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DONWILL: Shouting At the Screen ++

Shouting At the Screen is making going to the movies cool again, thanks to Donwill (of Tanya Morgan) and Wyatt Cenac. Donwill shares why, and then some.

Words: Aimstar
Image: Richard Louissant

While Donwill of the underrated, once-a-trio-now-a-duo Hip-Hop group Tanya Morgan, and comedian/correspondent Wyatt Cenac of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart seem like the most unlikely pair to sway people away from their laptops and into movie theaters to catch a random film, they’re doing just that. With Shouting At the Screen, their interactive cinema series, Donwill and Wyatt invite you to join them as they resurrect long-forgotten and super-rare Blaxploitation and Black cult flicks like The Thing With Two Heads, every month, plus a little sippy sippy and some food to boot. And it’s totally okay (as you might have guessed) to shout at the screen as long as it’s all in good fun, Donwill explains.

How did you hookup with Wyatt Cenac?

Me and Wyatt have been friends for roughly three years, I think. We’ve been pretty cool for a while. Long story short, he was going to do some work on Ilyas’ solo album a couple of years ago. Ilyas came to New York and we all ended up hanging out together. I’m a huge comedy fan and around that time, I was going to UCB [the Upright Citizens Brigade theater] a lot. Of course, he [Wyatt] would roll with me every now and then. He lived in Brooklyn, so we would just hang out.

And then a couple of months ago, we went to a movie night over at some guy’s house. We had a great time, you know, when you get together with your friends and talk to the screen and shit, and crack jokes, get drunk. I had hit him up a couple of weeks ago like, “Yo, hanging with your boy and watching movies together was fun…” And he was like, ‘Why don’t we just get a theater and show the movies there?’ I was like, “I don’t even know how that would even work, but whatever, I just want to watch a movie and get drunk!” [Laughs] Like, let’s figure it out.

We ended up just deciding on a genre of films that we wanted to show. I wanted to go with—I just like ridiculous movies. I’m a fan of extremely gory or extremely just strange movies, and he wanted to do Blaxploitation films, which I am also a fan of.

So you guys can just show Blacula and everyone is happy…

Yeah, that’s the thing. We’re trying to stray from the popular ones. Like this whole experience has taught me a lot about cinema. There are over 200 films within the genre itself. Like the last one we showed, House on Skull Mountain is this really small, kind of Halloween, spooky film, but it featured like a lot of southern Civil Rights luminaries like Zinona Davis, who’s like Coretta Scott-King’s best friend, and Atlanta Senator Clayton Davis—like all of these luminaries who were like directly related to the Civil Rights Movement and then the guy from The Jeffersons [Sherman Hemsley]. [Laughs] So it was just the strangest film and there are like so many of these movies that exist that kind of get lost in the shuffle with people just talking about The Mack or other films like that. We’re just digging in the crates basically for this.

Can you share which movie you will be showing this week or is it a surprise?

We like to keep it under wraps. We don’t like to reveal the movie until the actual show time because part of the thing is that this is more than just watching a film, it’s an experience. It’s more of a communal thing, where you can look forward to hearing good jokes, have a couple of drinks, have some food, and just be in an environment where it’s encouraged to talk to your neighbors, make friends if you will and be open. I won’t say the film is inconsequential, but the film is definitely secondary to the [overall] experience.

And what’s that experience been like so far?

It’s been outrageous. The best jokes come from the audience.

Really? I’m surprised, I would think your jokes would be funnier…

We do have our moments so there is funny stuff coming from us, but it’s like you can’t catch everything in the movie. So sometimes somebody will say something and it’s just like the most left field, outrageous shit that you can imagine. It’s kind of like live-tweeting during award shows, it’s that kind of environment. It’s definitely not like you’re in a movie theater and you can’t hear anything that’s going on because of people screaming and hollaring. It’s a controlled chaotic environment where you could crack a joke, and if it makes me or Wyatt laugh, we’ll repeat it so that the whole theater can hear it. We more or less control the show because we have microphones and we’re setup in the back, you know because we’re doing the dialogue. But it’s extremely encouraged to crack a joke, we do drinking games and we also give prizes. Like last week, the prize for winning the Halloween costume contest that we gave out was—Thelma from Good Times, she has this website that you can have her call you on your birthday or a holiday and she’ll talk to you. [Laughs] Like I don’t really understand the concept of the website, but basically, you can give somebody a phone call from Thelma from Good Times and she’ll call you saying, ‘Hey, This is Thelma from Good Times. How are you?’ And ya’ll will hang out on the phone for a little while. So we gave the audience member with the best costume a 15minute phone call with Thelma from Good Times and they have to come back this Thursday and tell us how the conversation with Thelma went.

And everybody loves Thelma. [Laughs]

[Laughs] She was gorgeous, the ideal girlfriend that everybody wanted. We thought that would be a fun, quirky gift. I’m not sure what we’re giving out this week as a prize, but we definitely try to make it interesting.

Because the films are so obscure, how do you find the actual film? Do you literally go digging for them?

Luckily, Wyatt is a curator of the obscure and he unbelievably owns this stuff. A lot of the films are from his personal collection, but you know, we mind it and just look through countless titles to see what was the most obscure. Honestly, a lot of Blaxploitation films, in general, if you ask somebody to name a couple they could probably give you like five or six, and the genre is literally like hundreds deep. So that in itself tells you that it’s something, a piece of our culture that we’ve lost a bit of identification with and that means a lot [to be connected to]. It’s important.

So how does this tie into the overall Tanya Morgan brand, or how does this tie into where you see yourself years from now?

To be honest, I’m just doing stuff I enjoy. When me and Wyatt decided to do movie night, we went about it with the expectation that we were doing something fun and cool. And if it’s not fun and cool, then we really don’t want to be a part of it. Cause we’re not doing it for like money or recognition, we were just doing it because we wanted somewhere to watch movies and have a drink, and we couldn’t go over dude’s house. People always say do what you love, and I love movies, music and sneakers. So if I can build something around that, I will. Also Tanya Morgan has always been made up of soloists, like the name of the group and the group itself was built upon the fact that we were solo artists who just came together under a group to do some cool, fun shit. And I will say that it’s definitely fun being able to do what you want to do and do things that you find enjoyable and have other people enjoy them. If it comes back to the Tanya Morgan brand and makes it stronger, if 20 people who show up to movie night who’ve never heard of Tanya Morgan or aren’t just into Hip-Hop like that, walk away wondering who Tanya Morgan is, it all works.

So tell me about the new Tanya Morgan EP.

The EP is called You and What Army? It will be a free release and it comes out November 22nd. It’s just basically what we’ve been up to, musically, for the past few months, honestly. Brooklynati was our last group release and that was two years ago and since then we’ve put out a slew of music, solo releases. I had an album drop, Von[Pea] had one, we both dropped mixtapes, we dropped The Sandwich Shop in between there. We dropped a lot of music but it wasn’t under the banner of the group Tanya Morgan, it was just solo bodies of work. This represents kind of like the solo work merged into one sonic creation. Like Tanya Morgan is known for beats by Von Pea and Brick Beats and lyrics by Von Pea, Donwill and Ilyas. Whereas now Tanya Morgan is lyrics by Donwill and Ilyas and in-house producers that we’ve culled over the past few months.

So does it sound different literally?

I’ve been test-driving it on people. It’s a fun thing I do, every day I pick a random person who I kind of know and send them the EP. I ask them to let me know what they think and the feedback I’ve been getting is that it sounds exactly the way we wanted it to sound. We wanted it to sound motivational and kind of like celebratory, but also serious at moments, so I would say in terms of what fans and newcomers will be getting, it sounds like a logical progression from the last album. A sleeker sound from us that still has that same humor, that same quirk and that same sensibility, but it’s definitely a more evolved sound.

Anything else you want to add that we haven’t talked about?

Uhmmm let me think. We could talk about Kim K’s divorce. [Laughs] Nah I’m joking, but I will say this, but I don’t think people should watch Basketball Wives or none of that drama TV show. That’s all I’ll say about that….I feel like it breeds a certain acceptance of drama in your life. If you actively tune-in to people bickering and arguing for an hour a week and schedule that into your life, you’re pretty much inviting that energy and will reflect that and radiate that at a certain point. So while Nene fighting with Kandi or whoever she fights with is cool, is funny to look at, it’s food. You also become what you ingest. If you watch drama on television and don’t process it correctly, or don’t understand what you’re looking at, you’ll just become dramatic. So with that said, cut that shit off and listen to Tanya Morgan on November 22nd, Army EP, or just come to movie night. [Laughs]

To reserve tickets for this month’s Shouting At the Screen (this Thursday at 10pm), click here.

Follow Tanya Morgan on Twitter @Donwill and @VonPea

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