The director of “Little Woods” is up to big things.
Brooklyn-born movie-maker Nia DaCosta makes her directorial debut with the nuanced drama film about two sisters struggling to survive hardships in rural North Dakota.
The buzzy flick stars Tessa Thompson as Ollie, a woman on probation for sneaking prescription medicine across the Canadian border to aid her ailing mother, and Lily James as Deb, who is faced with an unplanned pregnancy she can’t afford.
“Part of what I love so much about writing is learning about people who are unlike myself and going to places in my writing that I don’t know very well,” DaCosta, who also wrote the “Little Woods” screenplay, tells the Daily News.
“Part of what inspired this story was my own personal realization of how relatively privileged I was to grow up in a city like New York,” she explains. “Even though I didn’t grow up really well off or anything like that, I realized that because I was in a place with a relatively great infrastructure where I could walk to a hospital, or take the train to a Planned Parenthood or whatever, I was in a much better situation than a lot of women who live in the rural parts of America.”
The movie, which premieres Friday, currently boasts a perfect 100% approval rating on the review website Rotten Tomatoes, which helped make Hollywood take notice of the 29-year-old film maker. She was tapped by “Get Out" director Jordan Peele and his Monkeypaw Productions studio to direct his spin on the horror film classic “Candyman,” due out in 2020.
“I’m not nervous, actually,” she says. “But I’m excited about the opportunity.”
DaCosta, who mostly grew up in Harlem and studied film and television at New York University, worked as a TV production associate, including on a reality show about pop singer Kesha, and absorbed as much as she could about directing from a trio of Oscar-winners.
“Within the space of a year, I worked on three TV shows, and the first one was directed by Martin Scorsese, the second one by Steve McQueen and the third by Steven Soderbergh. So being in literally the best city on earth ... has really been rewarding,” DaCosta says. “Just being surrounded by all that culture, it’s a wonderful education to grow up in New York.”
She says there are many different stories she wants to tell, and that includes movies like “Little Woods” that viewers won’t “point to and be like, ‘This is a story about blackness.’”
Still, she believes there’s a certain responsibility that comes with being a black female director in Hollywood.
“I do take responsibility in terms of how I work and who I hire and of course, yes, in the stories I tell, but not so much in terms of, like, I don’t know if I’ll ever do what Hollywood wants black female directors to be doing right now,” DaCosta says, noting she’s passed on several scripts set during the slavery era.
"(It’s) not that I’m not interested in visiting that period. It’s just that the way they want us to visit the period hasn’t at all moved outside of what we’ve seen in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I think it’s time to change that. There’s so much more to blackness and the history of black people, in particular in this part of the world, that we don’t see.”
She says it’s “so important” for filmmakers of different backgrounds to be able to share their stories.
“That’s what film’s all about to me,” she said. “Film is all about telling stories, and telling stories is the thing that has pushed forward humanity from the beginning of storytelling. I think having a diversity of stories is important in also just spreading empathy and understanding. I think it’s a really big part of how we, for better or worse, interact with each other and people we don’t know.”