Filmmaker Sade Clacken Joseph will never forget the day Issa Rae called her and how it validated her hard-earned resume.
“I got the call while I was at my friend’s house. I was definitely going through some stuff,” Joseph recalls. “I’d just gotten off with my therapist and she texted me, like, ‘Hey, this is Issa. Do you have a second?’ This was a simple request, after hours of preparation and pitches to Hoorae [Rae’s multimedia production company] and HBO.”
Joseph dedicated weeks to auditioning for the opportunity to direct on Rae’s newest series Rap Sh!t, a fictionalized comedy based on the come-up of Miami duo, City Girls (who are signed on as executive producers). “So I called her, she and Syreeta [Singleton, Rap Sh!t showrunner] were on the phone and they told me. My friend still has the video of me jumping up and down — but trying to play it cool at the same time.”
It was just over a year ago that Joseph made the customary Instagram announcement. She posted a screenshot of the headline from industry site Deadline: “Rap Sh!t: Sade Clacken Joseph To Direct” — underneath which she mused, “Well dang, dreams really do come true kids…” The Bronx-born creative directed the pilot and second episodes of Rap Sh!t, “Something for The City,” and “Something for The Girls,” respectively. Her influence is also present throughout the season, where she acted as consulting producer.
“It’s funny because during the pandemic is when my career started to get even more busy,” Joseph shares. “I started working in commercials more and I worked on that Madewell commercial with Issa… I’d known her team at Hoorae for a little bit and we’d been hoping to collab for a while but it never really worked out.”
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That was before. Now, halfway through an eight-episode season, the pairing would prove to be a sound one. On Wednesday (Aug 3), Joseph signed a contract with famed Hollywood agency CAA. “I never burn any bridges,” she revealed a few days before the announcement. “I did a lot of unpaid work. I make a lot of connections that way though, and it always led to the next thing.”
“Like, I didn’t even know Issa was watching for me when we were doing the Madewell commercial — we didn’t talk that much — but she’s so observant and very smart. She saw something in me, because I worked my ass off on that shoot.”
In addition to Madewell, Joseph has worked with Google and Spotify on campaigns. She also has an affinity for music, which she admits was her very first love (her band B00TY is one of the featured artists on the Rap Sh!t soundtrack).
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It was her passion for music and documentaries that led Joseph to working on music videos for Common during her days at USC’s well-renowned film school, and for years after. When Joseph decided to become a filmmaker though, it was an intuitive thing: The child of a Jamaican mother and an Antiguan father, Joseph was a first-generation American who never saw the Afro-Caribbean experience represented in Black film. “I never saw Caribbean-American anything, or even African, immigrant first-generation anything represented…” she exlains.
A self-proclaimed “fantasy nerd,” Joseph watched and rewatched her Lords of the Rings DVDs religiously, poring over the behind-the-scenes featurettes for hours at a time. Her upbringing in “a very strict immigrant household” didn’t encourage the pursuit of a creative career. Ironically enough, it was her documentary debut at her predominately white prep school that planted the seed: After signing up to be a part of the first class of the newly minted broadcast journalism program, Joseph claimed her assigned camera and got to work on her very first documentary titled, I Am.
She’d compiled clips from family and friends, describing their heritage. She edited her footage and prepared to screen the film at school — a day she says stands out as the defining moment she knew, film would be a major part of her life.
“I went to school in Greenwich, Connecticut [Convent of the Sacred Heart] — the wealthiest town in New England — and I’m from the Bronx, so I was always an outsider in that sense,” she says. “I remember being in the cafeteria that day and I didn’t look at the projection screen once, I was just staring at my peers and my teachers as they all laughed and really engaged with the film. I remember that specific moment so clearly in my mind.”
A career epiphany came to her during sophomore year of high school. “That was when I realized the power of filmmaking and how it can create community and bring us together and help us relate to each other,” she recalls. “I knew I wanted to feel that feeling for the rest of my life.”
Her production company, Out of Many Media — a play on the national Jamaican motto “Out of Many, One People” – is only the beginning. Now that she has an opening, Joseph is going full-throttle, set on sharing her thoughts, ideas and resources with members of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora who feel underrepresented in TV and film. “I don’t know if you saw the Kola Champagne and Red Stripe they were drinking in the car [episode 1’s Instagram Live scene, between Mia [Kamillion] and Shawna [Aida Osman]],” she says with a laugh.
Popular podcaster Kid Fury, is of Jamaican heritage, from Miami and on the writing staff. Daniel Augustin plays Maurice, a Haitian character. Joseph shares Osman’s Habesha background (“We didn’t get into that on the show, but she wears her cultural Eritrean necklace and wristband on the show, she’s also first-generation.”).
To be fair, Rap Sh!t is set in Miami, after all — so the lack of island influence would be pointedly inauthentic. Still, Joseph admits it feels good to see yourself onscreen, so to speak.
“I formed Out of Many so it can be a place to help Caribbean filmmakers and help promote Black representation outside of the African-American experience. [Black film] was always just African-American, and I never felt African-American growing up. So that’s really important to me.”