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Meet Kyra Knox: "It's never too late to follow your dreams"

Updated: Jun 12, 2021

By Ayanda Magagula

I got to sit down with Kyra Knox, a Philadelphia filmmaker, for a one-on-one interview to discuss her documentary, Bad Things Happen In Philadelphia. Although her film is still in production, we were so excited to find out how she got started and what her plans were with this inspiring story.


Ayanda:

So I want to start by asking you, how did you get your start in the film industry.


Kyra:

I actually started out as an actor when I was six years old, I went to freedom theater. From there, I went to performing arts high school as an actor. And right after high school, I got the opportunity to perform in New York, in an off-Broadway play. But then when my grandfather passed away, I completely stopped acting for years and years. And when I got engaged, I felt like something was missing in my life, which is so messed up. But what I realized that was missing was my creativity, you know, I wasn't being creative anymore. I was just in corporate and just basically a zombie, you know. And so I hit up my old acting coach, Mel Williams, who's now in New York, and I started acting again, like going to acting classes, you know, doing showcases, and then he challenged me to write my one woman show, which I did. I decided to take a step further intern to the United Solo International Festival and I was able to perform on theater row. But while this was all happening, an old friend of mine was producing a short and asked me if I can help them produce, and I'm like, well, what does a producer do? You know, I'm an overachiever. So I found this course called Philly cam, which offers classes for film, but at low prices, you know, because I never went to film school. And it was a $70 class that taught introduction to producing. And from there, I learned how to produce a short and then I was like, wow, I actually really like this a lot. I like being behind the camera versus being in front of the camera. And then anytime I was in front of the camera, I would start talking to the crew, you know, how can I help you guys? Anyone that I knew that was filming, I'm like, Hey, can I shadow you? And then one day, I was on one production set. And when I was supposed to be resting, I decided to help the crew instead. And the CEO was like, you know, do you want to work one day a week here as a runner, and I was like, well, I just quit my corporate job to follow my dream. So yes. And from there, I was a runner once a week. And wow, within a month and a half, I was a full time Freelancer there and associate producer. And then from there, I started producing and directing my own shorts for Verizon media. And it just quickly escalated from there.


Ayanda:

You make it sound like it was a smooth ride. But I know that it's nothing like that. When you decide to quit your job, there's so much anxiety that goes into that and it's a corporate job so it's safe, and you're going to get your paycheck and you're going to pay your bills without worry, but you're not going to feel inspired. And a lot of us are using our talents in the corporate space which is not hitting the spot. What advice would you give black female filmmakers or aspiring black female filmmakers who want to go out there and tell their stories?


Kyra:

You know, I just reached a point that I was like, look, you know, life is not a rehearsal, right? This is showtime. We only get one life. And I didn't want to keep saying, oh, one day, I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do this. And then I wake up, and it's like, I'm 50 years old, in the same cubical, doing the same thing. So I just did it. it was just one of those things where I was like, What do I have to lose? I just did it and it was very hard in the beginning, you know, the money was not right. There was a lot of noodles. There was a lot of struggling, okay [laughing]. It was tough. You know? Listen, I got to be real. But I was very persistent and I will say that I was blessed that at the production company that I was a runner at once my production manager decided to leave, who replaced him was actually a black female producer that came from LA, Cheryl. I don't think that I will be as far as I am, without her guiding me, because she came in and she taught me everything that she knew, like she championed me. She had my back, you know, and that was a black female producer that did that for me. So, I would say getting a mentor. That's so important. And with females, I would definitely say a female black mentor because we understand each other, and we champion each other. And we know how it feels to be called angry black females. We protect each other because we get it. So I was truly blessed that she came into my life, and she truly mentored me, and very strongly helped me get to where I am now.



Ayanda:

That is so amazing. Because it just shows also shows that like you need other people. So that being said, I know that you have a project. It looks so exciting. I've been seeing it on Instagram, and I'm like, I just felt like I had to talk to you. Because like you just in those pictures, you look like you're doing your thing. You look like a boss. So, tell me about that project Bad Things Happen In Philadelphia. What inspired it?


Kyra:

So the title was inspired from Donald Trump. But I was so mad, like Philly went into an uproar when he said during the debate, "bad things happen in Philadelphia." We went off like, what are you talking about? That's what inspired the title because even though it's titled Bad Things Happen In Philadelphia, is actually about the good positive things that happen in Philadelphia. We're following my cousin Gary Mills. He has an organization called Shoot Basketballs, Not People. And Gary, he actually was an amazing basketball player in high school. He was active in 2012. The Philadelphia Inquirer actually listed him as one of the top 35 basketball players. And he even got a scholarship to play at Virginia State. And the same thing that happened with me when our grandfather passed away, he stopped playing ball, like he completely stopped his dream. Our grandfather was president of Concerned Black Men. And what he did was he mentored youth and took you off the street and, you know, introduced them to chess and rowing and college tours. So once Gary started the healing process, he decided to, you know, start his nonprofit in legacy of our grandfather, with his love of basketball. So, we're basically following the journey of my cousin Gary, but also three of the kids that started out with him when they were way younger. And these kids, I mean, they are phenomenal. They're so talented. When Gary first met them, no one wanted to mentor them because they weren't the best, and Gary, he took them under his wing and one girl, Winter, she's playing for Penn State basketball now and, and Kelsey, she's injured right now, but she started playing in the WNBA Junior League. These kids are phenomenal. And if it wasn't for Gary's mentorship, where would these kids be now? Gary's lost 13 friends due to gun violence starting when he was a young kid. One of his friends was even shot right in front of Martin Luther King, which was both of our neighborhood schools. I lived around the corner from Martin Luther King, you know, these young kids that were falling, they've lost friends due to gun violence, so it's just all about the journey and how, even though we grew up in the inner streets, we're still getting through, we didn't let the streets capture us. We beat those streets. So that's, that's a summary of what it's about, We're still filming. So with documentaries, you have a story in mind. And sometimes it'll change, so next time if we talk, I might be saying that it's going into another direction again.



Ayanda:

I love documentary for that reason. It's so spontaneous. So why did you choose documentary filmmaking?


Kyra:

When I started producing, I was in the narrative world. But when I started doing these shorts, these docu-series for Verizon Media, it was something about capturing the stories that really took a hold on me. I got to capture, for example, Shirley Raines, who has this nonprofit called beauty to the streets. Every single day, she goes to Skid Row, with her bag full of water that she pumps to wash these people's hair, and she does their hair. And while we were filming them, you can see their confidence grow as they're getting their hair done, they're starting to feel and look like themselves again. To be able to capture these underdogs that aren't doing it for clout, they're just doing it because they have the love for the community, that caught my heart. And it just made me want to start following people's stories and and capturing them. It's just more fulfilling to me than narrative work.


Ayanda:

Do you have anything you'd like to add, any parting thoughts?


Kyra:

I always like to add that society likes to put labels on us women. I always like to tell women that it doesn't matter if you're a mother. It doesn't matter if you don't have kids. It doesn't matter if you're just starting out. It doesn't matter if you're 50, 60 or 70 years old. It's never too late to follow your dreams. You know, a lot of people doubted me. Because when I'm 37 now, but when I quit my corporate job, I was 34. And a lot of people say "you need to settle down, you need to have kids". They were trying to tell me what I needed to do, and there were a lot of naysayers that didn't believe in what I was aspiring to do. If I would have listened to those naysayers, I would still be at that corporate job, and I wouldn't be fulfilled. I wouldn't wake up and be happy and blessed to do what I love every day. So I always want to tell women do not listen to those naysayers. Do not let people put labels on us, we can do whatever we want. Because we are amazing. We are powerful, we are strong, and we are inspirational. And we got this. And that's it. Follow your dreams, and don't listen to the BS.


Find out more about Kyra Knox's Film, Bad Things Happen In Philadelphia, by following her on Instagram.













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