Director Sekiya Dorsett remembers the moment she decided to turn a ‘sweet script’ she was working on into very different story, with Bed-Stuy at its center.
It was the first Juneteenth to be declared a federal holiday, in 2021, and Dorsett was on high, excited to see another piece of African-American history recognized.
As she headed to Fort Greene Park to celebrate with programming from Brooklyn’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), she got a text from an Airbnb guest who was staying in her Bed-Stuy brownstone on Bainbridge Street.
The woman told Dorsett she had to leave. According to the text, the guest felt unsafe on the block, she’d heard gunshots and seen broken glass, and “as a woman” she didn’t feel safe coming in at night.
“I paused for a second,” Dorsett said. “I was heartbroken.
“It’s seeking danger in people’s eyes, is why you see danger. I have been here over 13 years and met all types of folks. And as a woman I’ve never felt unsafe. For her to say ‘as a woman,’ I felt like, ‘So what am I?'”
It was a lightbulb moment for the award-winning filmmaker, whose work has been featured by NBC, the Tribeca Film Festival and Urbanworld Film Festival, to name a few.
“That’s when I said, people don’t know how privileged they are to stay on this block, and how amazing these people are here.”
Instead of writing a short film about an Airbnb guest who has a heartwarming interaction with her host, Dorsett decided to write a feature length film about how special Bed-Stuy is (involving a guest who needs to be set straight).
Dorsett started filming the feature, I Love Bed-Stuy, in summer 2021.
I Love Bed-Stuy is a piece of docu-fiction that combines the scripted story of Ole, a third-generation Bed-Stuy resident, and her Airbnb guest Sam, with stories from Dorsett’s real life neighbors: Ms. Brown from Breevort Houses, her best friend Ms. Taylor, neighbor Dwayne and others.
The documentary segment starts when Ole introduces Sam to the neighborhood.
“We’re using the vehicle of the narrative to tell the story of Bed-Stuy residents in their own words,” Dorsett said.
The story is vitally important to tell right now, as a gentrifying Bed-Stuy is seeing many Black residents priced out of their own neighborhood.
One of Dorsett’s inspirations for I Love Bed-Stuy is Spike Lee’s iconic 1989 Bed-Stuy film, Do the Right Thing.
“We are so lucky to have Spike Lee, who has been keeping such a sharp record,” Dorsett said. “With Do the Right Thing, we saw how the neighborhood looked at the time, and it was coming from a place of truth with those characters. Now we’re asking, what is happening in 2022?”
One of Dorsett’s goals is to reach Lee so that he might be featured in I Love Bed-Stuy. She’s launched a social media campaign, made a video appeal, emailed people and even hand-delivered a letter on the matter.
“I have taken my penmanship to loose-leaf paper — not just an email,” she laughed.
“I have written out my heart and soul, almost in blood, and delivered it in winter — for dramatic affect — to a man, who I assured the letter was COVID-free and from the heart. But I still have not heard a peep.”
Over the past several months, Dorsett and her crew have also been fundraising for the film. While initially asking for $30,000, the team has raised more than $44,000 and Dorsett estimated they will likely need more than $100,000.
Her crew includes Executive Producer William Durrah, who grew up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn-based Producer Afiya Williams, Executive Producer Chana Ginelle Ewing, Director of Photographer Tiffany Armour-Tejada (who owns a color lab in Brooklyn), Stylist and Bed-Stuy resident Shani Coleman and Editor Niq Lewis.
The film is likely to be on screens in summer 2023, however those who donate will have access to test screenings in 2022.
“We want to get community feedback first before we put out anything,” Dorsett said.
“We’re not rushing this. We’re putting our heart and soul into it, and want people to feel proud of it and feel represented.”