Noted in Essence Magazine as “the next one to watch”, Nzingha Stewart is blazing a trail, becoming one of the hottest female music video directors to date. She has directed videos for artists such as Macy Gray, Common, Bilal, Eve, Keisha Cole, Joss Stone, and Jagged Edge. With incredible artistic direction and originality, Nzingha provides imagery, mood, and storyline effortlessly, making a wonderful accompaniment to some of today’s hottest Hip Hop, R&B and alternative songs. Want more proof? Bilal’s Soul Sista video says it all. Amazing imagery combined with Bilal’s message that “black is beautiful” made women of color all over the world feel good, no matter their skin tone. Clutch was able to catch up with Nzingha and her busy schedule to give us more insight on the video directing business and her future projects.
Clutch: How long have you been a video director and what path did you choose towards becoming one?
Nzingha: Almost 10 years now. I started out by interning for other music video directors, and while there, I asked to start writing some of their ideas (called Treatments). At the same time, I began shooting really low-budget music videos for local bands and artists. When I had about 4 music videos on a reel, I showed them to some of the directors that I wrote for or assisted and they passed it on to a music video rep, and she began submitting it to record labels until I started getting work.
Clutch: Who are some music artists that you’ve worked with?
Nzingha: I’ve probably done over a 100 videos, but some of the highlights were Common “The Light,” Bilal “Soul Sista,” Eve “Satisfaction,” Joss Stone “Fell In Love With a Boy,” 50 Cent “Your Life Is On The Line,” & Freeway featuring Jay-Z “What We Do.”
Clutch: What video shoot did you find the most challenging, and why?
Nzingha: There really is no “most challenging.” Every job has it’s own unique set of circumstances and they all prove to be a challenge, whether it’s working on a low-budget and creating something you’re proud of out of that, or working with a high-budget with higher expectations.
Clutch:What production company are you currently with?
Nzingha: Radical Media.
Clutch: Originally, you were based out of New York, now you’re in California. Is there more opportunity out there?
Nzingha: There is in the film industry. In music videos you can definitely be based in NY and fly to wherever you’re needed for the shoot (which often ends up being LA), but now that I’m working to make my first feature film I had to be in Hollywood.
Clutch: As a woman of color, did you find any resistance coming up in a business that is male dominated?
Nzingha: Yes, but more often than not, was the un-willingness to take a lot of jobs that were demeaning to women when the guys weren’t. Sometimes I’ve had to bend my own rules to stay working, but even then there’s only so far I’m willing to go so it’s often a self-imposed resistance.
Clutch: What projects are you currently working on?
Nzingha: Finishing up a video for Jill Scott and preparing to shoot my first feature film an adaptation of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide: When The Rainbow Is Enuf, starring Angela Bassett, Alicia Keys and Sanaa Lathan.
Clutch: What is the process when coming up with an idea for a video? On average, how long is the editing process?
Nzingha: Listen to the song a bunch of times until you have an idea. The editing process is about a week and a half.
Clutch: In your opinion, how important is the role of fashion in music videos?
Nzingha: EXTREMELY. So often, I’ve seen a good stylist make or break a video. The wardrobe is something that is on-screen the entire time so if the artist doesn’t have great wardrobe the video itself suffers (ENORMOUSLY), and conversely having incredible wardrobe can often mean someone can literally just stand against a wall and you’ve got an interesting image.
Clutch: Just like fashion, videos tend to have trends. At one point the fish eye lens was popular, and now, theme wise, the back drop for a lot of Hip Hop music videos are in a club or at a bar. Where do see the future of music videos heading in the Hip Hop community?
Nzingha: It really all depends on the music. If artists make songs about “snapping fingers,” you’ll see music videos with fingers snapping. If they make songs that talk about being in a club, you’ll see videos set in a club. If someday they’re making songs about space travel… you get my drift.
Clutch: As a female director, what are your feelings on the objectification of women in Hip Hop music videos?
Nzingha: I’m not as hard on this as most people would expect because I’m completely against the censorship of art, and if they can sensor the bad videos, then they can sensor the good ones. But it would be nice to see a different choice. And right now it seems like instead of doing the work to make an interesting piece of art, most video directors are lazy and just think, “let’s just shoot a hot girl crawling around on a car… Done!” It’s annoying, and ultimately harmful.
Clutch: You’ve also worked with alternative groups such as Dashboard Confessional. Was the transition easy from the Hip Hop community to Alternative?
Nzingha: Creatively it was an easy transition, but labels do have different expectations of you as a hip hop director so the work in alternative rock isn’t as forthcoming even if you do a good job in that genre.
Clutch: What has been the biggest fulfillment out of all the work you’ve done?
Nzingha: My short film, “Thursday. South Central.” The screenplay for “For Colored Girls,” and the music video for Bilal “Soul Sista.”
Clutch: What advice can you give to women who would like to pursue directing as a career?
Nzingha: Drink a lot of caffeine!