Monique Matthews wears many hats: producer, screenwriting teacher and brilliant screenwriter. Without speaking, she‘is one of Daily variety‘s 10 Writers to Watch and a Semifinalist at Sundance New Voices. BGN had the opportunity to speak with Matthews by phone to discuss his latest movie Vacation in Harlem and what it means to be a black designer.
Vacation in Harlem is such a relevant movie to everyone, especially the mac and cheese scene, which is like a rite of passage for Jasmine’s character. Tell us more about how this scene came about, as well as what inspired you to write the film.
It’s the scene that matters so much to me. It was one of the first culturally specific films that Hallmark Channel made. I’m often asked about diversity versus inclusion, and I’m the one who separates the two. For me, diversity means that there is only one main way to tell a story. It’s like the TV show Friends; Living Single was the “diversified” version of Friends in our culture. In an inclusive world, you can have six friends from Brooklyn and six friends from Manhattan, and both stories carry equal weight.
With storytelling in general, the more specific you do, the more universal it actually becomes. I’ve had so many people say to me, âOh wow, I watch Hallmark Channel with my mom every year! I realized it was such a fun, family and community experience, and I wanted a scene that would speak to generations. I wanted mother-daughter-grandmother in this scene. From my cultural experience as an African American, grandmothers are very sacred. Then I realized that in the larger American setting, recipes and family reunions are something we all share.
The inclusive aspect of the mac-and-cheese scene might specifically speak to the black cultural experience, but it also speaks to the larger American celebration of the holidays because we love family recipes. It really is a rite of passage for the protagonist Jasmine. She becomes an adult in this scene as they teach her the recipe. I knew I wanted something that would appeal to everyone while giving us a specific cultural nod.
I am always interested in how other writers move around the world and their journey. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
You know, I’ve always been lost in words. I’m just in love with dialogue. Growing up, I used to quote films all the time, based on dialogue. It wasn’t the acting, it was always the words. I did all types of writing. My mom was frustrated and said, âWhy can’t you do a regular job? Even if I was sitting at a desk, I would get lost in the words and the musing. It is something that I have always done, to defend what was in me. I wasn’t trying to break the rules, I just saw it differently. I wanted to honor that.
How much responsibility do you think you have as a creator to talk about things that are going on in the world? How do you integrate this into your work?