September 29th, 1988 – En Route to New York City
It was a beautiful train, I had to journal every detail for Amare. My brother would be expecting a spectacular story. I glanced at the old couple across from me, and imagined she was a baker, running a fabulous patisserie in New York. He was her first love from home, waiting for that day she came off the train. I looked around, the train could be the setting of a thrilling adventure. Or maybe just the sweet story that was across from me.
Hours later, I signed off in my journal and dug into my leather satchel until I found the file. In gold print on the front it said, “New York City Ministry of Film and Production.” Below in scrawled black marker it said, “Assistant position.” I clutched the file and sent a quick wish into the universe, oh please give me luck.
December 23rd, 1975
The family room was rumbling as my brother and I set up our mini stage in the parlour. Chairs and tables were pushed against the walls, and the floor was taken up by a blanket and piles of cushions.
“Alice, do you have my script?” Amare asked, he was always losing things.
“Here,” I hissed, slapping the pages into his chest.
I immediately regretted it, for he began to cough. I helped him sit down on the back step of our stage.
“Oh I’m sorry Amare, I’m just nervous.” I asked, squeezing his fingers in mine.
He squeezed back. “Yes, arabinrin,” he said, speaking Yoruba for the first time that night. Arabinrin meant sister.
“Come, lets go tell them we are ready!” he exclaimed with a grin. We ran to the family room.
Later that night I heard Amare cough in his bed across from mine. I sat up and turned my beside lamp on. It’s soft pink glow lit the room.
“Alice?” he echoed.
I got up, dragging my pillow with me and climbed into his bed. We tucked the sheets tight around ourselves.
“Do you hurt?”
He said, “Next, lets do our play about a boy who was sick and then got better.”
I nodded, “from medicine?”
“No, from magic,” he said.
“Ooh yes,” I said. We sat in silence a bit, then I whispered, “maybe we could record it on Daddy’s camera!”
“It’s decided,”my brother declared, and we drifted asleep. I had a dream about a movie at the theatre: when the credits rolled the screen had our names on it.
September 29th, 1988 – Arrival to New York City
As the train rolled into the station an attendant rushed through the doors. “Last stop, ladies and gents, Grand Central Terminal,” he said.
I stood, pulling my large case off the shelf, it was red and smelled like new leather. I walked through the narrow hallway and my heart beat as I met the line’s end. I began walking quickly with the flow of people. As the train moved away, gusts of air blew up the hem of my coat. I reached the stairs and when I got to the top, my body went absolutely still.
There was glossy beige marble lining the floors, and gorgeous windows stretching up to the ceiling. People were everywhere; their skin and clothing millions of different colours -someone bumped into me and my case went flying. I scrambled forwards to haul it up, glaring at the person.
I heard a loud “Sorry!” and a glimpse of blue eyes and a blue scarf.
I shook my head and strode forward. I needed a taxi.
~ Alice Guy-Blaché: the very first female director. Her first film was made in 1896 and was only sixty seconds. Mother always told me she chose Alice because it was a beautiful name, and that makes sense. How could she have known she gave me the name of an incredible woman who would be my inspiration for the rest of my life? ~
The yellow car pulled up and I stepped forwards, but someone slipped inside first. “Excuse you,” I said loudly. I shook it off and turned down the street. The buildings were so tall, scraping the sunset. The smell of smoke and street food clung to the air. I gripped my case tighter by the handle, wondering why I was here.
Turns out, I was on Lexington Avenue. I needed to get all the way to East 51st Street.
September 30th, 1988 – First day
I woke to cars honking. I had left the window open and forgot to close it. The bed was strewn with paper and pens, another night of writing. I quickly tidied and checked my watch, I had thirty minutes to get to the Ministry. I zipped through getting dressed. I pulled my hair into a bun and smoothed on red lipstick. Once my coat and scarf were on and my satchel was in my hand, I closed and locked the door.
The corner coffee cart was busy, and I pulled on my gloves in line. It was already too cold for September, summer changed into fall so quickly here. With a coffee I walked fast along the street. When I had the right building, I pushed through the revolving doors.
People milled around the lobby with briefcases, I couldn’t help staring, I had never seen so many people looking so important.
I walked further and approached the desk lady, “I need to get to the Ministry of Film and Production?”
“Twentieth floor.” I thanked her and moved to the large gold doors, the elevator.
I reached the floor and went through the double doors. The entire floor smelled like ink and cigarettes. There were at least fifty box offices, big ones encased in glass. Tall arched windows framed the walls, looking onto streets. People passed by the foyer, slapping papers on desks and walking into dim lit rooms. My eyes caught a bulletin board near me, where notes and photographs were tacked haphazardly.
“What can I do for you?” the desk lady asked from my right.
I showed her my file. “My name is Alice Carlisle, I’m here for my assistant position under the name… Jonathan Ballmore?”
The desk lady laughed, her nameplate read “Kristen.”
“Right’o, his office is the biggest one. Good luck,” Kristen said, pointing.
I knocked on his door, bracing myself. It opened to a middle-aged. He had short slick hair and a moustache, narrowed grey eyes and sharp white shirt and trousers. “You are…?”
I told him my name.
“Ah, yes… Baker!” he yelled across the room.
My eyes went to his desk. Stacks of paper, pens, and schedules filled with meetings with famous actors. I veered out of dreamland and noticed the person beside me.
“Baker, take her to her desk and show her around,” Jonathan turned back to me, “Welcome to the Ministry.”
Jonathan turned and shut his office door behind him.
The mysterious ‘Baker’ had big blue eyes and a blue scarf around his neck. “Right. I’m Nax Baker, I came in late so we’ll stop by my office first-
“you’re the guy,” I interrupted.
Nax furrowed his brow. I reenacted a harsh glare and his jaw dropped.
“You’re the girl I ran into, at the station.”
He laughed and stuck out his hand, “I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you with the lipstick,” he said. I prayed I wasn’t blushing and took his hand.
“No problem. You said something about your office?”
October 3rd, 1988
“Morning, Kristen,” I said brightly, walking through the foyer. Nax ran up to me.
“Alice, thank gosh you’re here, Jonathan’s in a meeting and his clients are dying for coffee,” he said, nearly out of breath. He followed me to my tiny office and stood by the entrance as I took off my coat.
“You need me?” I asked.
Nax leaned on my desk ran his hands through his messy brown hair. “Well, they need coffee…” he trailed off. I pursed my lips and stood.
“I’ll get them their coffee.”
I stepped slowly into the meeting room, balancing the tray of full and hot coffee mugs. None of the men in suits blinked as I set down mugs in front of them. Jonathan was conducting a presentation, I paused at the door with the empty tray to listen.
“Our ratings have gone up by twelve percent in the last six months, but Pennsylvania’s Private Production has more. We need to go for bigger shots. Our writers aren’t keeping up.”
Then Jonathan noticed me. “Alice, do you need something?”
I straightened, “No, I’ll be going.”
I quietly exited the room. Back at my desk I began typing out files, the sound joining in with the orchestra in the air.
October 15th, 1988
“Why don’t any female representatives join meetings? “I asked Nax, eyes locked on the closed doors to the meeting room.
“There aren’t any,” he said, unwrapping a piece of gum and popping it in his mouth.
“Yeah…” he said, looking quizzical.
I stared at the doors, furious. They were all men, every single one of them in that room.
“Then what do all the women do?” I asked almost hysterically.
“They do what you do. Assist, edit scripts, work in filing or administration, what did you expect, Alice? That they write for million-dollar film companies and get all the credit?” he said with a smirk.
I blinked up at him, “Yes.”
It was late, and I was still at my desk. The table lamp cast a warm glow that reminded me of times when Amare and I would stay up late talking, wishing, hoping, praying. I sighed and pulled my fingers from the typewriter. From the bottom of my bag, I pulled out Amare’s most recent letter.
Okay, I know it’s barely been three weeks, but gosh it feels like forever. I do really miss you very much, but I hope you are far too busy and important to return yet ☺ We all send our love. I’ve written a new piece, one I’m sure you’ll love. I’ll send it by fax the next chance I get. Be safe, Alice. You better not be letting any of those old city men drag you around in dirt, who are they? You’re Alice Carlisle, tell them that, I hope one day that name makes them shut up! I’m not doing much these days, just writing letters to you and friends away at the University.
Sending brilliant ideas and an abundance of bravery your way,
I folded away his letter and shuffled the files of paper Jonathan had slapped on my desk earlier.
“Still here, huh?” I looked up into Nax’s eyes.
“Yeah, Boss has been drowning me in files.”
“Well, when you’re finished here, there’s something I’d like to show you.”
I followed Nax along the dark street, gripping his hand in mine. The night was silent, and buildings loomed high above.
“How much longer?” I asked.
Nax gave me an assuring smile and hurried us along. Within seconds we turned the corner and the entire world changed. The street was narrow, with store fronts spilling out onto one another. Soft lanterns hanging from balconies lit up the entire scene.
“What is this?” I said, breathless.
Nax laughed, pulling me forward. Musicians played together, a cozy restaurant was bursting with people, and couples walked hand in hand down the street. We walked around for a while, and once we sat down, I realized it.
“Hey,” I said to Nax, leaning across our tiny bistro table.
“Everyone, they’re all-
“I know,” he said.
“They don’t mind us being here?”
Nax shook his head with a frown, “No. I come here all the time, I think they like to share.”
“But we’re…white, wouldn’t they be offended?”I said, feeling like an intruder. Again, that night, Nax laughed, the wind blowing up his blue scarf. “Don’t worry so much, Alice,” he said. A girl ran by our table in a daisy print dress, she grinned at me. I thought of Amare.
October 19th, 1988
I woke up to Nax hovering over me, poking me awake.
“Morning,” I said.
He was already in his work clothes, two coffees in hand.
“C’mon, before we’re late.”
I got up and quickly dressed, accepting the warm coffee as he locked his door.
“I’m sorry again for crashing, I’m completely overstaying my welcome,” I said to him as we maneuvered along the busy streets.
Nax laughed, something I realized he did frequently.
“Its OK, Alice, I like having you around.”
We got into the office and went to our desks. Time passed and the noon bell rang. I pulled out my notebook and bent my head over it, my mind went whirring to another place and my pen went scribbling on the paper.
Men in suits arrived one by one, filtering into the meeting room, eager to meet the author who would be writing the film they were financing: Silvio Adwei. No women were to enter the room. It wasn’t a policy, but a coincidence that every important person at the Ministry was male. As the minutes ticked by, I didn’t touch the stack of manuscripts I was supposed to edit. Instead, I propped up my chin and stared at the doors. Jonathan’s condescending smile replaying in my head. I glanced around; my eyes met Martha’s. She assisted another big-office man. She glanced at the meeting doors then down, then back to me. I swallowed and we both smiled.
October 27th, 1988
It was freezing, I shivered from nerves and the cold. Once I got into the office Nax came up to me.
“Are you going to show him? He’s in a good mood,” he whispered.
I nodded, peeking into the room.
Nax leaned to kiss my cheek, “You’ll be fine, you’re Alice Carlisle after all.”
I walked into the room and Jonathan looked up.
“Could I have a minute?”
He nodded, muttering something to the other four men he was with, and came over.
“What is it, Alice?”
Then I talked. He listened. I explained, repeated and he listened some more, grey eyes slicing over the pages of my notebook.
“This looks very promising…” he murmured, reading hungrily the pages I presented. “You have more of this, yes?” he asked,
I nodded. The result of two weeks of late-night writing sessions was considerable. Jonathan went over to the four men and showed them. I stood against the wall; I was flying.
“I can’t believe it,” I said, squeezing my hands together.
Kristen walked by my desk, “Congrats, Alice, I heard Jonathan is taking on your story.”
I grinned back at her. That night I immediately wrote Amare.
October 29th, 1988
I said good morning to Kristen and went to Nax’s desk, perching.
“Do I look like someone who is about to go into a meeting that is about the fabulous script they wrote?”
I teased and tossed my hair. He leaned back, crossed his arms and eyed me.
“Hmmm… you’re missing something,” he said.
I frowned, “What? Really?”
He pulled something out of his pocket and placed it in my hand. A pen. A gorgeous one, the whole of it gold with a tiny pearl on the end. I rotated it and the light caught an engraved message.
I squinted, then read it”
“From somebody putting down something on paper.”
I looked back to him.
“That’s how this all starts,” Nax said.
The meeting room was practically full. I caught up to Jonathan just before he entered.
“Need something, Alice?”
“No, Sir,” I said, confused.
“Well, I’ll see you after,” he said, and stepped inside.
“What do you mean? I’m joining the meeting, aren’t I?”
“I don’t need you there. Wish me luck!” With that he slammed the door. I heard Jonathan say to the men in suits, “Today I would like to talk about my newest idea, you’ll find my written script in the folder before you.”
I was frozen to the spot, choking on tears, gasping for air. Nax came into view, asking what was wrong. I shook my head. He looked at the closed doors, and my horrified face, he must have understood.
“Alice, I’m so sorry.”
I held up a hand, swallowing. “Don’t speak.”
Without a glance, I fled.
August 4th, 2009
“I boarded the train and was in my hometown by evening. I was wrecked, heartbroken,” I say. Sherri Shepherd nods, “I can imagine.” She takes a sip of coffee and encourages me to continue.
“I felt sorry for myself for a long time…” I say, smoothing my skirt.
“Tell us, Alice, what helped you through it, made you go back to New York?”
“It was something my brother asked me…”
“He said, ‘Alice, aren’t you tired of the only thing a woman being fit for is to assist and wait on a man? Do you want Jonathan to win, or are you going to try to prove him wrong?”
“Alice, thank you so much for sharing. Now, I’d like to share a little something with you…” Sherri presents something to me. I unwrap the silk cloth carefully. In my hands is a gold framed certificate. I read it and a camera zoom’s in.
The crowd goes wild. My heart leaps out past the people and the stage, to another part of the city where lanterns hang and laughter rings and where a girl sits with a boy with an idea beginning to unfold.
A.M.P.A.S Annual award
Granted with honour to Alice e. Carlisle
*Academy award of merit for directing*
*best director of Motion picture*
How did it all begin? From a story that came from someone putting down something on paper. My story, it all began from me putting down this on paper. My purpose? To show the world that you can’t let anyone drag you around in the dirt. Tell them who you are and make it so your name makes them shut up.