Ezra Edmond recalls a moment in a bookstore where he saw a mother of two biracial children searching for Jewish books. He remembers wishing there was something he could do. As a Blewish man — a portmanteau of Black and Jewish, and also the title of Edmond’s animated short film — he remembers what it felt like not to see his identity represented as a child.
“Growing up as a kid, I think there was such limited representation that I didn’t realize that representation was missing,” Edmond said. “And then being older and appreciating [representation] when I saw it and learning that it had value to me, and then seeing kids who were younger [without it]. I wanted to tell a story that was about the importance of representation and acceptance.”
But representation and diversity don’t always have to be sensational, earth-shattering multimillion-dollar films. To Edmond, it can be as easy as having a picture on the wall, a book, or in his case, an animated short film.
Blewish was one of the few positives to come out of the global Coronavirus pandemic. With an excess amount of time on his hands and a creative mind, Edmond set out to make the short.
“As soon as the pandemic started, it looked like we were staying at home for a while,” Edmond said. “I thought, ‘Hey, I have this time again. And this time, I’m going to make something. I’m not going to come out of however long this pandemic lasts — [whether it’s a month or two years] — I was like I’m gonna use this time now.’”
Edmond developed an intrigue with animation when he was very young. Stop motion films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Wallace and Gromit were great catalysts for Edmond’s intrigue with animation.
“The stop motion movies, I could tell that they had been made by hand because you could see the fingerprints on the clay and it just felt like it was made,” Edmond said. “That helped me realize that you could make animation — same with Disney’s hand-drawn animation.”
He listed other animated works like The Simpsons, Bojack Horseman, and King of the Hill as demonstrative of the capabilities of animation.
“There’s something amazing about watching something very sad happen to a man with a horse head and then a guy who looks like a bird fly away by flapping his arms into the background,” Edmond said. “The way that it punctuates it and lets you sit in it without feeling too connected to it is exactly what animation is all about.”
From Disney to Lucasfilm to Pixar, Edmond has experience working with heavyweight companies on their digital marketing and with their intellectual property. Making the jump to directing, producing, and writing his own film was natural and a continuation of his work from when he was in school.
“I’ve always been someone who likes making my own things. When I was a kid, I would make stop motion in the garage, and I went to school for animation,” Edmond said. “I would stay up late trying to make the longest, best piece of animation. You know, I’ve always had fun writing my own stories and doing that. So [making something of my own] was something I always really wanted to do.
The animator also has a passion for storytelling. A loyal fan of Reading Rainbow and an avid reader in his youth, Edmond’s next project is a children’s picture book titled “My Friend, LeVar.” It is inspired by his experience as a child when he met the longtime “Reading Rainbow” host.
Sharing your personal experiences can be difficult, and Edmond is no stranger to this feeling. He expressed the angst he underwent about how people he was close to would receive the film.
“I wanted to help people in the future have less moments where they feel like they [don’t fit in] and I didn’t want it to come across like I never had any friends in any of those spaces or anything,” Edmond said. “That was what was really tough. You take similar experiences that happened over an entire lifetime and you compress them down to four minutes and you don’t want it to feel heavy-handed or that every day of your life was a terrible one. I thought, shoot, what if I make this and like the friends who I did have at this time, feel like ‘Oh shoot was I never really his friend?’”
Writing what you know is commonly presented as the axiom of the craft. But it can be more complicated than the phrase makes it seem. To Edmond, it’s taking specific experiences that are your own and turning them into a story that is ubiquitous and understandable by people who haven’t lived those particular experiences. Blewish was also able to accomplish this feat through the absence of dialogue. Edmond wanted to surmount barriers of language and culture to make the story accessible.
“I wanted [Blewish] to be able to play to anyone,” Edmond said. “If they were anywhere in the world, spoke a different language, or had to watch with the sound off or whatever reasons they may have, I wanted it to [translate].”
Edmond doesn’t count anything out for his future endeavors. He hopes to work on another short film in the future. My Friend, LeVar is on the horizon, and he’s also in the process of self-publishing a novel he’s working on.
“I’m not tied specifically to short films or animation or children’s projects, I just want to make things I like,” Edmons said. “I definitely am a believer [that if] you make something that you like, and you believe in, there will be an audience for it.”
Edmond believes Blewish, which is an official selection at the Cucalorus Film Festival and Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, now belongs to its audience.
“I remember as soon as [Blewish] went to the first festival, I just had that thought of, ‘This isn’t my story anymore, it’s done,’” Edmond said. “‘It is out for people to see. And whatever the feedback is going to be is what it is, because it’s not mine now it belongs to however anybody watches it. And however, they take that.’ It’s all been positive and inspiring. And it makes me want to make more stuff. So that’s, that’s the best response I got to hope for.”