Every once in a while, the internet brings you quality people you would’ve never encountered otherwise. My Black girl homies-in-my-head squad runs deep. I first “met” filmmaker and screenwriter Tonja Renee Stidhum where I meet all dope Black creatives who become part of my e-tribe: the VerySmartBrothas comment section! Tonja (embrace the J–it’s nice and hard) is a hilarious Chicago native with pinchable cheeks. She’s also talented AF and super sweet.
Recently, she launched an Indiegogo campaign to help her shoot the pilot for her new web series, WingChick. I’m so geeked to have her on the blog today to talk about the series. Let’s hop right into it.
A Chat with Tonja Renee Stidhum
Truly Tafakari: Thanks for chatting with me, girl! It’s so dope that you’ve conceptualized and kicked off a whole web series. Tell us more about the WingChick project!
Tonja Renee Stidhum:
WingChick follows Raven, a dating site profile writer who is on POINT with the pen, but not so much in reality. Raven’s male partner-in-crime is Michael and their relationship is your typical “sexual tension splattered all over their faces, but somehow they don’t own a mirror” situation. When Raven needs some fellow estrogen in her life, she hangs with her BFFs: Greer, Lenora (called “Leo”, for short), and Tess.
TT: Part of your mission for your production company, Girl I Guess Productions, is to “facilitate increased visibility and improved quality of the images featuring Black folks.” I love that! We absolutely contain multitudes. Who do you see as the target audience for WingChick?
Men and women, aged 18-39, specifically the bougie Black community. Since the series is heavily filled with pop culture and socially-current messages, I expect that demo to widen.
TT: Black web series pioneers like Issa Rae are certainly bringing more attention to indie-produced online content. What famous director would you freak out if you learned they watched WingChick?
Ava. DuVernay. Hands down. I stan for what she stands for, what she sits for, and what she idles for.
TT: Don’t we all?! You also have a sweet movie review podcast, Cinema Bun Podcast, that dishes on new and old films. (We had a blast reviewing Moana together!) But what’s your current favorite series, TV or web?
That’s a tough one because it’s SO much great content right now. Right now, I gotta say Atlanta. I didn’t even get to watch it while it was on-schedule, but I binged it soon after the first season ended and when I telllll you the hollers I let out in my crib??? Pretty sure the neighbors likely thought a meerkat and zebra were having relations.
Are you #TeamDrums or #TeamFlats? Rep your chicken wing squad & contribute here: bit.ly/wingchickseries… Click To Tweet
TT: LOL! You’re really an all-around Hollywood buff, aren’t you?! What inspired you to become a screenwriter?
See, now I have the power of hindsight. I actually didn’t know at the time of “THEE moment.” But, it was when I first cried during E.T. You know when his finger glows and he touches his heart, telling Elliott, “I’ll be right here?” CHILE. Ugly Oprah cry. And I vividly remember trying to hide my face so my mama or sister wouldn’t comment on it. And every subsequent viewing after that, I STILL cried. So, I wanted that power. I wanted the power to evoke emotions in people the way it did me.
TT: How do you study and how do you practice your craft?
I write, I write, rinse, repeat, and write. When I first realized screenwriting was an actual job (sometime around high school, I believe), I began searching on message boards and finding screenplays online. And I’d read those. Every time awards season bloomed, they released a bunch of nominated scripts and I got my LIFE. But, the best teacher is definitely writing. I’m always at my best when I’m writing consistently.
TT: I know that feeling! Me, too. Almost 2 years ago, you took a leap of faith, moving from Chicago to L.A. to pursue your dreams. Now you are taking the next step. How does it feel believing you got that sauce enough to act on it?
VERY VERY WOW. Yes, it’ll be almost 2 years since I booked that one-way flight to Los Angeles. Seriously. It feels… it feels like I’ve been given the most inviting and warmest hug. That’s the way to put it. I’ve been in rooms I’ve only dreamed about, with PEOPLE that seemed so far away.
Surreal ain’t even the word. And it’s not easy. It’s not all roses. But, I’ve never ever been happier than I am here. So, of course, taking that leap means I have to go further; I have to fly. I call WingChick my “fling of faith.” And it’s TERRIFYING and amazing at the same damn time. Which means, I HAVE to do it. Word to Erada.
TT: YES, GIRL, YASS! I’m so fracking proud of you, for everything. Speaking of sauce, what’s your favorite flavor of wings? And are you #TeamDrums or #TeamFlats?
Lawd! First, of all, I gotta point out, we ALL Team Chicken. I’m not tossing one out the window or nothin’.
[My favorite flavor is] Buffalo. Since I was like 11 or so, I’ve loved hot wings. Every single restaurant we frequented, if they had buffalo wings? I had to try them. I remember I had a layover in Buffalo, NY on my way to Caribana in Toronto and I was excited because I got to try Buffalo wings at the airport. Now, who in Carmen San Diego’s world is excited about layovers? Me, when there’s chicken.
But one IS better than the other, and that’s… team flats. When I get wings at the chicken shack, I alternate between drums and flats as I’m eating and I always leave a flat for last. It’s more flavorful. Also, once I learned how to eat one correctly (to clean the bone), it was GAME. BLOUSES.
TT: I’m #TeamDrums, but I’ma let your bad wing judgment slide because you’re the homie! Finally, for those of us who need us some more Tonja RIGHT NAH before WingChick hatches, where can folks go to see some of your prior work?
I have a short on Vimeo called Run You inspired by the need to escape the banal 9-to-5 (a sista STILL trying to escape it for good; but I’m close!) as well as an EXTRA-short on Instagram called Worth A Thousand, which was a submission to the Instagram/TIFF competition. I’m also a staff writer at Hollywood’s Black Renaissance where I cover news/events featuring Black women in Hollywood and an occasional contributor to Very Smart Brothas!
Be sure to follow Tonja on Twitter @EmbraceTheJ and catch up with the podcast @Cinemabuncast, too. And for the love of lemon pepper drumsticks, check out the WingChick Indiegogo page and support this magical black girl! You can share this link on your social media pages. Declare your love for #TeamWings or #TeamFlats in a tweet! And, of course, you can always show love by sending your coins to the campaign.Whether you got $5 on it or you're Mayweather Money Team, support #WingChick webseries! bit.ly/wingchickseries Click To Tweet
Thanks to Tonja for chatting with me! The Truly Tafakari fam and I can’t wait to see more of you and WingChick around these Internet streets.