Hollywood may have already embraced Boston, but filmmaker Thato Rantao Mwosa wants to make Roxbury and its communities center stage. Mwosa, who was born in Botswana and lives in Milton, currently teaches film at Emerson College and Brookline High School. But it was her previous teaching role at Roxbury’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School that served as inspiration for her first feature film, “Memoirs of a Black Girl.”
The coming-of-age story follows high school senior Aisha Johnson (played by Khai Tyler), a bright student who dreams of going to Harvard University and is set on the path of success as a finalist for a scholarship. However, when Aisha tells on a group of “mean” girls for breaking the rules, the decision leads to a series of repercussions which place her future in jeopardy.
“Memoirs of a Black Girl” screened as part of RoxFilm and the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival earlier this year and will make its digital and streaming debut Oct. 5. Mwosa sat down with the Globe to discuss the inspiration behind her film and the inspirational beauty of Roxbury.
Q. What inspired you to make your film around this concept of being a “snitch”?
A. As an educator, I’ve seen the same scenarios that happen to Aisha happen to a lot of my students, where people are afraid to speak up because snitching turns you into a victim. My concern is if kids don’t report bullying incidents for fear of snitching, then it’s hard to address those things as adults. It’s hard to give them the tools to navigate high school life challenges if we’re in the dark all the time. The original title was “Memoirs of a Snitch,” but I changed it because I felt there was always a negative reaction to the title when I mentioned it.
Q. Did you always know you wanted to base the film in Roxbury?
A. For me, I wanted to write a story that had Roxbury as a character. Roxbury is a beautiful place, definitely predominantly Black, but we don’t see it in Hollywood movies set in Boston. We see a lot of Eastie and South Boston in Hollywood movies, but we don’t get to see communities of color. There’s so much to Roxbury, so much culture. I wanted to capture the murals and show Roxbury in its essence. And [show] the places, like the first BIPOC-owned bookstore in Boston is right in the heart of Dudley Square, Frugal Books.
Q. What does Black girl magic mean in the context of the film?
A. Aisha had to find strength within her to overcome all these horrible circumstances she was in. Before the [scholarship] interview, the teacher reminds her, “You have Black girl magic.” You don’t cower down and go home and let the no’s be no’s. Sometimes you can turn a no into a yes, and you can turn a closed door into an open door. Aisha had to find that magic within her to rise above whatever, even after she went through this horrific circumstance she was in earlier that day.
Q. As an educator, what makes this film special?
A. I involved my students when I was writing the script, and I also involved them in the pre-production. One of my students, Cindy Severino, is a production manager in the film. She graduated from Madison Park and went on to go to Emerson. I’ve mentored her over the years, and Cindy is actually one of my many Aishas. She’s overcome so much in her life to get to where she is.
There were a couple of students who are also from Brookline who acted in the film. And if you look at the list, 99 percent of the music [in the film] came from my talented students who are now professional musicians in Boston. I could not have made this film without collaboration with my former students. It was important for me as a teacher because it really was a film for them.
Riana Buchman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.