(WGHP) — When something is larger than life, it can be hard to distill it down to a few hours of storytelling. Fortunately, filmmakers Brandon and Ashley Shante Deese are talented professionals.
When telling the story of North Carolina A&T State University in their new documentary “Our Blues Make Us Gold,” they had the backing and help of both A&T’s administration and its current faculty and staff like Caroline Jones and Ed Moye.
“It’s hard to capture all … we do in a single video,” A&T Chancellor Harold Martin said.
The Deeses aren’t A&T alums. They both went to college in New York City, but they had connections to HBCUs, making this film a labor of love.
“We strove … to tell a story that would say, ‘If you didn’t go to A&T, you could still get something from this. You could still find something to relate to,’ and I think we’ve achieved that,” Brandon said.
It’s a documentary filled with priceless photos of A&T’s early days as well as the things it is nationally known for like its GHOE and marching band. But they show the entire story of the school, including the struggles and how so many overcame them to achieve greatness.
“There’s a quote that one of the historians says in the documentary: Professor Theresa Styles,” Ashley said. “She says, ‘A lot of people ask the question of what is it about HBCUs … Why do they produce so many successful black Americans?’ And she says, ‘Because African-Americans succeed and excel in places that they feel free to do so.'”
The documentary took root when Ashley was working in the writing room of a major network show. When they were discussing introducing a new character to the show who would be very intelligent, successful and Black, Ashley suggested that the character also have gone to an HBCU.
To say her suggestion was not met with open arms would be quite an understatement. The ongoing discussion between Ashley and Brandon about that experience and related ones eventually morphed into the documentary.
And as you might have surmised by now, Brandon and Ashley are more than work colleagues. They’re also married.
“And we also have children,” Ashley said. “So not only are we married, we’re parents, which is very, very challenging … I have been partners before with other people … that I haven’t been married to, and the stakes are not the same. know that there’s no one else that would care about this project the way that he does and vice versa because it’s our company. It’s our business. It affects us both, and so it is most rewarding because it’s him. When something good happens, it’s like it’s happening to the both of us, and we know what we went through … It’s challenging. I would not recommend just anybody do it. Your heart and soul … has to fully be in it, and we won’t always work on projects together, but we’ll always support what each other does because that’s just the way we work.”
“I think that it goes back to the old adage: if you want to go fast, go by yourself. If you want to go further, work together,” Brandon said.
See clips from the documentary in this edition of The Buckley Report.