30 Under 35 2020

Naima Ramos-Chapman Injects Untold Histories with Fantasy

Elizabeth Karp-Evans

Photography by Aubrey Mayer

Naima Ramos-Chapman

Naima Ramos-Chapman is a communicator, a creative polymath honing whichever medium—be it writing, directing, dance or editing—is best suited to give voice to her latest story. Her multifaceted approach to art, specifically film, was born from equal parts curiosity and necessity, in order to show the dynamism of her own community. “I realized that I can honor multiple disciplines and use them within filmmaking in a very generative, always exciting, fruitful way,” she tells me, smiling. After garnering critical praise for her two short films, And Nothing Happened (2016) and Piu Piu (2018), Ramos-Chapman spent 2019 working on the first season of the groundbreaking HBO show Random Acts of Flyness with longtime collaborator Terence Nance.

Still from Piu Piu (2018). Shot by Shawn Peters.

“It’s always special when people are allowed to come in as artists instead of being told, ‘you’re a writer for screen and television. You’re a director,’” Ramos-Chapman says. “Random Acts of Flyness expanded what’s possible. Whatever comes out in that environment is valid.” She will return to work on the second season of Random Acts in 2020 while also completing the script for her first feature film, Sad Songs in Languages I Don’t Understand. Ramos-Chapman often draws on magical realism, grounding viewers in reality amidst fantastical narratives that have the power to grant characters agency outside of established social constructs. It is a mode she has perfected to show the beauty and complexities of contemporary black and brown life in America, including her own. “I think in some ways the work I make is an attempt to value where I come from, even if it’s only a few generations deep. I need to tell stories about my family despite not knowing all of the facts, or having all the documents, because those things were not given to me.”