How one film student uses comedy to tackle real world problems

Damon Harris talks about his film “Color Blind”

By Nick Hawks

At first, Damon Harris didn’t think much of it when a random girl sent him a flirty direct message on Instagram, or as the kids say it, “slid into his DMs.” She littered the comments section of his pictures with smiling emoji and hearts, despite being complete strangers. 

It wasn’t until Harris was swapping stories with friends that he realized that they all gave the same story — that this individual, a white, college-aged girl, was trying to get romantic with each of them. Harris, who along with this particular group of friends is a black male, believes that they experienced racial fetishization. A film student at Cleveland State University, Harris decided to put the experience to use for his production II final last year by turning it into a film, and there was never any doubt in his mind on how he would do it. 

“It’s easier to fit social commentary into comedy,” Harris said. “You don’t want to see it presented as serious because that’s just life.” 

Harris called the film, his debut as a director, “Color Blind.” It takes inspiration from the real-life plot, with a comedic twist. 

“He’s militant and woke. He gets riled up because he feels like she’s fetishizing black men,” Harris said. “He goes on a date with her and amps up the black stereotypes to try and get her turned off to black men.” 

Harris noted that the part of the film that had test audiences howling with laughter was the character’s entrance. 

“He enters in this wife beater, a silk blue do-rag and a grille, blasting rap music and crip walking through the restaurant,” Harris said through a laugh. “Its very obnoxious and rambunctious.” 

Despite Harris’ rambunctious sense of humor, the young filmmaker has a soft and calm demeanor, with a vast vocabulary highlighted by a booming deep voice that makes you wonder if,  in addition to directing and writing, he should be narrativing films as this generation’s Morgan Freeman.

Instead, Harris prefers to use his voice to note the importance of using film to address ongoing problems in the world, particularly when it comes to discrimination. He chose his group of friends to portray the characters in his film rather than actors because they went through the actual experience together.

Harris shot most of the film from the Ohio City brewery Market Garden with a carefully packed schedule revolving around just three shooting days. He would set up at 5 p.m., begin shooting at 7 p.m. and wrap by midnight. Market Garden even fed the crew of around 25 for no charge.

As a director for the first time in his life, Harris found himself an anxious wreck, faced with sets of problems he never encountered. He hinted at drama between a few cast members that he fanned the flame to. He dealt with actors dropping out with just weeks to go, with one of the actors having to improvise all his lines because, by the time he was casted, there was not enough time to memorize them. He also dealt with adversity because of Cleveland State. 

As a commuter during his freshman year, Harris would often hangout with his friends at the Commuter Lounge, located on the third floor of the Student Center. He figured that would be a good place to film a scene of the friends hanging out, staying true to his experience. He reached out to the school and got permission to film there with a month until filming was to take place. However, on the week that shooting was set to occur, Harris received an email that he was no longer allowed to film there. 

“The week of shooting, they send me an email,” Harris said. “They said the higher-ups were worried about, and this is word for word, ‘setting a precedent’ for students filming there.’ It was very frustrating. You should want to set a precedent for students filming on your campus.”

After begging them to change their minds, Harris was given permission to do a condensed shoot in the Commuter Lounge, still frustrated by the groveling he was forced to do. 

“You hate to see that happen on your own campus,” Harris said. 

Despite the headaches it caused him, Harris felt like the experience affirmed that he wanted to make films for the rest of his life, especially because of his love of storytelling. His stamp as a writer is his dialogue. 

“I think a lot of dialogue is forced, and people don’t talk like that in film,” Harris said. “No matter how absurd the situation, I still want to make it feel about real people.”

In addition to writing about real people, Harris aims to tackle broader issues like fetishization, topics that he feels have not been adequately addressed in the past. 

“I just want to start the dialogue,” he said. 

 

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