Nakia Stephens is an award-winning writer / director born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from Georgia’s first public HBCU, Savannah State University, where she studied Mass Communications with a concentration in Broadcasting / Television.
In 2014, Nakia founded the script label Damn Write Originals. Since launching her label, Nakia has seen more than 20 of her produced storylines onscreen, including her most notable projects: Suga water, Cream x Coffee, and novel. The work that Nakia has done at Damn Write Originals has not gone unnoticed. Festivals have recognized it and platforms such as BLAVITY, ABFF, Deployment of the magazine, and Black Girls Rock.
Nakia and Damn Write Originals continue to add to AspireTv’s mission to amplify its commitment to new faces and voices with the partnership’s 7th feature film, Della MaÃ©. Nakia Stephens wrote and produced the film with Shanay J. Campbell as co-executive producer. Kiana Woodson directed Della Mae.
The film stars Juanita Jennings as Della Mae, Chayne Dunning as Paige, Angela Gibbs as Rosemary, LaShada Jackson as Georgia and Cammie Middleton as Louise / Porky. Della mae explores the relationship of a granddaughter and a grandmother while exploring the nuances of femininity and self-discovery.
For (bes) The Culture interviewed Nakia about her career, new film on AspireTV Della mae, and the future of Damn Write Originals. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
For (bes) Culture: What prompted you to create Damn Write Originals?
Nakia Stephens: I decided that once I made my first film, and had this rush, I went from being a dreamer to being a director. It was so empowering. When I got to a place where other filmmakers would come to me and say they wanted to do stuff with me. I was like, okay, this has to be for other people, and it has to be for writers so that we can find our own way and give ourselves our own yeses and go from there. I’m so excited for what’s to come and so proud of what Damn Write Originals has become.
For (bes) Culture: How did you go from being a dreamer to being an actor?
Nakia Stephens: I would dream of writing and creating films. Then when I graduated from college I felt the urge to create something and publish it because there was no direct path to get to where I wanted to go. So, as a writer, or filmmaker in general, I needed to determine the next step. It’s not like becoming a doctor, and you know you have to go to school, get a degree, and complete a residency. But, the general path to their success has already been mapped out for them. There are many avenues for artists and filmmakers to achieve our goals, and you need to understand them. I knew that due to my passion for filmmaking and writing, I would have to go ahead and start creating it on my own. Because if I had waited for someone to give me an opportunity, I would probably still be waiting.
For (bes) Culture: What was it like to earn capital for your projects for your studio?
Nakia Stephens: So hard, so hard. But, to be honest, how much capital? I had to use my resources and what I call a movie-making currency, which is in the people, relationships, and community that I created along the way. This movie-making currency was the most important thing for us to make our first bills. My team had to rely on and depend on each other. But, since those early days, we have had the opportunity to make development deals and capital because we have something to show. We would probably still be waiting for these opportunities if we hadn’t done anything. So the power in magic is in action.
For (bes) Culture: Can you talk about the partnership in making films for AsireTV?
Nakia Stephens: AspireTV has created a space for new faces and voices to flourish. It’s been so helpful that they create this creative space for us and give us the ability to control what we want to say while aligning with the network and their goals. It was a great experience, especially when we first got on board and spoke to Melissa Ingram and saw her passion for young artists and independent artists, especially in Atlanta. It was great !
For (bes) Culture: How did your HBCU community really come together? Damn, the career originals and your work?
Nakia Stephens: As soon as I made my first film, my teachers reached out, which allowed me to present my film on campus. So they definitely supported me. In addition, I received an award from my school for the work I did with Fucking originals. I can attribute my resourcefulness to Savannah State University and what it has instilled in me as a person who always wants to get things done with professionalism. I feel like HBCUs are second to none, to be completely honest. Go Tigers!
For (bes) Culture: Can you tell me what this movie is about? How does this project fit into the philosophy of AspireTV?
Nakia Stephens: One of the pillars of AspireTV is to dream big. And this movie is literally about following your dreams, and it’s never too late to follow your dreams. The film follows the relationship of a granddaughter and her grandmother. The granddaughter is curious about her grandmother and who she was before motherhood. I think we should all hear from our elders and our grandparents, to know who they are apart from being grandparents because they had a whole life before us.
For (bes) Culture: When people interact with the content you create at Damn Write Originals, what would you want them to experience?
Nakia Stephens: I would like them to see raw, provocative stories and a provocative meaning in the stories. I want them to know that we are not afraid to talk about unspoken and taboo topics and shine a light on marginalized stories. So many stories about black culture are told by people who are not black. Damn, Write Originals is all about reclaiming our image as black people and black women. I want us to be known for pushing the needle.
For (bes) Culture: What opportunities do you offer other young black writers, fresh out of college or freelance?
Nakia Stephens: Last year we had four new writers on our team. So now we have seven. During our partnership with AspireTV, there were three of us, each of us had the opportunity to create for AspireTV. It was great for them to see their work on TV with their friends and family, showing what they were doing in the world. Damn Wright Originals creates spaces for young writers to learn more and create an open conversation about the industry to help them. We also give back through crowdfunding to emerging creators. Movie making is a team sport, so many people get into making a movie. And thanks to our partnership with AspireTV, we have been able to provide opportunities at all levels.
For (bes) Culture: Juanita Jennings plays the main character, Della Mae, in your latest movie for AspireTV. Why was Juanita your choice for this role?
Nakia Stephens: I remember when I was grinding, making my films and working the night post-production for the show Star. Ms. Juanita played the grandmother on this show. I remember reading his parts and thinking, that’s good! Fast forward to maybe 2019 and I met her at a table reading for a friend of mine; she was so sweet and warm. While writing the screenplay for Della Mae, I knew the main character had to be Ms. Juanita. I contacted her and she loved the script. The rest is history. It was divine timing. She agreed it was the divine moment for her to be in this role, and I am super grateful.
For (bes) Culture: What is it like to live your passion and live your truth as a black woman?
Nakia Stephens: It feels good. I have the impression that often; when we do what is meant for us, we cannot see it because we are doing it. Then we have to take a step back and say, wow, I’m actually living my dream. For me, I wanted to write scripts for a living. I write, I meet new people, I create worlds from scratch and it’s amazing. It really is alchemy. It’s definitely alchemy, how you are able to start from nothing and find something. It also feels good to do it out loud so that other black girls who want to do it can see it. Honestly, that makes me super excited for the future as well as what else I can do next year. I feel truly blessed and super grateful.
For (bes) Culture: What’s next for Damn Wright Originals?
Nakia Stephens: Oh my God. More creation, bigger engagements, bigger movies and just bigger. That sky isn’t even the limit of what we want to do at Damn Write Originals.
You can watch the original Damn Write movie Della mae exclusively on AspireTV.