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Chyna Robinson: “Your journey is yours”

I wish someone told me that good work doesn’t always equate to good money. After I’d earned almost 20 awards on my first short film, I was confident that offers to fully fund my next projects would come. Independent filmmaking is hard work with little pay. You have to work as hard on your third […]

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I wish someone told me that good work doesn’t always equate to good money. After I’d earned almost 20 awards on my first short film, I was confident that offers to fully fund my next projects would come. Independent filmmaking is hard work with little pay. You have to work as hard on your third project, or sixth project, as you did on your first. It’s a career that you have to love…and I do.


As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Chyna Robinson.

Chyna Robinson is an independent filmmaker and director based in Fort Worth, Texas. Honored at SXSW as a “Female Filmmaker to Watch” by Film Fort Worth, Chyna uses her art to tell challenging, underrepresented stories, with her first short film tackling the Tulsa Race Massacre and her latest debut feature-length film “No Ordinary Love” dissecting abusive relationships.


Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

My dad used to tell us stories, old folktales, before bed. He’d climb into the bed with us and prop himself up on his elbow. He had our full attention. We’d laugh and laugh at the voices he created for the characters. His storytelling brought me so much joy. I knew I wanted to give to others what he’d given me. I began writing and creating these worlds and characters, and I never stopped. When I began my professional writing, it was for stage. I knew, though, that I would make my way to film.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

There are always funny moments on set, but the most recent happened just the last time I was on set. We were filming my short thriller, LolaLisa. We are shooting this dark, intense scene and we start to hear a noise in the room. We all stopped and looked around, as we were all trying to figure out what the sound was and where it came from. The sound stopped so we started rolling again. From under the bed, the homeowner’s cat, which was supposed to be locked in the bathroom, darted from underneath the bed. We all screamed. The funniest part is that I am terrified of cats, so we all got an extra laugh at that.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I think one of the most interesting people I’ve met was Shonda Rhimes. We were at a dinner party last year (2019), and I spoke to her about making films and creating television shows and she offered some really inspiring words of advice. I think that was one of the most impactful interactions I’ve had. I’ve also met some amazing filmmakers on the festival circuit: Natalie Cook (who is like my little sister now), Claire McClanahan, and Hisonni Johnson. Sometimes, when you meet people, you just know. They’re all doing great things and they’re good people, and I look forward to seeing where their paths lead.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am extremely excited about a science fiction fantasy that I am working on. This film is for families, which is something I haven’t done a lot of since I wrote for stage. I’m in love with the characters that I am creating, and I truly hope that it will be one of those movies that sticks with viewers for years after they watch.

Being in quarantine has forced me to sit still. From that, I’ve penned a pilot for a sitcom, plus a faith-based feature film and another short film. They are all different, and I am excited about all of them.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

It would be impossible to name just one. I admire and am inspired by those who fought to make a place for themselves, and then opened the door for others. As a Black female filmmaker, I am standing on a lot of shoulders.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

I think film encourages empathy, and empathy goes a long way. We have been extremely fortunate to be able to share my last film, “No Ordinary Love”, with people across the country and internationally as well. With this film, we have opened a new dialogue on what domestic violence really looks like, to some who have never understood it. Bringing awareness to such a topic can save lives. The more people talk about it, the less it becomes so taboo.

As a result of the films we’ve put out, we have been able to build relationships with domestic violence agencies, large corporations, schools and universities, and even churches. Art has the power to bring people together under a common cause, whether racial injustice, domestic violence awareness, gender disparity, mental illness, or so many more worthy issues. With every opportunity I get, my goal is to keep creating content that inspires people, and that elicits change where change is needed.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

I’ve had several “Aha Moments.” One of the firsts was when I learned about Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. I’d never learned about it before that It wasn’t taught in school and I could not find one movie about it, aside from documentaries on the History Channel. I realized that I could spread awareness about this event in history by making a film about it, which would become my first film. From there, I knew I wanted to create content that would not only entertain but inspire people and spread awareness. A year later, “No Ordinary Love,” a romantic thriller on the complexities of intimate partner violence, was born. I spoke with over 20 courageous survivors of intimate partner violence as a part of my research and after that, my desire to take action for this cause immensely increased. If there was something to keep my fire lit, sitting with these women was definitely it.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We hosted a private screening for the cast and crew before premiering in festivals. Afterward, a friend of one of our actors approached me in tears. She confided in me that she’d recently left her abusive marriage. It had gotten hard, financially, for her to take care of herself, and she was considering going back to her husband. After watching “No Ordinary Love,” she made the decision to speak to someone at one of the local agencies and get help. She wasn’t going back. This is why we made this movie. Another woman messaged me after seeing the movie. She told me that her husband had been abusing her for years, but she never considered it abuse because she fought back, and she wasn’t weak. After seeing the movie, she understood that victims of abuse aren’t weak, and if her husband was hitting her, it was abuse. She has been separated from him for over a year. Too many don’t realize how dangerous their situation is. We want this movie to change the narrative.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Yes! Support the arts! We create because we love it, and we want to share our stories, and because we know how powerful art is. It can take you to a place you’ve never been; it can make you laugh on a bad day; it can teach your children that there are positive ways to cope. Governments should also support independent filmmaking. There should be more grants available.

As I learned in the research for my last feature, one in three women will experience abuse from an intimate partner in her lifetime. One in three! This is a global pandemic. Abuse doesn’t care who you are, what you look like, or what neighborhood you live in. Spreading awareness is huge in saving lives. No one wants to air their “dirty laundry,” but it is so vital that we talk about it. Just talking could save a life. Believe survivors of abuse. Sometimes if just one person simply believes, that can be all a survivor needs to keep going. Please donate to local shelters and domestic violence agencies. They are underfunded. When shelters don’t have space, and don’t have the necessities needed to help survivors, that is a problem. The government should provide funding for these services. Each county should have a budget line for domestic violence services, and most don’t. That has to change.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone told me that good work doesn’t always equate to good money. After I’d earned almost 20 awards on my first short film, I was confident that offers to fully fund my next projects would come. Independent filmmaking is hard work with little pay. You have to work as hard on your third project, or sixth project, as you did on your first. It’s a career that you have to love…and I do.

Never forget your ‘why.’ Your journey is yours. It is so easy to get caught up in what other people are doing, or where they are in their career. Every person you see has a story, and they’ve had their struggles. Even if they’ve never struggled, it’s okay. Keep your focus and do what it is you set out to do. It’ll get hard, but those are the times you go back to your ‘why.’

I wish someone told me that it is okay to get told ‘no.’ Rejections are a part of filmmaking. I thought that if I made something really good, doors would open. Then I got my first rejection. It was terrible. For a year, I would get anxious opening emails because I knew there could be a ‘no’ looming in the text. After several yes’s and way more no’s, I realized that it was okay. I would continue to press forward, and now the no’s don’t phase me.

I wish someone had told me that it is okay to make a mistake, and it’s okay to not know the answer. There is so much pressure put on you when you’re at the head of a team, and it can be intimidating and overwhelming. Do what you think is best. It’s okay if it isn’t the best idea. Learn from it. Grow. I have probably learned more from my mistakes than any masterclass I’ve taken. The truth is, you’re not the only one making mistakes, and you’re not the only one who doesn’t have all the answers.

Smell the roses! This was a big lesson for me. There is such pressure in time. I used to feel like I had to constantly put out content or people would forget me. “Out of sight, out of mind,” right? I couldn’t celebrate myself or the work that I’d done because I had to hurry along to the next thing. That has recently changed for me. I’m taking the time to take care of myself…and to smell the roses!

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I think it’s our responsibility. There is a quote by Robert Baden-Powell that says, “Leave it better than you found it.” We all have the responsibility to try to make a positive change, to make this place better than we found it for the next generation of young people, and those after them. It doesn’t matter if you make a ripple or a splash. Embrace whatever your strength is and just do something. We’re counting on you.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Oh my goodness. There are so many. I would love to collaborate with Meryl Streep. Not only is she talented, but she continues to use her voice to speak out about a plethora of social issues, including racial and gender inequality.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote rotates as I find them. My favorite right now is by Viola Davis. “I believe that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, truly being who you are.”

I love who I am. I’m not perfect. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I am loving this crazy journey I’m on and I love who I am.

How can our readers follow you online?

My website is www.ChynaRobinson.com

I’m also on Facebook: Chyna Butler Robinson

Twitter/IG: @ChynaWrites

My latest film: www.NoOrdinaryLoveMovie.com

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

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