Misty Copeland and Leyla Fayyaz “Flower” at the MVAAFF


World-renowned ballerina Misty Copeland and Emmy awardwinning writer-producer Leyla Fayyaz’s astounding short film “Flower” explodes with creativity. It screened as part of the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival on August 10. 

The powerful contemporary film uses dance, movement, and music to tell the story of the San Francisco Bay area’s housing crisis. 

“The statistic says something like 40 million Americans are in danger of becoming homeless, and that’s happening across the board,” Fayyaz explained. 

Directed by Lauren Finerman, this poignant dance narrative stars Copeland as Rose, a young dancer who had to put her dreams on hold to care for her mother, Gloria (Christina Johnson), who is living with dementia. Without a word, the two convey their tender relationship. 

As Rose struggles to keep a roof over their heads, she watches the neighborhood around her fade away, much like her mother’s memory, until the mysterious Sterling, danced by the astounding Babatunji Johnson, helps highlight the powerful culture of community, giving Rose renewed hope for the future.

Finerman’s extensive experience filming dance shines through. She captures the excitement of all different movement styles, highlighting each dancer’s exquisite talent. 

“You really have to understand how to shoot movement — when to capture the different shapes that the dancers are making, when to get their feet, their arms, how to frame the shot. And [Finerman] understood all of that,” Fayyaz explained.

“Flower” was a collaborative undertaking, and almost everyone involved had some connection to the Bay Area. The project marks the first independently produced endeavor from Copeland and Fayyaz’s production company, Life in Motion Productions, co-created with renowned filmmaker Nelson George. The music, which underscores the storyline, is written by Grammy-winning artist Raphael Saadiq, and the choreography is by Alonzo King and Rich + Tone Talauega. “Flower” was created with dancers from the Bay Area, including local artists, and their distinct Oakland street dance style, termed “Turf,” is characterized by rhythmic movement combined with waving, gliding, flexing, and contortion. 

Copeland and Fayyaz, who also was a professional classical ballerina, wanted to highlight the fact that there are dance styles that are created in communities on the street corner or in people’s homes, unlike classical ballet, which is a syllabus that you learn in a dance studio.

Copeland recounts that the project came about when George, who produced a documentary on her almost a decade ago, “Ballerina’s Tale,” approached her about doing something new. “He was trying to find ways to get me on film doing what I do onstage — telling stories through movement and pantomime. Initially, the idea was to create a silent film that slowly evolved with the more creative people we brought in. It became this modern take on a ballet on film. Bringing in the Oakland, Calif., community gave it a lot of dimension, love, and real-life issues that so many communities across the United States are dealing with,” Copeland explains. 

Although they selected the city for its vibrant arts community, the threat of gentrification is real nationwide. Fayyaz says, “When that happens, history, culture, and art are erased. You start to get very bland and generic-looking streets, towns, and cities, and we paralleled that with Gloria, whose dementia also wipes away history, memory, and culture.” As they nurtured the project, Fayyaz adds, “Like a flower, it bloomed and blossomed.”

Copeland and Fayyaz plan on doing more of these films in different cities, and featuring different dance styles from each, underscoring Life in Motion Productions’ dedication to authentic storytelling and movement narrative that explore social issues and universal human experiences. These projects stress the company’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive creative community.

Fayyaz hopes that “Flower” conveys that there are different ways to express yourself and bring awareness to different issues. “I hope too that people come away with the fact that we’re going through this housing crisis and intergenerational equity issue, and that it stirs them to take action in any way they can within their communities,” she comments. Having completely brought the film to life on their own, Fayyaz, too, hopes that funders and partners come on board so, as she emphasizes, “we can continue as a unique way in the industry to tell stories and move people and inspire them.”

Copeland adds, “I think it’s important for people to see the complexity in dance, and that it’s a part of every culture. And that you don’t have to come from the ballet or Turfin world to understand movement and dance as a language … and its value.”

View the trailer for “Flower” by renowned ballerina Misty Copeland and Emmy awardwinning writer-producer Leyla Fayyaz at bit.ly/YT_FlowerTrailer