“Numa was our choice and we went after her. She did this movie for Netflix called ‘Jezebel’ and I loved it. She was in it – she starred in it as well as directed it. And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, she can multitask and she can create beautiful narratives. She knows how to shoot Black women and Black people with love and interest.’ And I love that about her. I loved her take, I loved her perspective. I love how she moves through the world in real life and on this set. She’s intoxicating and I don’t know what we would have done if we didn’t get her. Our project wouldn’t look the way it did and it does without Numa. She is the perfect find.”–Gabrielle Union (Netflix press notes)
I never knew how much I needed a Numa Perrier rom-com until I saw “The Perfect Find”. After seeing her debut feature “Jezebel” in 2020, I knew I was on board with whatever Numa would be doing. Since then, I’ve followed her work on television, such as Showtime’s version of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” “Cinema Toast,” where she took old footage from Black Cinema and made it into something of her own. Watching things like that made me want to go deeper and deeper down the Perrier rabbit hole. During the pandemic, Cinema Femme had the opportunity to host a panel for Black Female Filmmakers that included Numa, and was moderated by Chaz Ebert. Numa pitched so many amazing film ideas on that panel, and it got me even more excited about her work as a director and a creator.
So “The Perfect Find,” for me, was the rom-com I didn’t know I needed until I saw it. This one stars Gabrielle Union as Jenna Jones, a fashionista NYC socialite who falls into hard times after she breaks it off with her partner of 10 years. The character, Jenna, has just turned 40, and she is starting over in a lot of ways, but also creating a new chapter for herself. She comes back to NYC after a year away and falls in love with a man that is in his twenties, and also happens to be the son of her new boss. The plot alone could suck you in, but what Numa did for this film took it to another level through channeling her passion for Old Black Hollywood, and her care for representing Black women onscreen. Watching this film, we get a back seat to this beautiful experience of a rom-com that is infused with cinema history and fashion.
“The Perfect Find” is now on Netflix!
Can you talk about your relationship with Gabrielle Union? I loved how in the press notes she called you “the perfect find.“
That title is the perfect way for us to express about how we all found each other. Gabrielle has been very generous and complimentary. I really feel like our goals were perfectly aligned when we met. I did a deep dive on her in terms of reading her book, and watching everything that she had ever been in, and re-watching things of hers that I hadn’t seen in a while. She really wanted to show different aspects of herself as an actor in this movie and I really wanted to also bring a freshness to how we’ve seen her, and how we’ve seen this genre. That was the goal to make it classic, but also make it distinguished to who I am as an artist. That gave Gabrielle that creative freedom to go to some different places.
How was the casting process, specifically bringing Keith Powers and Gina Torres on board as Eric and Darcy?
Casting can be a very long process. You have people that you want, and you just hope that they are available, or if they are interested in playing the part. Gabrielle was already attached when I came in, and they wanted to know my ideas of who would play Eric. Keith Powers was really my number one and only choice. I came across his Instagram page, and I was like, ‘Well, he’s beautiful.’ He had the essence of this character to me. If not him, he’s definitely the prototype for this role. And so when I suggested him, that was when I learned that Gab already knew him, and she was thinking about him as well. It was another thing that we were aligned on. So we went out to him, and he said yes, and he joined us. We’ve had such a great creative relationship through this entire process.
With casting Darcy, Niecy Nash was attached to that role, but she had a scheduling conflict. She had to go shoot “Dahmer” and it got bumped up against our schedule. Because of the pandemic, there were a lot of delays and double bookings. So we were still looking for who was going to be our Darcy. It’s such a pivotal role. I did not want to compromise in any way because we were in a rush, so we had to figure it out. Gab was the one who brought up Gina’s name. The minute she said Gina Torres, I said yes. And I asked, “Do you think we can get her?” I asked that because she’s working all the time. So we went out to her, we had a great conversation, and then she came on board. And honestly, I really can’t see anyone else for this part.
Me neither! She’s so good!
Can you talk about the adaptation process? How did you go about bringing the book to the screen?
For me, having the book was a great anchor, because if anything ever felt slippery, I could always return to the book, and look back at the intentions of the author. It was helpful if I needed to find a little detail that you might not see in the film, but it helps in talking to the actors about something. Also, the book had already been adapted. Leigh Davenport had already written the first draft of the script. Then I came in and I did a little this and that on it.
The challenging part of adapting is that the whole team is going to have opinions: all the producers and the studio. They’re going to talk about how racy the film is going to get, because the book is very steamy. We talk about, ‘Do we keep this big crazy thing that was in the book, do we keep that? Does that make her unlikeable?’ We had a lot of conversations like that. Gabrielle and I wanted to do all of the things. The more unlikeable that she was, the more interested we were. But we did end up making certain compromises around that because there were certain things that the rest of the team felt would be taking things too far, and it was going to take us outside of the genre, with the guaranteed happy ending. So, it’s a big process, but I liked having the book to return to.
I love how Black cinema history and fashion came together in this film. I couldn’t help but think of your “Cinema Toast” episode you did for Showtime after I saw the film. And I love that actress Nina Mae McKinney, whose films I can’t wait to seek out. Can you talk about that process?
I just visited that incredible exhibit at the Academy Museum, “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898 – 1971,” yesterday, and it is about all of the early, what they called “race” films at the time. Vintage Black Glamour films in the 1920s, these are century old films, and a lot of them that have been lost were re-discovered. They have been programmed at the Academy Museum, and you can go see them. I’ve always loved mixed media as well as that era of Vintage Black Hollywood and glamour. Any opportunity I get to dig into those vaults and layer it into my work gets me excited.
So I read in the script that the character of Jenna Jones was a lover of film and Jenna loved these films. That was just another reason I knew that I needed to direct this film. Not only is it this edgy rom com that I can have a lot of playfulness with, but I also really get to lean into Black Vintage Hollywood because the main character is in love with it. It’s really satisfying to see those moments that we were able to acquire in that footage. I just feel that having those movies from the 1920s live in a 2020s film is really important.
Something you said in the press notes is that everyone deserves a second chance to make bad decisions or bold decisions and this story speaks directly to that notion. Can you expand on that and how that may relate to your career?
Absolutely! It’s the perfect find, but she is not a perfect woman. She is not making perfect choices, and I’m exactly the same. I think that with Jenna, I feel that she really has to take a closer look at herself, and ask herself what kind of decisions did she make that contributed to the mess she was in now? She’s starting over in her life, but not really, it’s a new chapter. She does not want to repeat the same things she was doing before. Part of her not repeating is dating this younger guy. Is that a bad decision, it is a bold decision, or both? I feel like we’re always faced with those choices. Do I want to have the fun, or do I want to do the right thing? Or can I do the right thing, and have fun?
And also, workplace romances are such taboo topics, but they’ve been going on forever. People around you are the people you end up connecting with. Sometimes that can lead to romance, and in this case, a horrible collision course follows. But everybody has done that, or has been attracted to the people they work with. I just felt like I related to Jenna’s story on so many levels. I know if I relate, my friends are going to relate, and their friends are going to relate. Then we have a movie!
What do you hope people see in your film?
I hope people see the beauty of falling in love again. Even if it’s under a very unexpected and questionable circumstance, and even if it’s short lived, it’s worth it to have that experience, the experience of falling in love.
I’m literally on board for everything Numa! In 2020, when we had our Black Female Filmmaker Renaissance Panel, you had so many amazing ideas about film ideas, and looking at projects you’re working on now, I’d love to hear more about them, if you can share.
We’re in a space right now where I don’t know which projects are going to happen, or even what I want to do on the other side of the strike. It’s kind of like a creative reset. But I do remain very passionate about this Audre Lorde project, “The Erotic”. It started out as a one-woman-show, a theater project, and I think I’m going to return to that before I make it into a film, now that theater is back again, and we’ve found it to be safer, and all of that. So yeah, it’s supposed to be a mixed media one-woman show with some film footage, and that’s something I feel that can be more of an immediate thing that I work on during this time.
And my series, “Toxic,” is still in crazy development. We’re still looking for a home for that one. Everything is paused on that now. That series is something that is dealing with abusive relationships and how blind we can be to them, but set as a series. It’s a series about a couple who we are really rooting for, but they are very toxic towards each other. It’s about how it effects everyone around them and what they do about it. It’s an erotic thriller where we’re filling that space of intimacy and sexuality.
Anything you’d like to add about “The Perfect Find”?
I feel so fortunate to have been able to talk about the process, because I could talk about it all day, and all of the little pieces of production design, costume design and editing. I actually been having these deep conversations about the rom-com and I love that! I feel like everyone really did a great job at getting to the craft and the themes, but still keeping it light.