Kyra Jones is a force bubbling up in the industry. Her directorial debut “Go to the Body” (which is aiming for a 2023 release), has been winning pitch after pitch contest (Chicago International Film Festival, Screencraft), along with raising over $20K on its GoFundMe page. Kyra’s trio of producers, Angellic Ross, Aimy Tien, and Taylor Wisham, are the force behind the project and are equally passionate about getting this story onscreen. Head producer Angellic Ross took Kyra’s script into the Full Spectrum Features Independent Producers Lab, which gave the film the momentum it needed to succeed.

Kyra Jones

The 2014 graduate of Northwestern University, who now holds a position there as Assistant Director of Sexual Violence Response Services and Advocacy, has been working as an advocate and educator for quite some time. Her work in Sexual Violence Advocacy has been infused in her creativity and writing. “Go to the Body” is born from that and sheds new light on it by exploring, as Kyra puts it, “the ripple effect of sexual violence” in the Chicago Black community. Kyra said, “it’s not so Chicago that people can’t relate to it from other cities,” and likened her film to Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight”. Both films have personal stories, which have led to Kyra’s success in pitching a film that is personal to her. Her advice for emerging filmmakers who are starting the pitch process is, “There is going to have to be some kernel of you in the story, somewhere. Find that, lead with that, lead with what inspires you to write the story, and why it is important.”

“Go to the Body” follows Sanaa, a rising racial justice organizer who is sexually assaulted by a fellow activist and tries to push past her trauma and return to her normal life. The only thing standing in the way is her fiancé, Kendrick, an overprotective boxer who has his own idea of justice.

“Go to the Body” Production Still, cinematographer, Hannah Welever

REBECCA MARTIN: What was your journey in making “Go to the Body”?

KYRA JONES: In addition to being an artist, I do work as a Sexual Violence Advocate, and a Sexual Violence Educator. I’ve been doing that even before the Assistant Director position at Northwestern. I did that during college while I was an undergrad at Northwestern, where I was a Peer Educator.

I ended up doing a double major in theater and gender studies and had an independent study in sexual violence in the Black Community. That was really inspired by the volunteer work I did at a Chicago-based anti-rape organization called Resilience. I was training to be a volunteer medical advocate, to go to the hospital to meet with survivors with an evidence collection kit. We had to go through a 60-hour training session. One of the first trainings that we had was about the history of sexual violence. The person that did that presentation was fantastic. They talked a lot about the history of sexual violence in the United States really being racialized sexual violence, and how white men had the impunity for raping black women for a really long time.

Mrs. Recy Taylor, 1944, credit: “The Rape of Recy Taylor” Courtesy of The People’s World/Daily Worker and Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University

They talked about this woman named Recy Taylor who was gang raped. This was in the pre-Civil Rights era, during the 1940s. She was gang raped by six white men, and there was a lot of organizing happening. Her case got seen in front of two grand juries. They were ultimately all never indicted, but the fact that they made it to the grand jury was a big deal at that time. What really struck me was the fact that the main organizer that was doing all the work to get this to happen was Rosa Parks. And this was a decade before “the bus”. I was astounded that I not heard about this story. It just brought to light how much Black women’s experience with sexual violence has been downplayed or even erased from our historical narratives. That prompted me to do my independent research and to continue working specifically with sexual assault survivors. That’s where a lot of the inspiration for “Go to the Body” came from.

“Go to the Body” Production Still, “Kendrick” (Brian Keys), cinematographer, Hannah Welever

There was a mix of things I wanted to explore in “Go to the Body” with sexual violence in the Black community. First, the experience of secondary survivors who are friends and loved ones of people who’ve experienced sexual violence. A lot of people don’t know that’s a trauma in itself to witness a loved one go through that, the psychological impacts. I wanted to explore that through Kendrick’s character. The story follows a couple, Sanaa and Kendrick, in the aftermath of sexual assault. Addressing sexual violence and preventing sexual violence should not just be seen as a women’s issue, we need to think about how men fit in here. That is also something that is explored through Kendrick’s character.

The character Sanaa is an activist. There’s been a long history of men in the movement who are in positions of power, abusing that, and using a Black woman’s silence as a way to help move along the movement. And to use Black women’s silence not to perpetuate stereotypes of Black men being rapists.

BTS of “Go to the Body”, Kyra Jones and team, cinematographer, Hannah Welever

MARTIN: How did your team come together for this project?

JONES: My team is super-passionate. They are so on it, and so innovative, and dedicated. They are all my friends, which is really lovely, and they are all the producers. The head producer is Angellic Ross, and then there is Aimy Tien, and Taylor Wisham.

I wrote the first draft of the script two years ago. I wanted to hear it out loud, which helped me as a writer. I had a little table read with some of my actor friends and both Aimy and Angellic were there. They loved the script and they immediately were like “this is amazing”, and “is really impactful.” But then I got swept up with other projects and convinced myself that this would never get made. I put it aside for over a year. Angellic was applying to this program that Full Spectrum Features has for producers, the Independent Producers Lab, and she posted on social media, “hey, does anyone have a full feature script?” To apply to the program you need to apply with a full-feature script. And I was like, “I have one.” And she asked, “Is it ‘Go to the Body’?” I totally forgot she went to the reading. She assumed I already had a producer because it was so good. So she took my script and she ended up getting into the program, which launched the process. I did not have a clue of what to expect. Then she brought Aimy on, and subsequently brought Taylor on as the impact producer. That’s all how it came about.

Comb Your Hair (Or You’ll Look Like a Slave) written by Leelee Jackson. Image for virtual Juneteenth performance directed by Kyra Jones

MARTIN: Is this your first directing project?

JONES: Yes, this is my first feature effort as a director, but I also directed a Zoom play during quarantine. It was a virtual production of Leelee Jackson’s play Comb Your Hair (Or You’ll Look Like a Slave). This was a way for me to cut my teeth on directing, so I could see that I could do it and that I’m not biting off more than I can chew.

MARTIN: When will the trailer for “Go to the Body” be out?

JONES: It will be out in January. We shot five scenes from the full script. And we are cutting them all together so we can show them to potential stakeholders, and for all the people who donated to our crowdfunding, we want to show them what is happening in the process.

“Go to the Body” Production Still, “Sanaa” (Al Kelly), cinematographer, Hannah Welever

MARTIN: How’s it been going filming during the quarantine?

JONES: It was not as bad as I thought it would be. We just filmed during three days in October. We all had to get tested 3 or 4 times. Everyone on set, except the actors, had to wear masks, and we had to all be socially distanced. All drinks had to be individually bottled. It was just small things like that. We were waiting to hear what the protocol was going to be. There are a lot of scenes that require contact, like boxing, and there’s also romance, so they’ve got to kiss. But as long as the actors got tested and they were comfortable with it, it was fine. For a smaller production it’s not so bad, but I’m sure for these big motion pictures, it’s a pain in the ass, like hundreds of people will need to be tested regularly.

Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight”

MARTIN: I wanted to read you a quote from Anthony Kaufman, programmer of the Chicago International Film Festival, which he made in response to your win of their pitch competition: “‘Go to the Body’ is a sensitive look at the complex dynamics of race and sexuality within a Chicago Black community that is both emotionally resonant and completely of-the-moment.” What are your thoughts on that quote?

JONES: I cringe because I think about how I had to turn in an early version of the script, but I’m flattered by Kaufman’s thoughts about the film. This movie is very Chicago. I can’t imagine setting it anywhere else. But it’s not so Chicago that people can’t relate to it from other cities.

I was watching an interview with Barry Jenkins about “Moonlight” and he was saying that even though the film is very Miami, people across the seas in Europe felt it, and could really relate to the film. I think it’s that same situation where it’s Chicago, but it’s also everywhere. The film is timely now, but also was timely when I wrote it two years ago. When it’s finally released in 2023, it will still be timely. Sexual violence and racism will still be an issue.

Michaela Coel in “I May Destroy You”

MARTIN: What filmmakers and creators really excite you?

JONES: I love Michaela Coel and I May Destroy You, that finale I feel is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. I wrote my script before the series came out, but there are some similarities in tone, which kind of moves in and out of comedy, that I feel people don’t anticipate. I feel I need to talk more about the tone of “Go to the Body” because I think a lot of people will see the film as super heavy and depressing. I’m like, “actually, some parts of the film are funny.”

“Go to the Body” Production Still, “The Opponent” (Jalen Gilbert), cinematographer, Hannah Welever

MARTIN: Do you have a timeline for production for the film?

JONES: Sort of. The biggest thing is raising the money. The film is going to very expensive, especially because it involves boxing. The stunts make it pretty expensive. The film is going to be close to a million dollars. It’s going to be a lot of pitching to investors.

Kyra Jones on a set pre-quarantine

MARTIN: You are really good at pitching. What advice do you have for emerging filmmakers who are pitching to investors?

JONES: It is so funny that I keep winning these pitching competitions, because I hate pitching. But it’s a necessary evil. My biggest advice is to find your personal connection to the story. Not that the story has to be autobiographical. “Go to the Body” is not autobiographical, I’ve never dated a boxer. But whatever it is, there is going to have to be some kernel of you in the story, somewhere. Find that, lead with that, lead with what inspires you to write the story, why it is important. Answer the questions, like “why you? Why are you the best person to tell the story and why now? Is it timely?”

Pitches vary in the time you’re allowed to do it, and they vary in what you’re pitching. If you are pitching the story and you’re just pitching the script, that’s going to look different. My pitch for Screencraft was just the script, and I had only three minutes. When I pitched for the Chicago International Film Festival competition, you were also pitching the whole production. We had to talk about where we were in the timeline and what our budget was, and how we were going to make that happen. Also, if you can have some kind of pitch deck that you can share with some kind of promotional materials that will be very helpful, especially for stories like “Go to the Body” that are very unique. We got a lot of feedback that people couldn’t even imagine what the film looks like.

It was really nice to have photos to share for the proof of concept. You don’t have to shoot a whole proof of concept, you can just stage photos, or make a look book and find images from other films that are similar. Comps are also really good. Find a couple other films or television shows that you can say, “this film is a mix of this and this”, that will give people a really good reference. For one of our pitches, we got feedback that there was no comps for our film. But I call it a mix between “Creed” and I May Destroy You and “If Beale Street Could Talk”. That may not be super accurate, but it elevates the tone and visualization of the film.

“Go to the Body” Production Still, “Kendrick and Sanaa”, (Brian Keys and Al Kelly) cinematographer, Hannah Welever

MARTIN: What do you hope people will see in this film?

JONES: What I’d like people to see in this film is first, the ripple effect of sexual violence. I feel like when I have watched the limited television and film about sexual violence, it’s really focused on the survivor and their internal struggle. But also it’s just about one type of emotional reaction, one type of trauma reaction. I want people to see that you can have a varied array of reactions to sexual trauma, and none of them are wrong. Everyone knows a survivor, whether they know it or not. Somebody could be acting completely fine, or maybe a little closed off, and maybe that’s because they’ve experienced something traumatic that they have not disclosed to you.

Two, I want people to see, as I mentioned, the ways in which Black women are silenced even more than survivors of other races. I’ve said in my pitch the central thesis question, “What do we really mean when we say protect Black women, and what happens when physical protection is not enough?” Boxing kind of comes in with the idea of fighting back physically. We talk about protection and we automatically jump to physical defense, especially for men, “I need to protect my girlfriend, or my partner.” In the matter of sexual violence, no one else is usually there, which makes it difficult for a survivor to physically fight back. I really wanted to dive into the messiness of that question.

Those are some of the big things I hope people get from the film.

BTS “Go to the Body” “Sanaa and The Opponent” (Al Kelly and Jalen Gilbert) cinematographer, Hannah Welever

MARTIN: Final thoughts?

JONES: I wanted “Go to the Body” to be really purposeful in that it was not treated as a crime drama. I think I almost never see shows that had some sexual violence that didn’t have some reporting to police or a court storyline. The vast amount of people do not report it, especially Black women. There’s so many reasons why women don’t report sexual violence. The system is not set up to give survivors justice, it’s set up to protect men from being accused of sexual violence. It’s even worse for Black women. And the police are not safe for a lot of us. That was something that was really important for me to portray in this film, one of the many reasons why Black women do not feel safe reporting to police and what it looks like to heal outside of the criminal justice system, and to look at other types of accountability.

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