Comedian and director W. Kamau Bell has been a fan of documentaries as much as a fan of comedy. As a kid, he would sit down with his mom and watch documentaries on PBS, since there were only a few broadcast TV channels when he was growing up. He came of age at a time when lots of documentary filmmakers were putting themselves on screen and telling personal stories. For Kamau, it’s always about looking at the material and the story you want to tell. As a comedian, he’s skilled at bringing humor into more serious subjects. But there is a clear difference between something personal that happened to him that he can joke about in his standup act vs. something with more nuance and depth that can be explored as a longer-form project.
1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed is very personal to Kamau, since his children are mixed race. He wanted to talk to his three daughters about their identity and experiences, something they discussed often in their household. He also included interviews with his wife, mother and mother in law. The production team cast several other kids in the San Francisco Bay Area, including friends of his daughters, to expand the focus of the documentary further. The intention was to keep it lyrical and light, and temper any intense or heavy topics with humor when possible. On set, Kamau made sure the kids were as comfortable as possible and that the cameras were always framed at their level so they could look him straight in the eye. The set was a rented house that they intentionally decorated to feel homey and welcoming, and Kamau made the children feel at ease by showing them the cameras and equipment first. The parents interviewed in the documentary found that the project led to them having deeper conversations about their racial identities with other family members. HBO and the producers decided to keep the edited time of 1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed down to just one hour, so that families could sit and watch it together.
Kamau thinks 1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed is just the beginning of what could become a bigger project. He would love other directors to talk to kids in different parts of the country, because there’s lots of kids out there with different experiences than those in the very liberal and diverse Bay Area.
1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed is currently available on HBOMax.
Find W. Kamau Bell: http://www.wkamaubell.com/
Instagram & Twitter: @wkamaubell
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