Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman have been on a lengthy and fascinating journey in creating their afrofuturist film, “Neptune Frost.” The couple double as producers, with Williams as a writer and Uzeyman as the director of photography. “Neptune Frost” appeared into the Black artistic ethosphere as an album in 2016 and will emerge as a graphic novel which will follow the current successful theatrical releases of the powerful and enigmatic film about a digital, otherworldly being named Neptune Frost.
Frost goes on her own journey and blurs the lines between gender, humanity, computer science and self healing. Williams and Uzeyman spoke to the AmNews about the film.
“Neptune Frost” can be seen at Magic Johnson AMC in Harlem on June 24.
AmNews: It’s Pride Month, so let’s talk a little bit about the Transition: of symbiotic; of rhetoric; of whatever gender, however style (analytical or political) and literal growth and change from a male being into a female digital force of nature.
Saul Williams: You’re saying it all! Preach. From its inception, “Neptune Frost” was always a story of this intersex, y’know, character. And the Transformation that occurs in the film was something that we conceived of from the very beginning.
We’ve always seen it as a means of discussing this sort of fluidity that is related to the lines between culture, gender, language, technology, history—all of these things. And of course, there’s a certain fluidity in the film overall. But the fluidity of the character Neptune is sort of, y’know, the way in which we thought that we could bring this fairytale to life and talk about this binary coding, which, of course, takes place in the virtual realm but also has its place in the way that forces have imposed themselves on how we ingest society, how we ingest community.
And so we think of the rigidity of that [imposing] and its relationship to colonialism, to griot forces. And understanding, essentially, that fluidity is something that’s always been a part of our culture from before they arrived—and that the rigidity came with the times.
I think the role of artists is finding creative ways to shift the discussion—to be a part of the discussion, and to uplift the discussion. The fluidity that we express in the film is something as artists we have clearly, and always, identified with.
AmNews: Anisa, tell me about your origins in this project.
Anisia Uzeyman: I would say it originated in our Hub, y’know? The project where Saul was doing “MartyrLoserKing,” I was there too. I was around; we were exchanging ideas and exploring how our common stories are different, and seeing how to seem powerless and also complimentary, and how we separate the experience.
Everything: history; gender; politics. And I think the film really came about because we’re looking for a project where we could work together and express all those ideas and connections.
So I would say it came organically. The gestation of it is really what happened between us and the discussions that we had. And then we went on to start writing the musical [stage] play…
AmNews: Is that why the album [“MartyrLoserKing”] is embedded within the film, because it was supposed to be a musical [from] the beginning?
Williams: It was always a musical; nothing has changed. When we met we had the idea of exactly what we did. The only difference was it was going to be on stage. [In] 2014 Anisia and I did a residency at BAMF to write the stage play [BAMF Café, formerly situated in the Station North neighborhood in Baltimore]. That album didn’t come out ‘til 2016.
And then to the stage play, to producers. And from there we had a producer who said, “I would love to invest in this, but I really think it sits still.” And so, the idea is slowly transformed and we accepted that as a reality and realized that if it were a film then we could be on-location. Then we could introduce new actors and new voices.
Personally, I have no personal relationship to Rwanda or Maundy without Anisia. So the whole impetus of this story came from Anisia and [sic] I meeting, and having a blossoming of discussions: connecting points in our histories, in our lives, our stories. And then trying to find a way to work together, from that desire connected to what we were observing in the real world.
AmNews: So it’s 2022—it’s been almost a decade. In relation to all the work you do, tell me how did it feel for you, existentially and emotionally, to get through these [past] eight years of finally getting to this point, which is not the end, but to this pinnacle for sure.
Williams: Well, the one thing that I learned throughout this process—and from the very beginning—was that it was going to involve a great deal of pacing. I was very clear on the fact after spending 20 years on the road, touring and what have you, I was growing less interested in that, and I had some, if you will, childhood dreams that I wanted to manifest, now or never. For me that dream was writing a musical, which is something I wanted to do since I was a teenager, maybe even before I was a teen.
AmNews: Are you exhausted, were you impatient? You’re talking about pacing; that embeds a body of patience. How did you psychologically and emotionally get yourself through eight years? Because that’s still a long time.
Williams: Well, think about it. Normally, if you’re talking about any other musical, you’re going to have one person writing the music; you’re going to have another person writing the script. So I was clear on the fact, from the beginning, that I was taking on more than normally what one person usually does. And the same was true for Anisia as a director of photography, and a director. And producing (we’re both the lead producers) and so much more because we’re the fundraisers for this project.
The process of finding the sounds; the process of finding the words, the lyrics; the process of finding the characters, the voices—who’s singing? The process of collaborating…The graphic novel, for example, has had two illustrators. [With] the first illustrator, over the course of two years, I had six drawings. For me, over the course of those two years, I wrote two albums and a book of poetry. We had to—I had to—adjust and acknowledge, OK, we’re not working at the same pace. I have to find someone that works at a better pace. If I was still working with that illustrator I have no idea when this thing would be completed. Whereas right now, yes, we still beat the graphic novel, but I know that, like, 300, 400 drawings have already been done.
For me, I was thinking of this like George Lucas—we’ve created a universe. It’s been all about world-building. The time that it takes to build it is really nothing compared to how long it may last in the hearts and minds and the imaginations of those who experience it now. And so it was worth all the time: it was worth all of the books that we read, all of the tutorials that Anisia put herself through [on YouTube]. [Laughter]; worth all of the discussions; worth all of the films, all of the traveling. All of this stuff—it’s like building a pyramid.
When “Martyr…” came out I knew, without telling the public, that I was basically releasing the demos, or reference tracks, that I would be sharing with the cast. That they would then be singing in their own voices and in their own language. But I needed something to live off of and to get me through that time period. So releasing albums and touring off of them was part of the process.