A rising tide lifts all boats... and Adenike Thomas (AT) is the wave of change we need right now.
As a prolific producer, actor, writer, director, and overall multi-hyphenate, Adenike cares deeply about her community and bolstering her fellow Black women in film. With her new project The Red Line: An Anthology series, Adenike seeks to access local talent, support small businesses, and highlight each Chicago neighborhoods’ distinct personalities while incorporating UX Design and an anthology structure into the series.
While this may seem like a tall order for some, Adenike Thomas is more than ready. Read on to learn more about this incredible project [sponsored in part by Camera Ambassador's Mission-Based Sponsorships]!
(This interview was edited and condensed for clarity)
Adenike Thomas | Adenike Thomas
CA: Would you mind briefly introducing yourself as well as your affiliation with The Red Line: An Anthology series?
AT: Sure. My name is Adenike Thomas and I am the writer, creator, and co-producer of The Red Line.
CA: Thank you. So, when you graduated from Tisch, you started acting in award-winning independent films The Morning After and Me Time, before writing, directing, producing a web series called Addie & Addy. What sparked your interest in creating as well as acting?
AT: When I was at NYU, I got a chance to take a couple of writing classes and directing classes. I think that sort of sparked something in me. As an actor, there was a certain level of agency that I feel like I didn’t have in terms of creating stories. When I was coming of age, I didn't really see a lot of stories with characters that look like me and had similar experiences. So, I think the initial spark was just wanting to see more of myself and the people and the women that I knew on TV.
CA: You were creating the roles that you wanted to play. That’s amazing. Shifting gears, you recently made the jump from New York to Chicago. What's that been like?
AT: It's been great. I’ve always loved Chicago - even when I was in New York. I visited here quite a bit cause one of my good friends lives out here and I always found it very charming. When the pandemic happened, I figured: well, why not?
CA: During the pandemic? Wow.
AT: I'm lucky in the sense that I didn’t have too many responsibilities and I'm a bit of a traveler. It's always exciting for me to come to new places. I found that the filmmaking community here has been really great. From working with Creative Cypher and Mezcla Media Collective, the film scene here feels very community-oriented, which I really, really appreciate since I didn't go to a traditional film school. So, it's been really nice to be able to come here and feel so accepted right off the bat.
Adenike Thomas directing on set of The Red Line | Adenike Thomas
CA: What is The Red Line about and what stage of the project are you currently in?
AT: The Red Line is a six-episode anthology series exploring slice-of-life stories among Black women that happen to live in various neighborhoods off of the Red Line. Stop by stop, each 10-minute episode centers on a singular black woman's experience and explores the complexities of Blackness, friendships, and culture. Simultaneously, while we're in these different neighborhoods, we actually learn a little bit about the history and the local establishments. We've had a very small private screening of the first episode “Edgewater”, which is the neighborhood I live in off of the Granville stop. The theme of that episode was whether or not a friend could break your heart. I chose that episode specifically for the flagship episode because I feel like we don't see enough about female friendships - how important and strong they are and, at least in my own experience, how devastating they can be. So, we shot that episode and we're currently now trying to shoot our second episode, which we’re fundraising for.
CA: Totally. Walk me through the process of how you conceived the series and how that narrative has been shaped and changed throughout the production process.
AT: People were graduating from college into a pandemic and I just thought: “these poor kids. What are they going to do?” I felt for them. So, I had this idea to make a series that specifically could access local acting talent so that these recent graduates would have something to work on. I also always found it fascinating how even neighborhoods right next to each other are like different worlds. I thought it’d be an interesting concept to use the Red Line specifically as a literal through-line. Lastly, we were in a pandemic. So, I'm thinking about the local businesses that are still feeling the repercussions of the recession. I was thinking about how can we highlight them and get people to just learn more about them. As a result, we decided to incorporate a bit of UX design into the series, sort of like how Amazon has their X-Ray feature, where you just hover your mouse over the screen and you can find out information about what you're looking at. For example, I'm looking at this artwork right here and maybe a little blurb comes out, like: “did you know that this was like a local artisan and their website?” So, I don't even know how, but the idea camee from three very separate lines of thought.
Adenike Thomas acting in The Red Line | Adenike Thomas
CA: It's really amazing how three totally different tracks of thought - pun intended, I guess... sorry, that was bad.
AT: No, I love it.
CA: Thanks. But, yeah, they all kind of merged so cleanly into this one idea, which is rare and beautiful to see. I noticed that also you're speaking a lot about community and that's something that you seem to care deeply about. What other ways are you hoping to uplift communities through the work?
AT: Well, one thing that I am really excited about is I think that the series is very scalable. So right now, it's the Red Line, right? But there’s also the Blue Line and Brown Line. There's a wealth of women-of-color artists that also have their own stories to tell. So, I would love to create a collective where we can get together, as a weekly / monthly practice, and we talk about the kinds of issues that we're seeing in our communities - that we want to talk about. It’d sort of be like a writer's room where we can curate different episodes according to the line. Maybe someone else is taking the lead in writing or directing that particular episode. I think that's the beautiful thing about anthology series - you can have a tapestry of different thumbprints, where everyone collectively gets to speak into the larger vision of what it is we're trying to do - to highlight not only Black women and their stories, but also their communities. So, what better way to do that than to bring the community in, let everyone have a seat at the table, and give voice to what they want to see.
CA: I'm stoked to see what those collaborations look like. So, you wrote this line in the Indiegogo campaign: “The Red Line aims to put black women's thoughts and opinions at the center of the conversation. My hope is to confront the status quo by normalizing our bodies occupying space. This is a revolutionary act in and of itself.” If you're comfortable, would you mind sharing more on what occupying space on the CTA means to you?
AT: Sure. It's not even just about the CTA - it’s about occupying space in general. Especially with the history of this country, occupying space is a powerful way of declaring your agency. That's why it's important that we are not only here physically - that you can see us - but also that we’re behind the scenes, where you can also see us and hear us and it's our vision. You could also have a Black body occupying space and that doesn't necessarily mean that behind it, there's a Black voice or a Black vision. It's just really wanting to be unapologetic about claiming space. We can just be here and that in itself is powerful.
CA: That totally makes sense. I especially resonated with what you were saying about representation behind the lenses too. I am so excited about your project and vision. Is there anything else you wanted to plug?
AT: While our Indiegogo Campaign is over, we're still fundraising - if you're interested, feel free to reach out. Also, if anyone is interested in collaborating, whether it's writing, directing, or costumes... on my first episode, I wore a lot of hats, and this time around, I would not like to have to do that. So, if The Red Line resonates with you, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to meet more people who are interested in telling the kinds of stories I want to tell.
CA: Rad. Thank you so much for your time.
AT: Thank you for having me.
Adenike is an actor-filmmaker hailing from Queens, NY, and a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She’s currently recurring on Season 8 of Chicago PD (NBC) as DCFS worker, Alanah Mercer. Her acting credits also include the award-winning independent films The Morning After and Me Time. Her role in Me Time has garnered her 3 awards & was an official selection for 25 film festivals including Nitehawk Film Fest, Rooftop Films Summer Series & BLACKSTAR Film Festival. Her theater credits include Lincoln Center’s The Rolling Stone, Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Wondrous Strange & The Movement Theatre Company’s Bintou.
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