The director of ‘Traffik’ uses genre cinema to shatter stereotypes and create a new brand of inclusive entertainment.
JOHN W. ALLMAN MAY 23, 2018 12 PM
Hollywood has struggled for decades with minority representation in feature films.
There have been scores of movies about the African-American experience, as well as an entire movement — blaxploitation — in the 1970s that capitalized on that experience, often at the expense of perpetuating negative stereotypes.
Entire film franchises have been built on the expectation that black viewers would pay to see themselves represented on the big screen, regardless of quality or content. And some filmmakers have catered to this demographic, releasing subpar efforts without fear of failure because of that built-in audience.
But Deon Taylor is part of a new breed of directors trying to reshape cinema as an inclusive experience by telling stories through a minority perspective without alienating anyone, regardless of their ethnicity.
For the past 11 years, Taylor has dabbled in horror (Chain Letter, Nite Tales: The Series), comedy (Meet the Blacks) and dramatic thrillers (Supremacy), but with his latest project, Traffik, he’s finally mastered his approach.
“What I’m trying to do is basically bring minority faces into genre films, but at the same time, it’s not necessarily a ‘black’ movie, if that makes sense,” Taylor said. “And that is something that has not been done.”
If you’re like me, and saw the commercials for Traffik, you probably thought the film looked like a pulpy throwback to the B-movie, drive-in heyday of the early 1980s, which it is, for better and worse.
Traffik is buttressed by two well-known actors, Paula Patton (Precious, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) and Omar Epps (Higher Learning, TV’s House), who play Brea and John, and who also happen to be black.
In the film, Brea and John are in love. She’s an investigative journalist and he’s a skilled, successful mechanic. When the couple makes a date to getaway for a long weekend at a secluded mountain estate, Brea has no idea that John plans to propose during the trip.
Everything goes smoothly until they stop at a small-town gas-and-sip and catch the attention of a group of bikers who also happen to be part of an underground human trafficking network. Brea and John’s fight for survival and her efforts to expose the corrupt individuals who kidnap and sell young women form the film’s core.
Traffik is both a home invasion thriller and a timely examination of a trending, hot-button political topic.
“Typically, when you go to a horror movie, you’ve got The Strangers, or you’ve got Freddy Krueger or Jason. This film, you’re going to get trafficking. That’s going to be the monster,” Taylor explained. “I just thought it was an interesting way to figure that out and make an attempt to build something that could actually live in the real world.”
For Taylor, making Brea a journalist was a critical decision given the drubbing that elected politicians have bestowed upon the media in the past two years. In the opening minutes of Traffik, Brea discovers that a fellow journalist has scooped a project she’s spent months working on. Her editor essentially tells her that she might not be cut out to be a reporter.
“It was really important,” Taylor said. “There used to be a time when journalists, you know, they fought for real stories, and people respected them for that. It was a passion and it was a job, to write and to get to the bottom of something.”
Taylor also wanted to spotlight the daily discrimination that female journalists face, and to give his leading lady a meaty subplot that resonates in our post-#MeToo world.
“I just thought it was a very cool way to build her character, build her arc and then, ultimately, what I wanted to try to demonstrate was, in life, here she is trying to scoop another story, get another story, and that doesn’t work, but what she’s failing to realize is in a moment, she’s going to live her story. She’s going to live her calling,” he said. “She’s going to live to write something that will change her life and also something where that story can never be scooped, you know?”
Through it all, Taylor said he wanted people to look past the skin color of his lead actors and simply see them as people dealing with an extraordinary circumstance.
“If you look at Traffik, that could have easily been a white couple, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make it to where, it doesn’t — black people live in this world, white people live in this world, Asian people live in this world. And when I look through my lens out the window, I’m going, ‘Oh, everybody’s out here,’” he said. “It’s not just the movies where, when I see what people call, ‘Oh, that’s a black movie,’ and everybody in the movie is black, I’m like, OK, that’s not what I want to see either. What I’d like to see is a black lead, a few black leads, or okay, that genre movie right there, that’s going to be Omar Epps and Paula Patton, that’s dope. I’m trying to make that become the norm.”
According to IMDb, Taylor has several projects in various stages of production, including a sequel to Meet the Blacks, a psychological thriller and a horror film, that fully represent his artistic vision to create a colorblind world where the story is what matters most.
“What I think is really cool about genre films, horror films, thrillers,” Taylor said, “you get to just kind of snap into another world and it doesn’t matter who that person is on the screen because they’re going through something that’s scary, fun or you go down the rabbit hole with them.”
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.