Film project UNCODE spotlights the diversity of black voices.
For years, husband and wife Ali Graham and Myisa Plancq-Graham had been looking for a way to work together, but his crazy schedule in the world of start-up mergers and acquisitions kept him busy and she was occupied with expanding her photography business. One morning last February, Myisa woke up to find Ali on the couch, mulling over the idea that would finally get them collaborating: a video project called UNCODE that showcases the hugely varied interests of the African diaspora.
“The initial idea was to provide a platform for people to share who they are with no angles and no ulterior intention, and to be solution-driven and positive,” Myisa says. “Not phony, but uplifting for a change, and combating a monolithic depiction of African Americans. In seeing the same images over and over again you start to believe that’s all you have to aspire to.”
UNCODE premieres this month on Amazon Prime and YouTube. Its stories are tightly paced, slickly shot short videos, to be released monthly in collections assembled around a theme. The first episode is about the Seattle community and features drag performer Amora Dior Black, muralist Aramis Hamer, rapper Gifted Gab and chef Tarik Abdullah. Episode 2 is focused on health, food and wellness, featuring James Beard Award-winning, Bay Area chef Bryant Terry talking about alternatives for people living in food deserts, and Portland’s Jesse Horton, a dispensary owner, grow operator and director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. There’s also a travel episode brewing.
The idea for UNCODE may have arrived in a flash, but its execution is meticulously, methodically planned and data-driven. The very first thing Ali and Myisa did was partner with Amazon, where he was then working as a contract manager for global facilities. (He left the company in June, to focus on growing UNCODE.) In March, Amazon’s Black Employee Network was hosting a hackathon, and Ali and Myisa asked if they could tag along and shoot video, both to hone their skills and create a proof of concept for the project.
When Myisa and Ali started figuring out how best to deliver the stories they wanted to tell, they learned that not only are Black people some of the largest consumers of media in all forms, they’re also leaders in second-screening—“consuming content, and then hopping on social media to talk about consuming that content,” Ali explains. “We decided that if we were going to do it, why not try and be as ahead of the curve as possible?” Rather than just making digital content or video content, they decided to “focus on mobile video content, packaging our stories to be consumable on a mobile device.”
The goal by the third episode is to have established a collective. “We want filmmakers and storytellers, writers and editors from all over the country and ideally at some point globally, contributing,” Myisa says.
“We know that we’re coming from a position of privilege, from tech companies and with our contacts,” Ali says. The collective is a way of sharing that solid foundation with artists who may not have the time or ability to build a company from the ground up. “We want different voices, and different voices of different creators,” Myisa says. “We really want this to feel like a community, and a mosaic.”