N'Visions with Toya Cross
By LaToya Cross
Brown Paper Dolls Dishes on Milk + Honey
The vision and discussion started years ago - the drive has been maturing naturally from birth.
Chicago natives Jeanette McDuffie, Dana Gills, and Asha Kamali May stepped out on faith and a dream and headed to Los Angeles years ago to build their reality in love, hopes, and dreams.
Each in their respective entertainment industry entities, Jeanette as a producer, Dana the director, and Asha the choreographer and actress; the ladies have successfully hustled their talents, visions, and ambitions to produce the web series, Milk & Honey, through their Brown Paper Dolls multi-media production company.
"We didn't really know what we were going to do at the time, but we just started brainstorming and really spending a lot of time talking about characters that we wanted to see," says Dana. "We talked about images of women that currently exist in the media and we wanted to see more diverse images for women of color."
Produced, directed, and written by the creators of Brown Paper Dolls, Milk & Honey explores the declaration of independence and following dreams. It embraces the realities of giving life to your passion without losing sight of self and building your story in the grinding process.
Set in the harmonizing hustle and bustle of L.A., the series takes you not only to exclusive spots, but also introduces its audience to the sub-cultures of the city.
Creators of Milk + Honey: Asha Kamali, Dana Gills,
and Jeanette McDuffie.
Dana gives the scoop, "We're focusing on the sub-culture movement as well as Hollywood, but talking about fashion, music, and art.
"Those things live outside of L.A. as well, so it gives us an opportunity to really work with emerging designers from Chicago, New York, Atlanta, where ever, and really come together to build this great community of artists that are all a part of the project."
Jeanette adds, "It's the story of four women living in Los Angeles navigating the smoke and mirrors of Hollywood and there's love and friendship along the way. And it's also charged with spiritual and romantic journey's."
The spiritual aspect is something that each of the creators knew had to be weaved into the storyline, and it's done quite organically.
"The most awesome thing about our partnership is that the three of us are all very spiritually centered people," expresses Dana.
Because of this it made it easier for the ladies to pull from personal experiences as well as the lives of their friends.
Asha adds, "There's the undertone of spirituality, and the going after your dreams concept, but we wanted to make sure that it was exciting, and about love and having it all, if you will.
"So we're able to, in a cool way, put in the spiritual, and a lot of our viewers will not even know that it's there. We're able to put in some entertainment aspects and our characters are living in the most adventurous place, and we're able to hopefully throw in some real modern day actors and cultural icons."
Lance Gross as "Will" and Asha Kamali as "Nia"
during production of Milk + Honey episode one.
Milk & Honey officially launched on Essence.com and the Huffington Post last year and after the release of their first two webisodes, viewership has been gradual, growing to well-over 300,000 views from multiple media outlets.
British-born actor, producer, and DJ Idris Elba serves as the executive producer of the series. He signed on with the girls almost immediately due to their professionalism and authentic vision.
"We're a very organized group, so we brought all of the materials for him, pictures of the characters, what we wanted the show to feel like. We gave him the script, our business plan, and he looked over everything, had his people look over everything, and he came back to us a week later and was like, 'What do you guys want me to do?'"
After a 20-minute pitch meeting, which is noted as the ladies' first "pitch meeting," Idris agreed to be a part of the production.
The success of the series is no surprise as it enlists fresh talent, Asha Kamali, Lance Gross, and Yanni King, along with seasoned vet Debbie Allen, the well-respected actress and choreographer.
"We were very careful about who we thought would bring the characters to life," Jeanette begins. "We watched people as they worked in the marketplace and someone like Debbie Allen, of course, is a natural fit for the character that she plays, a well-known acting instructor that doesn't take any crap and really pushes her students to be the best. She is just awesome and amazing at that character.
"Then you have Lance. He has this great down-to-earth sincerity that he brings to the screen and that's something that we really wanted for his character, Will, who is Nia's (Asha) long time love interest. We wanted people to understand why she loves him."
She adds, "and Asha is the greatest 'Nia' we could have!"
Brown Paper Dolls privately financed this Internet hit and in an effort to bring more series to the blogosphere and possibly on television, they want more people to watch the series and get involved.
"We designed it to live on multiple platforms," says Asha. "We want it to go to multiple platforms -- the web, television, mobile ... we want Milk & Honey where our audience is and that's everywhere!"
Viewers are encouraged to support the Milk+Honey fundraising campaign by visiting www.indiegogo.com/milkandhoneyseries.
Fundraising deadline: Monday, February 20, 2012 -- Support the vision!
Watch the first two episodes at www.milkandhoneyseries.com.