You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

10 Directors to Watch: Tayarisha Poe Shows Her Hand With ‘Selah and the Spades’

First-time helmer brings a photographer's eye and her own fresh perspective to Sundance-bound coming-of-age tale.

Ever since she can remember, Tayarisha Poe has been drawn to the screen’s most notorious bad guys. Such men as Tony Soprano, Walter White and Michael Corleone.

“We allow our own sense of what’s right and wrong to be melded and meshed to fit with these characters because most of us are so ready to have empathy for them,” says Poe, a Philadelphia native. “People who aren’t white, and especially people who aren’t white men, are not often afforded that same empathy.”

In 2012, after graduating from Swarthmore College, Poe took it upon herself to change that mindset by creating a black, female, teenage protagonist named Selah Summers who is charming, conniving and callous.

The result is the photographer-turned-director’s inaugural narrative film, “Selah and the Spades,” set to premiere in Sundance’s Next section. The movie, which began as a multimedia series of short films, photos and short stories called “The Overture,” follows Summers — the head of the most powerful underground faction at a prestigious boarding school. The character is both feared and loved.

“It’s ‘The Godfather’ meets ‘The Baby-Sitters Club,’ ” says Poe, who received extensive support for the project from the Sundance Institute. In addition to being named the Institute’s Knight Foundation Fellow in 2016, the director was selected for the January 2017 Sundance Screenwriters Lab and the June Sundance Directors Lab.

“Selah and the Spades” may center on adolescent characters, but don’t expect a John Hughes film.

“I love stories about teenagers that are not focused on romantic relationships,” Poe says. “We inundate teens with narratives about falling in love, but there’s a wealth of rich life that is part of the teenage experience that has nothing to do with that.”

While Poe won’t go into any detail about her future endeavors, she hopes to adapt a novel and launch another multimedia project.

“I’m looking forward to 2019 being even busier than this year was, which is hard to say because this was probably the busiest year of my life.”

Influences: Chris Marker’s “La Jetée,” director Rian Johnson, author David Mitchell
Agency: ICM
Management: Grandview
Legal: Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz

More Film

  • 'Shazam!' Review: Zachary Levi is Pure

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content