A huge thank you to all who were able to join us for the short film premiere of Her Royal Science (2022) last week! I was touched by all the lovely feedback we received in the last few days, and was beyond honored to share the virtual stage with Sade Abiodun for our screening (if you haven’t yet seen her stunning film Godspeed, watch it here). In addition to screening our films on the 2nd, Sade, Her Royal Science director Mateen Manek, and I met for a roundtable discussion moderated by Qatar-based art curator Dhoha Abdelsattar to chat about our films. You can listen to our discussion here, on The Curious Society’s YouTube page.
After we stopped recording our formal discussion, the four of us stuck around for a few moments to debrief and touch base, lamenting about ill-timed noises in the background as we dug through the crevices of our minds to remember random Disney facts. When we recorded this post-roundtable conversation, we weren’t entirely sure we would release it, but hearing it back brought smiles to our faces, and we decided to share it with you, just in case it has the same effect.
The transcript of our conversation has been prepared for accessibility purposes, with minor edits for clarity and brevity.
Her Royal Science jingle
Asma Bashir: Hello world and welcome to Her Royal Science... wait a minute, this isn’t actually a Her Royal Science episode!
I was recently a part of a spectacular roundtable discussion with neuroscientist and filmmaker Sade Abiodun, and writer and filmmaker Mateen Manek, where we chatted about the makings of our films, Godspeed, directed by Sade, and Her Royal Science, directed by Mateen and starring yours truly. Art curator and filmmaker Dhoha Abdelsattar moderated the conversation, which covered topics including the intersections of neuroscience and film, the importance of representation through media, the threads of identity and personhood in our projects, and how we all create community. The conversation I’m going to share with you today covers absolutely none of that. Mateen, Sade, Dhoha, and I decided to share the conversation we had after the roundtable was over, the afterparty, post-script, if you will. We hope you enjoy listening to our post-discussion thoughts, and our musings about Disney songs and Frank Ocean.
AB: So, how was that for everyone? How did everybody feel? Was it nerve wracking? I think the first, maybe, two minutes I was sweating, but after that I calmed down! <laugh>
Dhoha Abdelsattar: Mateen seemed extremely calm.
Sade Abiodun: Yeah, Mateen, you were doing great the whole time.
Mateen Manek: Me? I was freaking out the entire time, so I don't know! <laugh>
SA: Like, you have the microphone in the corner. I'm like, 'Oh, this is a practiced, well-oiled machine. This is not his first rodeo. Not at all!'
SA: Not even the third. This might be your fourth.
MM: I'm glad I played it off well! Every time Dhoha was about to ask me a question, I'm like, 'Oh no. Oh no. Oh no!
AB: <Laugh> We couldn't tell! Honestly, no, the calmness was on another [level]. Everybody did a spectacular job. Honestly.
AB: This was such a joy. I looked at the time and didn't realize that it had been close to an hour that we’d just been talking, so that was nice. Dhoha, how was it for you?
DA: I was torn between, do I keep the conversation going or should we go really deep?
AB: Oh, and what did you decide? 'Cause I couldn't actually tell what you did. You kind of did both! You did go deep, but we still kind of kept things going.
DA: I don't know. I figured that 'cause you had said 45 minutes, so I was like, 'Okay, we're probably going for a let's cover a little bit of each topic and maybe just a couple where we ask some follow up questions.’
AB: True. Yeah, I don't know if we ended up asking as many questions as we planned, but the conversation was so lovely anyway that...
DA: And my cat did not destroy the recording.
AB: Good job, cat!
DA: Because there were a few times where I looked to the side, 'cause I was like, 'Ooh, I feel like any minute, she's just gonna jump up.' But no, she stayed. She stayed tame. Although there was a weird thing with Sade's cat! Did you see that there was a second where her head was blurred, but her body was in focus?
AB: Yes! And then her tail just showed up.
SA: Her tail showed up, and I was like, 'Oh goodness gracious.' She was also off to the side of my little blurred Zoom background... Oh, looks like I'm doing magic here... But she was right here and it just looked like half of the Batman silhouette, she's like, 'Oh, I'm gonna save Gotham!'.
SA: I was like, ‘I need to get a virtual background or decorate my wall.’ But it was entertaining.
AB: It was perfect.
SA: But there was a moment too, I think my roommate upstairs was vacuuming. I don't know if y'all heard that when I was answering a question.
AB: I thought it was a car driving by, so it wasn't that big a deal and it was short lived, so I don't think it was bad.
SA: Okay. Good, good, good.
AB: Were there noises on my end as well? 'Cause at one point, an ambulance did go by and I was like, 'Really?' <Laugh>
SA: imitates an ambulance siren
AB: <Laugh> By the way, because of you, every time I see the title Godspeed, I'm humming Frank Ocean, so thank you! <laugh>
SA: Imagine living that life for the last three years essentially <laugh>, 'cause people say 'Godspeed,' for ‘good luck’ and things like that, and I hear it, I'm like, 'oh!'
MM: It's crazy 'cause I just discovered Frank Ocean last week, then I remember stumbling on the song Godspeed the other day and I'm like, 'Interesting. They're both kind of titled the same. I wonder if that's a coincidence,' but now it makes sense! <Laugh>
SA: I'm really glad that I got to be tied to your first experience with Frank Ocean. That's a huge honor.
MM: I'm gonna have to listen to the song, so I'm gonna be thinking about your film while I listen to that song again.
SA: Honored. It really is. I mean...
AB: Get a tissue box though.
SA: Mm, yes. I don't say it a lot in interviews, but in a lot of ways Godspeed was a sort of direct response to Godspeed the song. It was very much he's talking about this sort of navigating between past selves and current self, and I'm like, 'I would love to see this envisioned visually, but in the eyes of a Black woman, and Black womanhood.' And a friend of mine actually pointed it out too, when we were working on the edit, he's like, 'This is really a direct reply to that, a kind of direct imagining.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, in a lot of ways.' I think a lot of my art is, like you said, Mateen, it's conversational, so I reply to things. I initiate conversations. There's definitely a tie there; I don't emphasize it as much anymore, 'cause Frank Ocean has still not seen the film as far as I know. But it's there.
AB: We can change that.
MM: Yeah, we can change that.
AB: Let's start tagging him.
SA: I've been trying to get his attention for years, years! He's ignoring my DMs, still.
AB: That needs to change; tomorrow's a new day.
SA: That's true. That's true.
AB: That's gotta be the goal.
SA: I like it.
MM: I gotta tweet at Frank Ocean and be like, 'Hey, you should watch this film. It premieres tomorrow.'
DA: If enough people tweet him, we can make it happen.
SA: A dream is a wish your heart makes. I do believe very fundamentally in that. I just came up with that too.
SA: No one's ever said that before.
MM: Oh man. I was like, 'Have I heard that before? That's a really good quote.’
AB: Yeah, it's a great quote <sarcastically>. I'm gonna write that down! Imitates writing Sade…
SA: No, no! It's actually--it's Disney! It's like a...
AB: No, I know that!
MM: Oh man, I did not know that.
SA: I was like, ‘Oh, no, I've deceived! <Laugh>
AB: <Laugh> No! It's from Cinderella, I think.
SA: Or is it Jiminy Cricket? sings first line of A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes
DA: It's from Pinocchio.
AB: Okay, I have no idea, because I've never watched Pinocchio, or Cinderella...
DA: No, Cinderella is probably right.
AB: Isn't it? 'Cause I thought...
DA: Yeah, I think you're right. Go on.
AB: With the wand or something, no?
SA: Yes, yes. You're onto something here.
DA: I'm gonna Google it.
AB: Or is that 'When You Wish Upon a Star'? Quietly sings first line of When You Wish Upon a Star… Where is that from? I know that's the intro, the Walt Disney intro.
DA: That's from Pinocchio.
MM: I thought that was from Cinderella... No, I dunno. Don't ask me, never mind.
SA: Are Pinocchio and Cinderella within the same cinematic universe? I think this is the question that we're asking.
AB: They should be. I would hope so.
DA: Okay, ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’…
DA: computer click There you go: Cinderella is ‘A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes’, Pinocchio is ‘When You Wish Upon A Star.’
AB: There you go-- Disney knowledge.
SA: Problem solved. Of course, this isn't gonna get included in the recording 'cause Disney's not sponsoring this, but we hacked their secrets, you know?
AB: We can make it happen.
SA: Because as we said, a dream is a wish your heart makes! <laugh>
AB: Facts! <laugh>
SA: <Laugh> I like this, I like this. I like the way our brains work.
DA: And if enough of us tweet Disney, we can make it happen!
SA: So, Disney and Frank Ocean. Those are our two targets right now?
AB: Yeah, that should be easy. What, like, six hours, right? We could turn this around pretty quickly.
SA: Totally! Totes mcgotes.
DA: All four of our tweets can change the face of your sponsorships and your short film.
AB: There we go.
DA: to Sade Are you sponsored by anyone?
SA: No, actually, I funded this. It's interesting-- I got crowdfunding for the festival run, so when I was trying to submit festivals, 'cause no one really tells you that film festivals cost a lot of money to submit to, and I was submitting to film festivals and grad school applications at the same time, so my bank account was not happy with me. But the actual film itself and all those production costs were either out of pocket for me, or through any resources that the student film organization at Duke, where I was at the time, had. So, that was... 10 for 10 recommend getting money before going on big ventures, 'cause being both director and producer is not...it's not fun.
AB: Oh, I can imagine. How about for you, Mateen, how did you kind of get started? Did you put a lot of your own money? Do you inject your own capital into your business? Or... How does that work on your front?
MM: Yeah, I mean, luckily I had a lot of equipment to start with, but I did spend a lot of money, which my partner hates and continues to hate to this day, 'cause she's like, 'You don't need this though,’ but yeah, a lot of it is my own money.
DA: Good for you, man.
AB: Yeah, pursuing your dream is... it's the dream.
MM: And a dream is what you... I don't know the quote anymore.
SA: I saw where you were going, and I believe in you. I'm there with you. I'm there with you.
MM: Yeah, I was hoping you would finish sentence for me, but you got it, so it's good.
DA: What is it?
SA: 'A dream is a wish your heart makes.' I don't even know the lyrics of the rest of the song. It's really the only part... It's like I have those little quotes. It's also, 'You get the best of both worlds.' Hannah Montana. Disney had a grasp on me, like, a strong grip in my childhood, so there's just a lot of stored little tidbits from there.
DA: I'm pretty sure the next part is ‘when you're fast asleep.’
AB: Yes! Yes, it is.
DA: And then after that, I don't know.
AB: quietly hums A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes. Something about dreams again. That's all I know. I think the dreams are a recurring thing.
SA: I think what we need to do is re-record the entire session, but in musical form, so we sing all of our responses.
AB: Oh, goodness me. Okay, well, I gotta warm up. Gimme five seconds! <Laugh>
MM: Yeah, I need to warm up too, so gimme like five years and I'll be back.
SA: Yeah, longform filmmaking. <Laugh>
AB: So, listen to Frank Ocean, learn how to sing like him…
AB: … come back… <Laugh>
MM: <Laugh> I'm sorry. One of those things is possible. One is not.
SA: It really escalated in terms of objectives.
AB: Five years! You can do a lot in five years; you know the whole 10,000 hours thing? You can do that in five years.
MM: That's true. If you said sing like anybody else, I would've been like, 'Yeah. Possible.' But you said sing like Frank Ocean, and from the songs I've heard of his, I'm just like, 'Wow, no.'
SA: You're right.
AB: So, realistic goals?
SA: Yeah, realistic goals: Beyoncé. Just start there. Start at Beyoncé.
AB: Oh no. I was thinking more like, let me think... Pavarotti? Someone with a great operatic voice!
SA: Andrea Bocelli, I'm thinking?
AB: There you go.
SA: Yes, maybe, hey, just sprinkle in some Stevie Wonder, just for the soul of it.
SA: And then, you can go from there.
MM: I can do Stevie Wonder. I think I could get to that level.
SA: Okay. I believe in you, I believe in you.
AB: We'll work with that. And you, Sade, what are you gonna do? What's the goal? What's the mindset that we're working with, with our singing voices? 'Cause I know you can sing. That's already been established.
MM: Yup. A hundred percent.
SA: I do that. I dabble that. My main audience now is my cats and they don't really provide very constructive feedback, so my voice is... I'm being silent and silenced.
SA: But uh, I would say my main aspirational goals for singing--I don't know if y'all have heard of Sade, the band, the singer.
SA: Super famous. I've lived in her shadow essentially for my entire life.
AB: I can imagine.
SA: Yeah, it's hard. And so, it's really interesting, because I do sing, but I don't have… her tonality and everything is just so wildly unique that I'm like, I don't even think I would try to get there one day. But I think of that as like, what would it be like to build a brand name for myself as an artist? But then I couldn't be Sade, 'cause there's already Sade, so don't really know. I don't really know what to do with that. Maybe I'll add the accent on the end of my name, so it's Sadé.
AB: There you go!
SA: It'll be hard to Google search still, but I'll make it work.
AB: That's okay, Beyoncé has a way of auto-correcting her name to have an accent all the time, so...
AB: Just gotta be that famous.
SA: Just gotta get to Beyoncé's level, post-PhD or now? When should I aim for that? What's my timeline?
MM: I think now.
AB: I think after. Oh, you said now? <Laugh>
DA: It's a lot of work!
MM: Life's too short to push things till after your PhD.
SA: 'Life is too short; be Beyoncé now' is what I'm hearing.
AB: At the same time, it took Beyoncé five albums to come out with Self-titled so...
SA: Wow. Wow.
DA: These are all very fair points.
AB: Yeah, do you wanna be ‘Crazy in Love’ Beyoncé or do you wanna be ‘Jealous’ Beyoncé?
SA: Ooh. This is hard. This is... I've got a lot to think about. <Laugh> I've got a lot to reevaluate in terms of my current life goals and objectives.
AB: <Laugh> As if you did have enough on your plate.
SA: Listen, listen. But I was gonna say, I have to run because I forgot about meeting with postdoc that I have to be somewhat prepared for.
AB: Email me if you have any questions! I'm excited to hear the conversation back. I'm sure I'll hear things and be like, 'Wow, that was good. That was really deep.'
SA: It's the little snippets, the little sound bites that you're like, 'Mm, mwah, Chef's kiss.'
AB: Yeah, just magic. <laugh>
DA: I have to jump off as well, so good luck, good luck!
AB: Thank you!
DA: It was nice to meet you guys! Asma, it's nice to see you. It's been a while!
AB: I know! Hopefully we can actually see each other again, in this forum!
DA: Yes, the internet is available, and as am I!
DA: Just let me know!