New Orleans Continues to Inspire the Works of Filmmaker Phillip Youmans.

New Orleans native Phillip Youmans' 2021 film "Voodoo" aired on Hulu this year as part of the network's Initiative 29 to feature more diverse filmmakers and content.
Tamir Wright
Data News Weekly Contributor
The pandemic did not slow down New Orleans filmmaker and director Phillip Youmans. He served on the jury for the 2021 Gotham Awards on Nov. 29 for this year’s “Breakthrough Director” category, a title he won in 2019 for his critically acclaimed film “Burning Cane,” that was picked up by Netflix, and starred actor Wendell Pierce, also a New Orleans native. In 2021, Youmans also returned to major streaming services with the Hulu-released “Voodoo” as part of the network’s “Huluween Celebration,” and once again, Youmans also cast an up-and-coming New Orleans actor Rico Brown.Youmans’ “Voodoo,” was a neo-noir mystery thriller set in near-future New Orleans following a homicide detective, Chance Griffin, played by Brown, as he deciphers a riddle that unlocks answers to an occult crime investigation.

“I thought about how it would be cool to have a sort of Black Blade Runner where a detective is guided by Voodoo … where Voodoo is a force for good on this detective’s journey to solving a crime,” said Youmans, as he spoke to Xavier University Film Club students as a featured speaker for “Reel Talk” on Nov. 30, 2021. “I took that idea of Voodoo being what guides this detective as a way to create a metaphor for Voodoo as a metaphor of cultural appropriation,” Youmans said. Hulu’s “Huluween Celebration” was a curated, Halloween-themed hub where viewers were able to watch classic horror films and TV shows, spooky children’s programming, and original movies and short films throughout the month of October this year. Youmans brought his own spin to horror, inspired by the city he grew up in.

“It all starts with the script, you know. It all starts with that as the foundation,” said Youmans, who grew up in the 7th Ward of New Orleans, and who wrote, directed, and edited the film. Youmans has filmed for Hulu in the past, also writing, directing, and editing “Imagine a Moon Colony” for Hulu’s Black History Month in 2020. “I think that the substance of what you’re shooting is more important than the aesthetic, but the aesthetic is what elevates it,” Youmans added.

The rising film star is known for his imagery and use of colors in his films that are inspired by the sights, sounds, and feelings of New Orleans. His visuals have allowed his films to stand out and skyrocketed him to the top ranks of young filmmakers. At the age of 19, he became the first and youngest African-American director to win the Founder’s Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival for his film “Burning Cane.” The film caught the eye of Ava DuVernay, whose company ARRAY, picked up and distributed the movie to select theaters around the country and later had it released on Netflix. Youmans then made the Forbes 30-Under-30 list in entertainment in 2020.

Rico Brown, who played detective Chance Griffin in Youman’s 2021 film “Voodoo,” described the adrenaline rush to work on a set with Youmans for his first role as an actor. Brown is a local artist in the city, who also specializes in bead art for Mardi Gras Indian costumes. “There were times when we weren’t on the clock, at all, shooting. There was no budget, there was no money and we were just chasing the art, chasing the vision, chasing the script, chasing the film,” Brown said. “It was a feeling that I would always want to go back to,” he said. “It was all a great experience. Working with Phillip is an honor.”

The film premiered as a part of Hulu’s Initiative 29 movement, in which Hulu releases socially conscious short films on the 29th of every month. “Voodoo” capped off Hulu’s month-long celebration of the horror genre. Youmans said he has plans to expand “Voodoo” into a multiple-episode project. “I have an expansion clause with Hulu, so whenever I bring them the expansion of what this story is…I talked to all of them about what it could be like as a mini-series. Something strung out to nine episodes where I could direct each one,” Youmans said.

As a young director and cinematographer, he said he remains grounded, connected to his city, and the art that inspires him to move forward to future projects. “Keep making art and stay accountable to the work you want to see, and the growth you want to see,” Youmans told the students.

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