy that she read for the role and that she committed to this journey fully. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: And I think that even though Inez is on the page in many ways, as she brought all of herself to the character and you feel the humor, you feel the vulnerability, you feel the toughness. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: You feel the love, the nurturing, you feel all of that. In Teyana’s performance. At the end of the day, I also believe that Teyana had a story to tell within herself. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: You know, and I believed, you know, I believed in what it would be if she pulled it out. So I think seeing her actually pull that from herself, I was surprised by like damn girl, like [laughter] I think in the way that she was able to interpret all of those moments—

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: —was still very beautiful to watch, you know, because it still ultimately had to come from her. So with the character there and does she give me the character? Yes. But I still think that it was surprising, and beautiful to see how she was able to interpret that and pull from herself and bring her own creativity in her interpretation of Inez. You know. 

 

Damon Young: She brought like this surreality, like this tactile authenticity. There were times when I’m watching it where it felt like I’m watching, like, I don’t know, someone put an iPhone camera in someone’s crib in Harlem and I’m not watching a movie. I’m just watching people live. I felt that everyone who was cast, particularly, you know, the principal performers, really brought that to the movie where, again, it just felt like it’s so real. And my only bone to pick and this is a really small, slight petty one is that Inez, she’s small, but she’s kind of brolic. And, you know, the character is [laughter] like you did, you could have showed her doing a push up or doing something to maintain [laughter] you know, because you had like the 16 pack [laughter] showing for the first half of the movie, it’s like, wow, she must work out or something. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: I mean, Teyana does not work out [both speaking] some people just naturally got it you know? [laughter] Oof. 

 

Damon Young: But yeah, the movie it just felt lived in, it felt like these are people that I’ve known, people that have known each other, people who are actually related to each other. That’s sort of just, I don’t know, granular sort of feeling. It’s rare to find a movie. You know, I really do appreciate just how real it felt. And also with the infusion of the music from each era digging into cuts, there was a one joint that was played that I recognized the sample from from Jadakiss, you know. [laughter] And I never heard that sample before like OG shit, are we going to get some more? Some more digging into crazed deep cuts. Another thing that I guess was recurring in the movie was colorism where Pea you know, made reference to only liking like, you know, Puerto Rican girls or light skinned girls, whatever. And the girl that he had a crush on is very brown. His homies are dissing her because she’s brown and that becomes a thing. And so can you walk me through why you chose to include that in the story as well? 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah, because I think that even though this is a movie that people can identify with many ways, you know, there’s so many things in characters and themes to hold on to and and womanhood is a part of that. But I think for a Black woman’s story specifically and what it meant to be raised in this environment, there was no way to tell Inez’s story without that being a part of it. And this is a story ultimately about—

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: —a woman who is desperate to be loved, the Black woman who is desperate to be loved and fully seen and fully embraced. And you can’t tell that story without colorism because it plays such a huge role in her life and in the ways that she’s made to feel like she is not enough? And we see that best showcased in her dynamic with Lucky. But I think for Terry, in the ways that he experiences how that shows up in their community, it also is a test for him. You know, it’s like, is the man that she’s raising, is he going to be more of the same? 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Or is he going to be the one that fully sees her, fully shows up for her in the end in the ways that she’s longing for? So I think it was it was impossible. I mean, it’s certainly personally tied to my experience in so many ways. 

 

Damon Young: Hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: And I think that I just I had to address it here. And so I’m so grateful that people are recognizing that part of the through line. 

 

Damon Young: You know, the Lucky character. Without giving away too much of the movie, I’ll say he surprised me because I think that when there’s an introduction of a man like that in this type of movie, in this type of environment, there’s almost like you anticipate like, okay, how is he going to fuck up their lives? Like, what is he going to do to ruin them? And again, this isn’t a trope that necessarily reflect reality, but it is a trope that reflects cinematic depiction of hood niggas basically you anticipate like a certain depiction. And again, without giving away too much, he had a very tender relationship. You know, he made them some mistakes and he acted like, you know [laughs] like a hood nigga at times. But he also was very tender, very sincere. And was a real mentor and a real positive force to that household. And again, this is the thing that after seeing so many of these movies, you don’t necessarily anticipate because you’re used to the other thing happening. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yeah, you know, I think it was part of the fun of creating characters like Inez and like Lucky who were talking about it gave me this space because when you meet them, these are both people with, you know, criminal backgrounds, and they needed that as a means of survival. That was what they had to lean on based off of what their upbringing would have been like coming up in Harlem when they were coming up. They were coming up in eighties Harlem, they were coming up in seventies Harlem, you know, so it was a very different landscape than what Terry’s will be growing up in Harlem. But I really think through through Lucky within this family, I was able to showcase this is what we have the space to be like when, we don’t have to fight that fight as hard—

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: —just to survive and overcome all that’s going against us. When we aren’t in survival mode when we are at trying to overcome just severe levels of devastation, you know? So I really love that taking the idea of how we’re seen as as criminals and as thugs and all of that—

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: —and being able to say, okay, but this is the real people and this is who they are when they don’t have to lean on those things, as you know, as a means to just make it in the world and survive in this world. But I also think that, Lucky is an accurate reflection of what I saw in Harlem. You know, living in Harlem—

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: —I saw so many men that carried their kids on their shoulders, holding hands, take them to the park, just being so loving. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: And I wanted to see that on screen. And I wanted to see a man that even though he’s so masculine and he’s so tough and he’s all those things, I wanted to give that type of man permission to be loving in this way to, to be loving in a way that is more vulnerable and open. It’s something that I talked about with the actors. I think. Will he he had that type of example of as a father. So it actually wasn’t that difficult for him to access this. But I did talk with the men about masculinity. What does masculinity look like to you? And of course, they gave me all the basic rules men don’t do this, men don’t do that. And I was like, ah, thank you. I love this insight, but what do you wish men did? You know? [laughter] What do you wish men were like amongst each other? And that conversation, I think, got a lot more like, you know, serious and, you know, and they they talked about that, the longing for love from a father. I think the the issue with Lucky is that even though he sees himself in Terry, he doesn’t see himself in Inez. He doesn’t see the ways that she is just like him, too, and needs that love from him, too, which over the course of the film you see them explore that if they are able to get on the same page, that he is much easier get to with Terry. 

 

Damon Young: That was, I guess, one of the more heartbreaking parts of the film where the young boy develops more of a tenderness for a man who is not there all the time instead of the woman who is literally there all the time is present all the time. And you mentioned the roles that dictate masculinity, and you know we don’t get a pamphlet [laughter] like I don’t know if you knew that, but we each get a pamphlet in the mail when we turn 21. Every Black man in America you get like it’s not it’s actually not even that thick it’s a short pamphlet. The font is kind of small and it just takes you through just all the rules that you got to follow in order to, you know, to do that. Some niggas read it, some niggas throw it in the trash. [laughter] But, you know, we all get it. Your movie has been nominated for a couple of things. Won the grand jury prize at Sundance. Right. Congratulations—

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: —on that. And so one of my least favorite questions, what I’m talking about our writing is a question from a white person about audience, because I think there’s this idea. There’s just anticipation that because I might write about race, because I might write about my experience living in a city or masculinity or whatever, that I’m trying to teach white people some sort of lesson. And so I get that question sometimes, like, okay, who who is your audience, even though they’re anticipating me answering, oh, it’s I’m trying to teach y’all niggas, and that’s not the truth. [laughter] I’m just telling the story that I want to tell. You know, when your movie gets this sort of attention, it is going to bring a certain type of audience to it, you know, a more mainstream audience. And I’m curious, like not what you want them to take away from it, but I guess what is your experience been with that? Has that been in any way disconcerting or like equilibrium shifting in a good or a bad way to know that you have this new set of eyes on your work and these new set of eyes that might not understand everything, that might just see to trauma. And that is like their only take away from it is this and not the humanity, not the role that they play, but they just see like the Black trauma. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: You know? I mean, I’m like, what has that experience been for me? I mean, I think that. In the work that I’ve done up until this point, there’s always been some balance in my audience, which I can appreciate. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: You know, I think I wrote the movie from a very specific place, and I wrote it in a way that I wanted the people who I wrote about to feel seen and feel acknowledged and to have the healing and those dynamics. But I think that to do my best job as a filmmaker, I am telling universal stories. You know, I don’t I don’t want to only service my community. I want to service humanity in general, you know? 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: And so I appreciate the ways that people can connect to the movie across backgrounds. And I hope that I hope people see themselves. But if they do see other people that may not look like them in the movie [laughter] I hope they can be better to those humans [laugh] that they are walking next to along side of the street. And they you know, I’d rather that that a movie shakes up and shatters their ignorance, so that they can see the humanity of the people next to them more than anything, if they are going to take away something that is not their experience. But I think that in the ways that the movie might have been, you know, not fully understood from people that aren’t don’t come from our experience. I think I always just had to understand that, like, some people will get it, some people won’t. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: You know, and I think even within like white audiences, some people super get it and they, you know, come to this movie with not only their full intelligence, but with their hearts. Even I’m surprised when I even get the colorism themes coming from them, you know, and that’s really beautiful. But then some people won’t. Some people will really only look—

 

Damon Young: Mm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: —at this movie on the surface level and some people will get really caught up in, you know, questions about craft and all this stuff in there. And they’re not they’re not coming to the movie with their hearts. And so sometimes their life experience, they’re just not going to understand it enough. And I think I have to let go of that, you know, just trying to think that people will all get it—

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: —based off their experiences, their walks of life, that they’ll get it within the first viewing as well. I think that, like it is a movie that you kind of have to rewatch and enjoy a few times. But I think that the cultural conversation that we’re having, especially once Black folks have been able to get their hands on tickets and go out to see it, I think all of that adds to making people that may not have processed this movie in the best way the first time, making them get on board like, oh, so this is what this movie’s about. Oh, so this is what that twist was about. Oh, this is what Inez is about. You know— 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: —like, I think people and all the layers that people have been digging into the movies, if one person didn’t get this aspect, they’re gaining it from that conversation. And I and I think that also makes me feel really gratified that the movie is an ending in a way that is conclusive. Like, oh, yeah, great, two hours. Now let me just, you know, head out like [laughter] no, I need to go sit down with somebody and have a conversation. I need to go on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok. I need to converse with people about what I just experienced. It is that sheer dialogue across genders, across socioeconomic backgrounds, and across race as we’re talking about. That I think is it’s been helpful in playing a balancing act that yeah some of the white folks that they didn’t get it [laughter] they can they can come to come to to join us now. So, you know, it just comes with the program in a way. 

 

Damon Young: A.V., thank you so much for joining us. This has been great. Thank you. And again, congratulations on your success. You know, looking forward to seeing what you create going forward, you know? So thank you. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Thank you so much, I mean, I’m such a fan of you, Black man and everything that you’re doing. So thank you so much for using your platform to to have this conversation with me and to support what I’ve done here. I really appreciate it. Thank you. 

 

Damon Young: Of course. [music plays] Up next is Damon hates, the section of the show, where I talk about shit that I hate because I hate a lot of shit. [music plays] This is a little tricky this week because it’s usually the bones that I have to pick, are usually the things I’m want to rant about are things I actually hate or things that bother me so much that I want to get on a podcast and talk about them and then hopefully shame them so that they stop happening. But this thing, I don’t necessarily hate it as much because it’s happening to me. It is my fault. It is my own hair because, okay, I’ve been growing locks for I guess the past three or four months now and I have I have a look in mind. I’m not going with the long locks like our producer Ryan Wallerson, or, you know, other people that have the beautiful long locks. I’m not going for that look. But there is a very specific look in mind, that I want. But I’m in this space now where I have like these in-between locks. Where it looks like for someone who maybe doesn’t know me, it could look like, oh, this nigga’s been trying to grow his hair for like five years. [laughs] It’s all he has. And so I have this anxiety where it is this self-consciousness about my hair for the first time in my life. I’ve never had a bad hair day before until now. Like the moisture, the humidity, motherfucker if I go to the gym and I sweat, it has an effect on my hair. It makes it shorter. It like condenses it like I. I guess what I’m saying is I just want to skip past this. You know, there’s a line in Ocean’s 13 where Willy Bank, who is Al Pacino’s character, is like, I’m paraphrasing, but he says, you’re giving me the labor pains. I just want the baby. Well, I just want the baby right now because right now I am dead in the middle of labor pains. I, these short locks ain’t doing it. I want what I want. And I’m tired of having to wait for this fucking shit to happen. [music plays] So up next we have Kola Bokinni, one of the stars of Apple TV’s original series Ted Lasso. He’s gonna come on and he’s gonna help me answer this question about etiquette and linguistics. Morgan the producer, what we got this week?

 

Morgan Moody: Dear Damon, at what age is the woman one’s father marries, considered my father’s wife and not my stepmother. 

 

Damon Young: Okay. [laughs] Kola. Thank you for coming on the show. Appreciate it, my man. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Oh, no it’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me. 

 

Damon Young: You want to take a stab at this one first? 

 

Kola Bokinni: Which age is she no longer your stepmother, but your father’s wife? 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Kola Bokinni: I mean, so there’s twos ages really. You know, well you’re American. I’m English. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Kola Bokinni: So over here, it will be 18 when you’re legally an adult. 

 

Damon Young: Okay. 

 

Kola Bokinni: And you pay taxes and you pay responsibilities. Also could be younger. You know, some people have children. Very young. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Kola Bokinni: So I think if you have kids, she ain’t your stepmom, no more, you’re somebody’s dad. You know what I’m saying? [laughter] and so I think in America might be 21. In England, 18. But then again, you guys could really get along and you could be a thing where it’s a very gray area. It depends on the relationship. 

 

Damon Young: There’s a lot of ambiguity here. [laughter] Because you’re in. You’re in like this nebulous space. And I agree, like, okay, so the age thing is the age thing, right? And so I think that you could have the one answer. You could have like the cut and dry. Choose an age 18, 21 if it’s below 18 or if it’s below 21. She is your stepmom. If it’s above that, it is your dad’s wife or your dad’s new wife. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Fine. And you call her Mrs. Johnson or Ms. [laughter] 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Farrow. Whatever you want to call her. You know what I mean? You do that. But there are a lot of extenuating circumstances and a lot of factors to consider. You know, I mean, like, for instance, let’s say you are 14 years old, 15 years old, and your dad cheated on your mom. And now the woman that your dad married was this woman, right? 

 

Kola Bokinni: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: I don’t know if I’m going to call her my stepmom. [laughs] Right?

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah, you know it is. 

 

Damon Young: Even even though I’m 15. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah, yeah, that is. Completely right. 

 

Damon Young: And even though I’m still living in the house, it’s like nah, that’s that motherfucker my dad married like that’s not, that’s not my stepmom— [laughter]

 

Kola Bokinni: You know, it really is true. It depends on the circumstances. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. To your point, too, there could be a circumstance where you are of a certain age. You are like 24 or 25 or whatever, but you have a great relationship with this person. Maybe your dad has been a widower for a long time. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: And he finally meets a woman, falls in love with her. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: She’s great with the family. She’s great with you. And you are happy to refer to her as your stepmom. 

 

Kola Bokinni: It’s true. Yeah. There is certain cases where that is the case. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Like I’m thinking of my dad. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Right now, it’s been ten years since my mom passed in 2013, and so my dad has been outside, like my dad for a little bit he was in the crib, but he has been outside, right? [laughter] Going to church, going on dates. 

 

Kola Bokinni: In these streets. Yeah, he’s in these streets.

 

Damon Young: He’s on Facebook. I mean, so if you were if you were to marry someone at his age, he’s 76, if he were to marry someone now, they wouldn’t be my stepmom. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: You know, they would be the woman that my dad married. You know what I mean? 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah, but then again, you guys could develop a relationship. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Where she is like a mother towards you, and then you could refer to her as stepmom. 

 

Damon Young: Ah.

 

Kola Bokinni: You know, it’s. It’s the relationship, it’s the circumstances, and know the parallels of the relationship between you and said person. 

 

Damon Young: I agree with the first point, right? Like, you could develop rapport with this woman, a real tender relationship and that that’s fine. And I guess maybe this is more of a linguistic, quantitative thing, but I don’t associate these distinct titles with a level of tenderness. So I don’t associate. Okay, stepmom means you have a better relationship than your dad’s wife. Right. So I could have a great relationship with this hypothetical woman who’s going to marry my 76 year old dad. [laughs] Right? But she would still be my dad’s wife. She wouldn’t be my stepmom. I might even grow to love her at some point. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Well, there is another little side to it. What about when she’s not there? Would you refer to her as your dad’s wife to your friends or your colleagues or your stepmom? 

 

Damon Young: See, that’s. That’s also tricky. 

 

Kola Bokinni: There’s another side to it. 

 

Damon Young: I’m a keep it a buck right here, since we’re all on this topic. So I’m married. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: It’ll be nine years this year. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Congratulations. 

 

Damon Young: Oh, thank you. And I still don’t know what to call my mother in law. [laughter] I don’t call her by her name. I don’t call her, like, let’s just say her her name is Martha. I don’t call her Ms. Martha. I don’t call her by her last name. Let’s say her last name is Jonathan. I’ll don’t say Mrs. Johnson, I don’t call her mom. Right. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Hmm. 

 

Damon Young: When I call her on the phone [laughs] I just be like, hey. [laughter]

 

Kola Bokinni: That’s a universal I don’t know what to call you kind of thing. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. And again, it’s just I don’t know. It’s been a circumstance where there’s nothing but I’ve landed on that just feels really comfortable. And it’s been nine years. Have you managed to circumvent, you know, that for that long?

 

Kola Bokinni: Hope she don’t read this or don’t listen to this. 

 

Damon Young: I mean, I think she knows. [laughter] I think she knows right. I think she recognizes that Damon— 

 

Kola Bokinni: I mean yeah, yeah, yeah. 

 

Damon Young: —hasn’t figured out what to call me yet but I guess she appreciates other parts of me so she let’s that go but but yeah that’s it’s such a tricky thing when you’re thinking about like what to refer to someone as and. You know, to your point, in a circumstance like this, you bring up the scenario of okay, how would you refer to this person, to your friends? 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Because my dad’s wife sounds complex, it sounds too wordy when stepmom just it’s nice and clean and dry quick—

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: —and you’re done with it. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. If you disliked said person, my dad’s wife, you would make that time to [laughter] call that person. You know, this is not my mother. This is nowhere near a mother. This is my dad’s wife, there is a person in between us. You know?

 

Damon Young: It could even be like the woman my dad married. 

 

Kola Bokinni: The woman [laughs] that is the worst, that’s the one, that’s like [laughter] you really don’t get along. You know? The person my dad married, you know. 

 

Damon Young: Just speaking of labels. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Things of that nature, you know, I can’t help but think of this conversation like a relationship context in a dating context. And like, when you’re dating someone new. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Like what is the point when they officially become like, boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever label that you want to put on it? Like, is there like a plateau? Was there a point that is reached? 

 

Kola Bokinni: I was literally thinking about this the other day, like, when do you turn around and you’re like, well, boyfriend and girlfriend now? It’s not like you’re in like, you know, school where, you know, you guys are like, this is my girlfriend. You guys start skipping around, holding hands. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Kola Bokinni: You know, when you’re a grown up, you develop cringe. There’s a cringe factor to it. I get cringed out a lot. I mean, like, will you be my ugh. And I’m just like, ugh. But like, you know at my big age [laughter] I shouldn’t. But well I believe where it’s been a time where everybody is like what are you guys, because you guys, you know, she’s been around quite a lot or he’s been around quite a lot, you know, whereas like, you got to have the talk where you’re like, what are we? And then you can just be like, we are together. [laughter] And from then when you say we are together—

 

Damon Young: We are together—

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: —that’s what we are, together. [laughter]

 

Kola Bokinni: We are a unit. We, the two become one like Spice Girls. Some people be, you know, seeing people for two, three years. And I’m like, damn, that’s a lot of time, man. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Kola Bokinni: That’s a lot of time. But then there’s a lot of layers to it. Very complicated. 

 

Damon Young: I feel like almost the best way, or at least an effective way of having this conversation without having this conversation is to kind of get forced into it. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: For instance, you’re seeing somebody you’ve been seeing for a few months. Things are going well. Your friends, they’re going well enough that they know your people, some of your friends, they know some family, whatever. And so let’s say one of your boys invites you to like a thing. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: And then they ask, hey, is your girlfriend coming? 

 

Kola Bokinni: Oh. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: And what do you say? Do you correct them and say, you know what, Martha? I don’t know why I’m still using Martha. [laughter] But Martha’s just the name of somebody. Martha, Martha’s not my girlfriend yet. 

 

Kola Bokinni: And then they’ll be like, why? And then it goes back to. Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: To your point, I feel like you should probably have that conversation. You should probably establish that because you could also have the cringeworthy situation where this happens in person. 

 

Kola Bokinni: No, that’s if you put it off, you keep putting it off the cringe factor goes higher and higher and higher and higher and higher. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Kola Bokinni: But to be honest, at this age, you know, if you ain’t have in the conversation at the beginning of what you guys want from situation and it’s never really going to be that serious. You know. 

 

Damon Young: You also have to should probably establish like, what does it mean? Like, what does it mean to put a label on a thing? Does that mean that you’re exclusive? Is that the actual, like exclusivity? You know, token? Is that label. 

 

Kola Bokinni: That’s the whole thing, though, isn’t it? Monogamy. It’s is basically like that’s the reason why people like are like, okay, we are together now. It’s only us, you know? There’s no dating outside. And when you’re dating, you can date multiple people. Multiple people. And when you got a girlfriend, you really shouldn’t. [laughter] You probably shouldn’t, you know? 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. [laughter] Well, well. And then it gets tricky because is the presumption of exclusivity, does that happen before the label or does the label make it like a thing? That’s okay. I did it. Whatever. But we have a label now and we’re going forward. 

 

Kola Bokinni: I believe that the exclusivity comes first. 

 

Damon Young: Okay. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. I mean, you’re not going to like, go from just dating multiple people to being like, and now this is my girlfriend and then all your friends and everyone’s going to be like, huh? I saw you yesterday with Shanice. [laughter] You know, I’m saying, are you confused? Bro, you’re a mess. But basically, like I believe you seeing a girl or a guy, and then after a while you have the talk and be like, oh, we only seeing each other this is exclusive? Yes. You know, a month down the line from that it kind of naturally clicks, you know, like one day, like. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: You know, they will be in the room and then or like you will arrive or they’ll arrive into a party or a barbecue and they’ll be like, oh, this is my girlfriend. That’s how it usually happens. 

 

Damon Young: So essentially you’re saying that there is like this gray zone, though. So. Okay, so you, you meet someone you like them, you date. All right, whatever. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: There’s no presumption of exclusivity at that point. You know you’re just in a dating talking phase. 

 

A.V. Rockwell: Probably not. Probably not. 

 

Damon Young: And then there’s this gray space that’s in between just talking and boyfriend girlfriend, where you actually start to, you know, maybe delete some numbers, maybe you stop responding to some texts. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Some people live there. Damon. Some people live there for years, for years there there in that gray area in limbo, just being like, yeah, this is no. [laughter] But, it ain’t that, and you’re just like you’re in denial. [laughter] You know? 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Because it’s like, you know, would you feel bad if you cheated? 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Kola Bokinni: You would probably is you know, what I’m saying you just you haven’t matured enough to say the words or to like take the final step. You know, some people have deep, deep conceited trust issues, you know, with whatever happened in their past. And they bring that extra baggage onto the next person, which isn’t great. That’s reason why, like as a society, you know, when it comes to dating it’s so complicated because everybody’s got so much like twisted up wires from the last, you know, turmoil of a relationship or—

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Kola Bokinni: —you know, or the last hang up or they’re just they’re not over this person or they’re, someone back when you know did something to them so that they fill— 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Kola Bokinni: —this whole brick wall that is pretty much why everything is so complicated. Experiences make it so. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, we all come with that baggage and we all come with—

 

Kola Bokinni: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: —you know, our flaws and our hang ups and our anxieties, neuroses, and just trying to figure out a way for it to fit, you know, try to find someone who doesn’t hate our anxieties enough. Right? [laughter]

 

Kola Bokinni: You know more than me, man. You’re married for nine years. You know, way more than me, man. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: No, do not assume anything because of longevity don’t. That. That’s, that’s the first rule. [laughter] Don’t make any judgments—

 

Kola Bokinni: Okay, okay, okay. 

 

Damon Young: —don’t make any assumptions, presumptions, whatever. So getting back to the question, you know, the label matters. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: You know, I think that yeah, I mean, it’s a simple answer. I think there is an age component. You know, I do feel like if you’re still living in the house—

 

Kola Bokinni: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: Then you should probably call your dad’s new wife, refer to her as your stepmom if you’re still living in the house. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Because legally. Legally, she is. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Kola Bokinni: And, you know, if you under your, you know, your dad’s roof or your mom’s roof, you know. You know, you have to abide by their rules and, you know, respect their, you know, choices and their partners and, you know, you know, lives, life. It’s respect their life, you know? 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Kola Bokinni: If you’re referring to them as the person that is married to my dad or mum, then that is just, you know, that’s just being rude. That’s just being rude. Either way you could just say, stepmom and swallow your pride, you know? [laughter]

 

Damon Young: Yeah. And if, and again, if that is too, too steep up a hill to climb for you, you know, get, get it, Get off your ass. Go get a job, get your own place. [laughter] Right. And then. And then you go call her. [laughter] 

 

Kola Bokinni: If that is a steep hill for you, I want your problems. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: All right, Kola, thank you. Thank you so much for joining us. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Oh, it’s been a pleasure. 

 

Damon Young: It’s been a lot of fun, what you working on now?

 

Kola Bokinni: Oh, right now. Just like. Just little little, little couple little jobs, you know, here and there. Like the show Ted Lasso is out right now. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Kola Bokinni: I’m actually just getting back into it. You know, it’s just starting to warm up again, so I’m really excited about that. You know, a couple exciting things in the pipeline. Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: All right man. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Wicked. 

 

Damon Young: All right. Appreciate you. 

 

Kola Bokinni: Peace. [music plays]

 

Damon Young: I just want to give a special thanks to A.V. Rockwell, Kola Bokinni, for coming through. Great guests, great conversation. Thank you all again for coming through. Another week of Stuck with Damon Young. Remember, listen, subscribe for free on Spotify. Also, if you have any questions about anything, I don’t have to go through the list. You should know by now. Any questions? Hit me up at deardamon@crooked.com. All right y’all. [music plays] Stuck with Damon Young is hosted by me, Damon Young. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Kendra James and Meredith Heringer. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Morgan Moody. Mixing sound and mastering by Sara Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four. Theme music and score by Taka Yasuzawa. And special thanks to Charlotte Landes. And from Gimlet and Spotify our executive producers are Krystal Hawes-Dressler, Lauren Silverman, Nicole Beemsterboer, Neil Drumming and Matt Shilts. Special thanks to Lesley Gwam. Follow and subscribe to Stuck on Spotify. Tap the follow button and hit the bell icon to be notified when a new episode drops.