Filmmaker Darnell Lamont Walker Talks About Mental Illness With Doc ‘Outside The House’Posted by Wilson Morales
February 2, 2017
Released January 4 through Evolutionary Press Film is writer-director Darnell Lamont Walker‘s documentary film, “Outside The House, ” which features several African Americans sharing their stories of mental health, mental illness, and healing.
He previously produced the documentaries, “Daddy and Me,” and “Seeking Asylum,” which he also directed.
OUTSIDE THE HOUSE is Darnell’s attempt to burn down the house where all of our secrets are kept. Since there are many people in this country that believe that mental illness doesn’t exist in the black community, this doc seeks to shed light of that stigma and show that it is a reality for some. This film is not about statistics, or science, or theories, or practices. It’s about mental health and courageously sharing black stories so others will know they are not alone. It is about what’s happened to us, what will happen to our children and breaking the cycles that are killing us in dark places.
Blackfilm.com recently spoke Walker about his latest documentary.
When did you know you wanted to make this story?
Darnell Lamont Walker: I was sitting in a Laundromat in Paris, being interviewed for my last documentary, Seeking Asylum, and I started talking about a friend of mine who’d committed suicide a few years back. The interview stopped and I sat there, realizing I’d never questioned much about the incident, or everything surrounding it. Then I thought about the people I knew, some friends, who’d killed themselves. What kind of pain were they in, how alone did they feel, what might have saved them? Then I figured out a way to use my talents and my art to let others know they aren’t alone.
How long did it take to gather the research?
Darnell Lamont Walker: It wasn’t much a matter of research. I went in with the perhaps-not-safe assumption that all Black folks are all dealing with something, so I wanted to jump head first. I made a Facebook status, “Black folks who’ve sought a mental health professional. Why did you do it?” 150+ comments later, the most important being “I never knew there were others who looked like me going through the same thing.” That was the validation I needed.
I then put up a message telling people to let me know if they’d be willing to participate. From conception to shoot was 8 months.
Did you want to do anything different from other documentaries on mental illness?
Darnell Lamont Walker: I wanted to steer clear of statistics because I didn’t find them necessary for this film. We know these issues exist, and we know we aren’t talking about them at our dinner tables, in our safe spaces, or in our children’s rooms. Knowing how many people weren’t talking or where the people are more affected didn’t matter to me. Again, I went in saying “we will see ourselves in this, or we will see someone we love in this,” and that’s what was important to me.
Whose story was the most emotional?
Darnell Lamont Walker: After each interview, I took days off to practice a bit of self care. There’s something that comes with taking on the stories of others, and whatever it was that was coming to me, was new and put me in very emotional spaces.
There are two stories that stand out the most, however; Tomika and Lauren. Tomika spoke about being sexually assaulted as an adult and how family dynamics then shifted. Lauren spoke about her young adulthood and being secluded then abandoned by her mother, and the generational mental illness going back as far as her great grandmother and how she now must move through life with the fear of it happening to her and possibly the children she may one day have. These stories became extremely emotional for me because I knew these women at their most desperate times and I never noticed anything. I never heard any screams for help, or saw any signs of deep sadness. At one point, during Lauren’s interview, I was completely still and told her “I have absolutely no idea what to say to you right now,” and we sat in silence. I realized in these that so many others around me are probably suffering in the dark, in silence, and I have no way of knowing if they don’t want me to know.
Did you encounter any resistance when interviews any of the subjects?
Darnell Lamont Walker: There were several times when the subjects would hesitate on continuing out of fear of what may come out. You have to realize, this was the first time some of these folks opened up about any of what they spoke about, and for it to go from “we don’t share our secret outside the house” to sharing those secrets on camera or on audio was a large step. For them to be that vulnerable, I expected a little hesitation.
Then when the film was hours from being released, a few messaged me, nervous and wanting to say “could you remove me,” but not. After the release, each of them saw the impact of their participation and saw just how needed they were.
What was your biggest challenge? Funding, interviews, or the editing?
Darnell Lamont Walker: Editing was the largest challenge. My goal was to be done in July 2016, but after collecting the interviews, going through the footage, and reflecting on everything the film delivery to me, I desperately needed to walk away from it all. I needed to practice a large amount of self-care and throw a whole lot of love onto others. I spent the end of summer through the end of autumn meditating, teaching others how to meditate and how to critically reflect, helping friends and family find therapists in their areas, and completely ignoring the hours of footage sitting on my hard drive.
The universe works in strange ways. I was food poisoned in Limpopo, South Africa and was forced to sit in the house with nothing but a few juices, porridge, my computer, and the footage. I pushed through.
What pitfalls did you want to avoid as a filmmaker?
Darnell Lamont Walker: I simply wanted to make a movie to begin a conversation we’ve been avoiding. I wanted to steer clear of creating a movie that needed to be seen, but wasn’t accessible because of lack of resources. Also, I wanted to avoid working with a production team who weren’t as passionate about the project as I was. Because of this, I had to teach myself how to do everything from conception to release. Along the way, I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful team of Associate Producers who believed strongly in the project and in me, and a wonderful Assistant, Jessica Linda Jones.
What are your plans for the film? What platform did you think it should be seen on, theater or TV?
Darnell Lamont Walker: Since finishing, I’ve been submitting the film to film festivals worldwide with audiences that would benefit greatly from such transparency. Additionally, I’ve been setting up screenings with organizations, universities, and clinics around the world who see the importance of this film.
Ideally, I’d love to get this on television. The day I released the film, my plan was to put it on the site for 18 hours as a screener. I woke up to 14 emails from strangers, friends, and family begging me not to remove it because it saved their lives and would undoubtedly save many more. Since leaving it up, the responses have been overwhelmingly amazing, letting me know that with a larger platform, the world can be transformed.
What’s the next step for you?
Darnell Lamont Walker: I continue to advocate for mental health, especially for Black folks because we must put an end to the stigmas, to the misconceptions, and to the ignorance. My alma mater, Bethune-Cookman Univeristy, has contacted me to deliver the keynote speech at their Mental Health Fair on February 25, and I look forward to keeping that momentum going in may other places.
What’s next is changing and saving lives by being completely transparent so others will feel comfortable to do the same.