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'The High Note' Stars Talk Music Biz & Working With Women Filmmakers

The High Note Stars Talk Music Biz & Working With Women Filmmakers

'The High Note' Stars Talk Music Biz & Working With Women Filmmakers

Ice Cube and Kelvin Harrison Jr. talk to PRIDE about working with The High Note's out, queer director Nisha Ganatra! 


Focus Features latest comedy-drama The High Note tells the story of aspiring music producer Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson), who, to try to break through into the music industry, is working as a personal assistant to singer-songwriter Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). Directed by queer filmmaker Nisha Ganatra and written by Flora Greeson, the film gives a unique perspective on what it's like to be a woman in the music biz, and the struggles and boxes they are often placed into.

PRIDE's Raffy Ermac got to sit down virtually with two of the film's stars, longtime actor and rap legend Ice Cube and Luce and Waves star Kelvin Harrison Jr., to talk about the importance of the film and working with women in front of and behind the camera. 

"The set had a nice vibe. Everybody was as focused as any crew I've been around. But it wasn't that panicked sense of urgency that you see on mostly all-male crews sometimes," Ice Cube told PRIDE. "It was that calm, getting it done, enjoying ourselves making a movie, and so I loved that aspect of it. Dakota is amazing. She turns into Maggie for sure, and so does Tracee, she turns into Grace. You would think she's been in the industry as long as, like I say, Mary J. Blige or somebody. She's just got it. Nisha's amazing. The cinematography, the shots, the acting, the sentiment of this movie is second to none. So I can't wait to work with all of them again."

"It was an educational moment. I got to see what it would be like to be in a movie where it wasn't so male-dominated and those, I like to call 'em the frats, the fraternities, the set fraternities that happen sometimes," Harrison Jr. said. "They were so collaborative and they were so patient with each other and they showed each other so much love and the nuance that kind of comes out of those conversations and those dynamics and the nurturing. I got to have love and the nurturing from three incredible women so for me it was awesome. It was awesome and I think it speaks a lot to the development of the story and how stories can be told right now. It doesn't have to be about the guy who wants to get the girl. It could be about the girl who's trying to pursue her dream and in the midst of that, she finds love. And I think that's really incredible."

PRIDE also got the chance to chat with the film's out director Nisha Ganatra about creating The High Note!

PRIDE: Can you talk about the genesis of the project and how you got involved, especially, with writer Flora Greeson, how you two conceptualized the film and how it came to be?

Nisha Ganatra: Sure. Well, Ally Loewy, the producer, had read it and they had seen my film Late Night at Sundance and brought me in to meet on it. I read the script and I loved Flora's writing. I loved that they were just two strong women and that they were unabashedly queer-oriented. It was a funny script, really sweet, and kinda like those big Hollywood movies that I grew up watching that I really loved where you're encouraged to follow your dream and told that it would come true. All of those made me really love the script.

Maybe this is just me speaking from a queer lens, I guess, but I could see the film as a love story between two women, even though one of them loved the other as a fan and a mentor, not necessarily romantically. Can you talk about maybe that aspect of the film and why it was important to showcase this relationship between two empowered, strong women?

Nisha Ganatra: Yes. I love that you are reading it through a queer lens. That's so awesome and makes sense. I think for me it was just really about showing women supporting each other and how we can be each other's best allies. There are enough movies, I think, with women stabbing each other in the back, holding each other down or letting each other down and I really wanted some movies out there to show women how to support each other, why we should support each other and how much happier it is for all of us when we support each other.

There's this big patriarchal myth that there's only room at the table for one woman. If we buy into that, we tend to hold the other women in our fields as competitors and try to keep them out, you know?

I love movies where the more strength in numbers, the more diverse our rooms are and the more people like us are working together, the better experience it is. The more voices are heard and the better the final outcome for everyone, you know? So I think that's one of the messages that I was really behind. The love story. In terms of where is the queer love story in it, it might actually really be between Gail and Grace. I think that's really when I turn the queer lens. "What is going on between Gail and Grace?"

Yeah! Her live-in, little house-girlfriend.

Nisha Ganatra: Right, exactly. She's living at the house, neither has a big, romantic love interest, maybe there's a little side-action there.

You mentioned being an only woman in the room. There's a scene in the movie where Grace, she's going to talk to the record label people about Vegas, and she's literally the only woman at the table. This production is obviously directed by you, written by Flora, and then obviously led by Dakota and Tracee. This production is very women-centered. There are women in front of the camera and also behind the camera. So was that important for that as well?

Absolutely. Absolutely. I'm in an organization called Women in Film. There's a ReFrame stamp on movies now where, if the movie has gender parity behind the camera, it earns a physical stamp that says ReFrame on it. That's always been really important to me to have gender parity behind the camera as well as in front.

So Ice Cube's character Jack and then Tracee Ellis Ross' character Grace, they've worked together so long over the years and they become jaded, especially with Jack. He wants Grace to do these projects that don't fulfill her creatively, but that areeasy money. Have you ever felt moments like that in your career, personally? If so, how do you try to combat that, try to still put out good work, and still try to motivate yourself to do cool things and still create art?

I think everybody faces that in all careers. I think being queer, especially, you're always negotiating, 'How much do I include the point of view in what I'm about to say?' You know what I mean? Everyone in every office is negotiating that constantly. I feel like Jack isn't really telling her to go the easy road. I think he's more telling her to play it safe. He's afraid of the system too much and telling her, "We got this far you're. You're doing good. Don't rock the boat," basically, which I think is a really interesting question for all of us.

I feel like as a woman in film and then as a lesbian in society, you're always been given the message of, "Don't rock the boat. Don't be a problem. Don't be difficult." It's always a question to think about, "If I voice this, am I going to be labeled as difficult?" I always end up landing on, "I have to voice this because if I don't, then who will?" You're sometimes always the only person of color in a room, or the only woman, or the only lesbian, and so you have to give voice to that point of view, otherwise, it'll continue to be ignored.

The High Note is available to watch on-demand now.

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