Mental illness is something we don’t discuss in the media enough.  It is something we hide from and try to cover in every imaginable way.  I find this to be especially true among the black community where it seems as if  mental illness is something that should be kept behind doors.  I’m sure it is deeper than that… but I salute those that are stepping outside of conventional bounds.  

One of these bold pioneers that are doing their part to address mental illness, is Southern California-based writer and director Adekola Popoola  via his film, Stranded In Existence.

Stranded In Existence, which was produced by Nabila Lester, takes place on a college campus and centers around a young college student (played by Dominique Williams) who, among his peers, is perceived as a nerd or an “alienated weirdo.” But the real truth is that this young college student, Nicholas is, in actuality, struggling “with the mental illness of depression to the point that he has become extremely alienated and feels trapped in life.  Ending his life, seems to be the only way out, until a simple act of kindness from the young lady he loves, Sade, gives him the hope that he can win her heart; he must be successful if he wants to see a future and not die.  

Popoola says that, with this film, he “felt it was imperative that mental illness or depression gets addressed from a perspective that we aren’t always privy to.  I’ve met people from all walks of life who suffer from depression. Still, they are productive in society and do incredible things.  I wanted to help de-stigmatize depression and certain forms of mental illness.

I invite you to learn MORE about Popoola and this awesome film that addresses mental illness among our college youth.  This particular film resonated with me because it was when I was in college that I experienced depression for the first time in my life.  Being a ball of sunshine that never truly knew pain up until 21, it was devastating to say the least and there were moments where I didn’t know where to turn for guidance.  I salute Popoola for being an advocate for mental wellness.

Kola-Popoola-HeadshotWhen you were a little boy did you want to be a filmmaker?

When I was a little boy, I was more concerned with playing and having fun. I don’t think that I made any serious considerations to what I’d like to be in my adult years. I also don’t think that I was aware that movies were actually made by filmmakers. I probably thought they existed through some sort of magic. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I realized that I wanted to be a filmmaker. To make a long story short, I had gone on an eye-opening trip to my father’s homeland of Nigeria. With my own eyes–not though the eyes of the mainstream media or films which tend to only show African countries as places of destitution and chaos–I saw places in Nigeria that were nicer than Beverly Hills. I also did see areas that were stricken by poverty. Overall, I saw the diversity in economic spheres that people lived in there, not totally unlike the United States. I got to have real interactions with people and saw that there was more to Nigeria, and Africa overall, than what is often depicted in mainstream media film. I also got to participate on a medical mission. During this trip, I had sort of an epiphany. It was that I must find a way to share with the world the often untold stories of others and expose them to aspects of living which aren’t usually capture in film and media. Even more so, I realized that I needed to tell important stories about mankind. Later during the sophomore year, I realized that film would be the best way for me to do that.

Why did you decide to create a film that centers around Depression?  Why did you specifically hone in on young adults?

I felt the tremendous need to make a film that centers around Depression because it’s something that affected me and still affects me personally. I’ve also seen other people in their struggles with it. In addition to this, overall mental health has been an interest of mine for years. To explore Depression in terms of it being a mental illness and not just a feeling one can snap out of is something that I hadn’t really seen done in too many films. I started writing the screenplay for the film back in 2010 when there weren’t any films like “Silver Linings Playbook” or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. I felt there was a void when it came to films that explored mental health from destigmatizing. It’s interesting; at first I had written the characters as Caucasian because I wrongfully was thinking at the time that Depression and Mental Health were issues that seemed to be more of a concern of white people. You know what it is often said: society doesn’t like to discuss mental health, and it’s even more so that way in the black community. But I thought of myself, and others that I knew, and changed the characters to African American. That would also give me more of an opportunity to explore important aspects about my culture. Overall though, I wanted this film to not be about people who were black white, or of any particular race, but more so a film in which the characters just so happened to be black. Mental health affects all people and all communities in this nation. In the larger scale of things, despite race and other factors, we are really all one people.

I chose to focus on young adults for several reasons. I’ll go into one of them. When you’re young, you’re more likely to be in the stages of life where you are still trying to find yourself. When you’re still trying to find yourself and you are also suffering from Depression, you might be more inclined to think that your future will not be bright.

Kola-Popoola-Stranded-In-Existence-Mental-HealthYour name means, “Royalty is Worthy of Honor.”  How are you honoring such a name?  Who is Kola?

I hope to honor my name by comporting myself in an honorable way. I get my name from my father who is of the Yoruba ethnic group. I feel that I come from a background that is different from most people being that my father is from Nigeria and my mother is from Natchez, Mississippi. The cultures that I come from aren’t really widely represented in the media or Hollywood film. In film school, I would introduce my films with the Title Credit, An Adekola “Royalty is Worthy of Honor” Popoola Film, to distinguish myself in part, and to share with people a little of the richness of my heritage. I want to make great films about the cultures that I come from—although none of them, like most cultures are monolithic—and I want to make great films about mankind overall. These are some of the ways in which I can represent myself and where I come from very well. As you can see, I’m a person with very ambitious goals. I also am a Christian and want to glorify God through my films, but in subtle and not obvious ways

What steps have you taken to master the craft of filmmaking?  

I’m still working on mastering my craft. I have a long way to go. To get to where I am now though, I first started off just having a great love for stories. Even before I knew I wanted to tell stories through film, I loved reading great books. I also had a passion for history. History is the story of mankind. I also had a love for movies and music. Once I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker, I took a Video Production Class in high school and then took Film Studies classes in my early years of college. Once I got into the Film School at USC, I really learned a lot about the craft of filmmaking. I learned a lot about the theory and the appliance of it. In Film School, I also started to seriously pursue making films. Also during film school, I was taught many of the tools and conventions that make a story great.

What advice would you give to budding filmmakers?  What was the biggest lesson you learned while creating Stranded In Existence?

Francis Ford Coppola once said, “You have to really be courageous about your instincts and your ideas. Otherwise you’ll just knuckle under, and things that might have been memorable will be lost.” I’d advise budding filmmaker just that—to be passionate about the stories they want to tell. Of course though, a budding filmmaker should be receptive of feedback and opinions of others. Also, a budding filmmaker should do some type of study of what usually makes stories and films compelling. By doing so, a budding filmmaker’s passion will more likely be based on some type of knowledge and basis to it.

Stranded-In-Existence-College-MenIt appears that suicide is on the rise among young black men.  Why do you think this is happening?  What do you feel is missing that so many young black men are resorting to suicide?

I’d like to say that my film focuses more on mental health, although sadly, suicide is often times an aspect of mental health, and it’s something that the lead protagonist played by Dominique Williams, struggles with. I also know that I’m no expert on mental health or suicide, but I have done some research on suicide and even know people who struggled with suicidal thoughts, and some still have them. I even know of people who died by suicide (I recently read that using the phrase “committed suicide” can be problematic). When addressing suicide, I want to be very careful. I also want to be cognizant of how it’s impacted people and the delicate nature in which we often need to approach discussing it.

I can’t confirm that suicide among young black men is in on the rise. One of the supporters of my film though, did say that, “According to statistics, African American males are the least likely to obtain help for symptoms of depression, with over 90% not seeking any care.” What I can do though is speak on certain things that I feel to be true about larger society. I’m not speaking on anyone specifically, but I’m being very general. While at the same time, society seems more connected than ever because of social media and overall technology, it also seems that society is growing more detached and interpersonal relations are deteriorating. Also, with the recession, life seemed to have a lot more uncertainties for a lot of people. Such events and times could and can lead to heavy anxiety and have adverse effects on one’s mind and body.

Stranded-In-Existence-College-WomenJust like society doesn’t talk much about overall mental health, society doesn’t talk much about suicide—I can understand to some degree why people hesitate to discuss the latter. This seems especially true when it comes to the black community and young black men. There are a few times though over the last several years in which I can recall the suicides or thought-to-be-suicides of young black men made media headlines. I want to be careful about how I go about this as it’s such a sensitive issue and so sad to think of, but I’ll go into some of them. The first was back in 2007 with the NBA player, Eddie Griffin. That hit me hard as I used to follow him as he played in high school and later for Seton Hall. The case with him is also a very delicate matter to discuss because I read that some of the loved ones of the late Eddie Griffin believe that his death wasn’t a suicide. There was also the death of Lee Thompson Young. Massive amounts of people were in shock by his death. Many people are familiar with the late Lee Thompson Young because of the show, “The Famous Jett Jackson”. I remember watching that show as a youngster and thinking how cool and hip he was in the show. It’s just so sad that he is gone. There was also the death of Josh Marks. He was a the runner-up on “Master-Chef”. Those are some of the young black men that died of suicide who were in the spotlight at some point in their lives. Then, there are many young people who aren’t famous or celebrities who die of suicide. It’s all so tragic.

Death is such a sad thing, especially, when it happens to the young, and when it ‘s by suicide. When death by suicide happens or when it’s attempted, we often think how we could have prevented it or how we can prevent it from happening. It usually takes us by surprise as we don’t always know how individuals or suffering. Going beyond young black men, millions of people are trying to come to terms with the death of Robin Williams. As people and society, I hope we can work together to better address mental health and have better overall intervention.

As a black man, what are some of the stigmas you’ve come across surrounding depression and suicide?  

There is much stigma surrounding depression and suicide. Being a man, something you might hear is that depression is for the weak and the soft. There is also stigma when it comes to using anti-depressants or other forms of prescription medicine. I won’t go into the whole psychiatry part now because I’ve talked at length about a lot of things already. I don’t want to be too long winded.

In your ideal world, what impact would Stranded In Existence have in the lives of others?

The consensus that I’ve gotten from screenings and people who have seen the film is that its’ a great film. It’s sparked important discussions and some people have even shared with me their own personal struggles with mental health.

In an ideal world, this type of impact would be on a national level. It would cause people throughout the nation to have more honest discussions about mental health. Also, in an ideal world, this film would be shown in colleges and schools across America. I just want to help and inspire people through this film.

How can we support? What is next? 

You’ve already helped me tremendously by your expressed interest in the film, your desire to raise awareness surrounding mental health, and your featured article about my film. Right now I’m really working on the overall promotion of the film. Please inform everyone you know about my film that would also be great. Please like the page on Facebook and feel free to call radio stations and contact editors about the film so that it can receive more coverage. I think it’s important that we discuss the issues explored in the film.

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Tamala Baldwin

We are all born with incredible gifts and my purpose is to help as many along this journey of mine to remember their position of honor and royalty through inspirational, Christian-based media.
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