‘Cocoa Butter,’ a comedy about whites wanting to be Black without headaches, at SF Black Film Fest

by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey

‘Cocoa-Butter’-Dylan-tries-Legro-Cream, ‘Cocoa Butter,’ a comedy about whites wanting to be Black without headaches, at SF Black Film Fest, Culture Currents
“Cocoa Butter” aims to tackle the racial inequalities in modern-day America through the naiveté, carelessness and teenage infatuation of the main character. Dylan thinks that this product, Legro Cream, is his only chance at being the man he so desperately believes his love interest wants.

“Cocoa Butter” is a comedic short film by filmmaker Dominque Gilbert, where the main character, who is white, wants the benefits of being Black in society, but not the headaches, to get the attention of a girl. It is kind of the reverse of Frantz Fanon’s theory in “Black Skin, White Masks.”

The main character buys a darkening cream called Legro Cream; on the commercial for it, an out of shape white man appears, then a buff Black dude, and the commercial narrator says: “Before, cracker; nigga after.” He uses the cream but forgets to read the whole label, which reads, “Once you go Black, you can never go back.”

From getting robbed for his Jordans to being framed and terrorized by the police, the saga of the main character questions life on two different sides of the racial line in U.S. society. “Why in the world would you wanna be Black?” is the question the white mother asks her endarkened son, the main character, at the end of the film.

I think it is a very profound question that many whites who are familiar with the degradation of Black people ask in this society, especially after their children are consumed by Black music, fashion, slang, athleticism or genius in one way or another.

“Why in the world would you wanna be Black?” is a very profound question that many whites who are familiar with the degradation of Black people ask in this society, especially after their children are consumed by Black music, fashion, slang, athleticism or genius in one way or another.

Here is an exclusive interview with the filmmaker of “Cocoa Butter,” Dominique Gilbert. Read him in his own words.

M.O.I. JR: What inspired you to write the hilarious satire “Cocoa Butter”?

Dominique Gilbert: “Cocoa Butter” actually started out as a 48-hour film project concept back in 2009 with my best friends Samuel Dent and Victor Garcia. Originally, the story was about a young teen who had a pimple he wanted to get rid of on the eve of his first date, so he found a cream solution that only made things worse.

The concept was pretty bland, to be honest. As the three of us were brainstorming, Sam, who is also Black, blurts out to us: “A pimple is his big concern in life? Try just being Black for a day.” You could hear an ant fart in that room after, and I knew instantly that I needed to write that script.

M.O.I. JR: What kind of artistry do you like that is similar to the presentation of “Cocoa Butter”?

Dominique Gilbert: That’s a great question. I’m constantly searching for material that keeps you thinking about the way we look at society. I am a big fan of Quentin Tarantino, particularly the movie “Django.”

The power of being able to make a movie about slavery and add both comedy and heroic drama really caught me off guard. That film was crafted very well and it also gave me and my white counterparts the opportunity to have an open discussion on topics that are very hard to talk about.

I am also watching the show “Black Mirror” on Netflix that has you thinking the same way but with the subject matter on technology. Every episode keeps me realizing how real and scary technology has changed the way we communicate with people.

M.O.I. JR: Usually people favor bleaching cream over getting darker. What made you play with that concept in this short?

Dominique Gilbert: I used to say that I was tired of being Black. I’m tired of police stopping me; I’m tired of people sheltering their bag thinking I’m going to steal it. I’m tired of being a threat even though I am a loving individual.

My ignorance was poisoning me. It took one of my mentors, Prince Habib, to explain to me how desirable being Black is. Black art, music, fashion, language, style, athleticism, energy in my opinion is the most consumed out of all. That to me was important to hear. So I wanted to play with that in this film, the desire of being Black. Just because you have access to wearing it, doesn’t mean you’re ready to live it. That’s what I wanted my character to understand towards the end of the film.

M.O.I. JR: How does the name relate to the film?

Dominique Gilbert: It is actually a funny story. My girlfriend of six years is Armenian and before she met me, she never used lotion. I mean absolutely no lotion in the house, only sunscreen.

So when I first stayed over at her house and got out of the shower, I asked her if she had any lotion. Of course, she offered sunscreen, and I kindly declined that. So we went to Target and as we are going down the lotion isle, she randomly grabbed some weird lotion that definitely was not coming back to the house.

‘Cocoa-Butter’-Dylan-smears-on-Legro-Cream, ‘Cocoa Butter,’ a comedy about whites wanting to be Black without headaches, at SF Black Film Fest, Culture Currents
Actor Jared Morton improvised this scene, aggressively putting on the cream, driven by his urgent need to be Black. The first couple of takes seemed very mundane and then, on the third take, Jared went crazy and just started smearing it all over him. So we kept rolling until the bottle was empty. My favorite scene.

I told her that my family only uses cocoa butter lotion – or vaseline if you’re desperate – it’s rich and keeps my skin nice and smooth. Her response was classic, “You put chocolate on your body?” Now she uses cocoa butter all the time and the title pays homage to that experience, trying to explain to her and many like herself that I am not using actual chocolate.

M.O.I. JR: Will you make it into a feature length film? Why or why not?

Dominique Gilbert: I would absolutely, if given the opportunity, make this into a feature film. The film is 15 minutes long due to the requirements of my thesis film. However, I have so much more material to add in to truly tell my story. So yes, I am currently seeking opportunities to make this film into a feature.

M.O.I. JR: What is your creative process like when you are writing a script for a film?

Dominique Gilbert: I come from a background of editing music videos, so I wanted to make sure that the beats and pace felt close to that at times. But I have to give credit to two of the best script writing teachers in the country for helping me hone in on my writing skills and understanding story telling.

Professor Stuart Voytilla helped me tremendously to understand the craft of comedy, and Professor Aurorae Khoo and her scriptwriting class helped me strengthen my characters by understanding their flaws and using that against them. I will never forget walking her to her car after every class and picking her brain on storytelling and her own personal experience as a scriptwriter.

M.O.I. JR: How long did it take you to create “Cocoa Butter”?

Dominique Gilbert: Writing “Cocoa Butter” took me four and a half months. Twelve revisions later and a short film was ready to be made. We projected that the film would take six days; however, due to a situation early on that almost forced us out of our production, we ended up adding five extra half days to the production. That story is a monster of its own.

M.O.I. JR: How have Black audiences responded? White audiences?

Dominique Gilbert: So far I have nothing but love and positive criticism about the film from both Black and white audiences. I have been very blessed so far to have people really take it in from both sides and start a conversation about race and culture. That was my sole purpose when creating this film and I am very happy with the results.

M.O.I. JR: How did it feel to be selected to screen at the SF Black Film Festival?

Dominique-Gilbert, ‘Cocoa Butter,’ a comedy about whites wanting to be Black without headaches, at SF Black Film Fest, Culture Currents
Dominique Gilbert

Dominique Gilbert: When I went to the website and saw our film’s cover on the front page, I screamed and cried and called everybody on the team to tell them the great news. Even back in school, I said one of my goals was to get into the San Francisco Black Film Festival because of the culture and creative minds that have been apart of previous festivals. So to be able to be officially selected for SFBFF is simply Christmas in June.

M.O.I. JR: How can people stay up with your work?

Dominique Gilbert: You can find most of my work at vimeo.com/domhd. There you will find my favorite projects dating back to when I started filming. I am a firm believer of showing my progress to anybody who either wants to work with me or be inspired. I also collaborate with a company called Video Gear, creating tutorials on the basics of filmmaking.

I have become a better filmmaker by helping others. That has sharpened my skills and also been an asset to my community, especially those who want to start but don’t know how to. You can see those videos here: https://www.youtube.com/user/VideoGear.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, journalist, author and filmmaker, can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com or on Facebook. And tune in to BlockReportRadio.com. The 2017 San Francisco Black Film Festival runs June 15-18; learn more at SFBFF.org.

Cocoa Butter (2016) Trailer from David Harvilla on Vimeo.