YARA SHAHIDI’S DIRECTORIAL DEBUT

BY: KIMBERLY ALSUP

X is about a Black boy that leaves home one morning to go to school. He’s just a regular kid, but as he steps out into the world we see him physically shift and evolve to match the expectations and stereotypes projected into him by the world that he lives in.

X has no almost no dialogue, but it does manage to powerfully convey the spectrum of emotions experienced by people who feel marginalized with public spaces. X wants to explore a young girl trying to ward off the unwanted approach of a grown man or a black teen targeted by a grocery store owner. It is only when they feel safe in their environments that they can truly be themselves.

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X is done in part of Season 2 of the Shatterbox Anthology, a partnership between Refinery 29 and TNT that seeks to give opportunities to tell new and unusual stories behind the camera.

“It’s really about what’s it’s like living in a space you don’t own. I think it’s something everybody can relate to, especially as a brown person, but also as somebody who is on the internet nowadays, where you are constantly witnessing trauma of other people, being desensitized to it, and also living next to it, and with it, in a way that isn’t often addressed, and in a way that makes you grow up really quickly. And so, X was almost a literal adaptation of what it would be like if we grew up based on our surroundings.” –Yara Shahidi

Yara co-wrote the film with Grown-ish writer Jordan Reddout and says that she was inspired by the 1956 French classic The Red Balloon, which shines a light on that country’s socio-economic disparities by following a little boy’s journey through Paris.

The title, X, was originally a place-holder name for the unnamed main character.

“When we were writing the draft and didn’t know what to call the character, we just called them X. But what it represented was in fact that I didn’t want this to seem like this was a story that was happening to this one young boy. Not to reduce a character to an algorithm, but it’s very much a variable or a stand-in for anybody. Especially now, when we witness what happens on a daily basis to kids, especially kids of color, every iteration of X is representative of everyone who goes through daily discomfort and almost earned paranoia of not knowing what will happen to you next in your surroundings.” –Yara Shahidi

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Yara has an African-American mother and Iranian father so this story is something she is all too familiar with.

“Whenever my brother and I felt uncomfortable with somebody behind us, we’d start talking about karate really loudly, as if that would ward people off. Like, ‘Oh, they know karate, back away!’ It’s those moments that I feel like each iteration of X allows us to explore. Every change is intentional. X transitions into a girl for that bus scene, because it’s a special kind of discomfort.” – Yara Shahidi

X ends on somewhat of a questionable note, something that Yara said is intentional.

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“We came up with the idea that we didn’t need a finite ending. It’s cool not to have a clear moral of the story, because to say that there’s a moral of the story would say that there is some sort of solution. Whereas there isn’t a solution, and it’s more a film about awareness.” –Yara Shahidi

“X” is currently available to stream across TNT’s digital distribution platforms, including Roku, Amazon Firestick, Apple TV, Xbox One, and TNT’s website.

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