The first time I remember ever seeing Attika J. Torrence was at an East Family Kwanzaa event as a teenager. I recall that at the time his family had just returned from living in Liberia. He was a few years older than me. He was confident and measured. He was certainly the child of a strong and deep foundation, you could tell that the moment he spoke. Over the years our orbits have been aligned through various touchpoints, and so I’ve been there to watch Attika develop into an award-winning Director, an Emmy-nominated Producer and a solid and discerning voice in our community. He is probably best known for his production work on Rest In Power; The Trayvon Martin Story or as Assistant Director of the Fyre Fraud on Hulu, but neither role truly defines him or his impact on the culture of storytelling.
You see, in American society, authors, or people who write books, are considered first when one talks about storytellers. Yes musicians, some journalists and even some filmmakers are bestowed that title of storyteller, but in American culture the title starts in the literary world and stretches outward at once. We know that in African culture we find our stories throughout our environment — in the leaves, in the water, and even from our ancestors who never had the chance to write a word on paper. But, if you ask someone today to tell you what their favorite story is, by and large their answer is going to be their favorite book. Most folks who write a screenplay go unnoticed.
Do you know who wrote the best episode of the Netflix series you’re currently watching?
So even as everything that Attika had been writing — from screenplays to movie treatments down to the detailed and prolific thoughts written as status updates on FaceBook —speaks to the testimonies of our truths, those outside of his sphere may have missed the fact that he is a storyteller.
The Covid-19 Pandemic shut down the film industry in March. In a flash, sets were locked down and everything that was greenlit to happen stopped happening. On a Zoom call we had a few weeks back, Attika said, “I’m currently in development of a feature film that we should be shooting right now. Because of this situation we are going through, everything was pushed back.” The time away from the busyness of work was both beneficial for Attika and a time of concern. He was struck ill with coronavirus in the spring, but made a full and thorough recovery. In May, he released his first book, a work of art titled, Brooklyn Bred; A 90’s Brooklyn Story.
As he explains, “Brooklyn Bred started as a screenplay. It was a pilot. I wanted to write a television pilot. The films I loved the most outside of comedies are gangster movies. I love gangster movies, and they are as American as apple pie. I wanted to tell a story in the era of the 80’s and 90’s. Brooklyn Bred is a series and a 90’s Brooklyn story is the first part.” The book is more than a book. It is a creation of expression and as Attika explains, he was compelled to present this as art.
“Writing for screenplays and writing for pilots, you may get picked up or you may not. If you don’t get picked up it’s like that tree that fell in the forest. Did it make noise? Did you ever even write it? And then you don’t get credit as an author for writing a screenplay. I wanted to present this book as an experience, so I set it up as a work of art. This book comes with a Certificate of Authenticity and each one is numbered, as would be a series of art pieces.” From the gold trim, to the well-appointed pictures that wrap this work, this physical book is as much a visual manifestation of a story as is any movie or film.
On finding his passion in the film industry, Attika says, “I learned early on that, you know, even before I understood it, I learned that he who controls the images, controls the mind. I got into filmmaking because I wanted to be an actor. I decided to go to LIU because Spike Lee used to show his dailies at LIU. There was a Spike Lee Screening room in LIU, and most young people in Brooklyn with a modicum of consciousness at that time had Spike Lee on their radar. I was enamored with the way he was able to control his images. I always looked at Spike as the bar in filmmaking for me.
“I had a lot of stories to tell. It took a brief moment for me to realize, ain’t nobody going to hire me as an actor, because i’ve never acted before. So, I took some directing courses and began taking directing seriously. Then I realized ain’t nobody going to hire me as a director because i’ve never directed before. So, I began taking the writing courses seriously. The year after I graduated I wrote, directed, produced and acted in my first feature film Brotherly Love. That was 20 years ago. That’s what started me in the film business, me wanting to tell stories. I just have stories to tell, so I went to school to learn how to do it, and i’ve been working in the film business ever since.”
The ownership of one’s stories and experiences is important. It is why history is told by the winners, those with the moxie to defy the status quo in order to be heard, it is always in those moments when culture shifts — the first time you heard Luther Vandross sing, the first time you saw Mike Tyson box, the first Dr. J dunk you ever saw — it is there where you find a new way to consider the conventional.
Attika is a filmmaker that yearns to keep ownership of his stories, and while that may seem to be a conventional thought, in the midst of a pandemic Attika has introduced the culture to a new way to look at filmmakers and their ability to tell their stories. And, in usual Attika form, it is confident, it is measured and it exhibits a strong and deep foundation.
To view the Trayvon Martin trailer, go to: www.attikajtorrence.com