Stories about brothers have always had a way of revealing the multiple sides of humanity. You have good and evil by way of Cain and Abel, Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of the clear-eyed versus naive in the 1988 classic Twins, and the differing paths of Jason and Joshua in Jason’s Lyric, as one assumes responsibility and the other succumbs to his vices. The majority of us seem to be drawn to these stories because they expose a gap between nature and nurture, where family and upbringing can’t so easily describe our motives, choices and character.
In Ella Ezeike’s work, she commits to representing close relationships with a particular sensitivity. Now based in London, the Nigerian-American photographer and filmmaker grew up in Los Angeles, traversing the city with a camera in hand, creating YouTube videos, documenting her travels and producing content for brands and influencers. Though in the summer of 2021, she decided that she wanted to make her first short film inspired by the love she had for her friends who helped her through a breakup. “I only had three rolls of film, casted people I had followed on Instagram, and shot it in a day and a half,” she tells us. “It was a very DIY approach that felt rather intuitive,” she adds.
Her new film Do My Thing once again taps into her experience of close relationships, through the prism of her two younger brothers. “They were often in competition with one another, but there was so much fun and humour at play.” Throughout the film, she showcases the tension of a brotherly bond, but is careful to approach it in a way that is authentic, as opposed to being pressured into instilling certain tropes onto Black male characters. “I want to be able to challenge that and show there are so many complex and interesting layers to Black storytelling.”
Sonically, Do My Thing is immediately sure about its identity; it welcomes us in with Bola Johnson’s Lagos Sisi. Ella often starts her process with an understanding of what she wants her films to sound like, opting for a piece of music that moves her and building her story around those qualities. “Then I’ll think about framing and how the camera moves, but none of that can be done without pinning down the feeling,” she says. “Whenever I’m creating I think about the feeling I’d like my audience to leave with.”
In the last few years, film panels and talks by emerging filmmakers have offered more insight into the art of filmmaking, in an effort to demystify the process. With Ella’s portfolio being something of an autobiography, it makes us wonder about the toil of communicating these personal themes to casts and crews. “It’s not difficult at all. Filmmaking is about honesty,” she tells us. “As a filmmaker, it’s my job to make sure I’m communicating stories authentically. There’s a solidarity that comes with that, it’s a way of connecting with people, and [it] energises me when people feel represented in my work.”
Ella’s work stands apart for the charming specificity of her own experience, and the fact that she allows it to be received broadly. Writing more with the hopes of releasing a feature film in the future, as well as veering into television, she is committed to research and “developing her skills quietly”. In the meantime we look forward to more of her intricate portrayals of our most sacred bonds.
GalleryElla Ezeike: Do My Thing (Copyright © Ella Ezeike, 2023)
Ella Ezeike: Do My Thing (Copyright © Ella Ezeike, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is a staff writer at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.