UI graduates uplift Black voices in new film, “nature of the dream”

“nature of the dream” is directed and produced by UI graduates and will explore Black identity in Iowa and aim to uplift Black voices. The film will be virtually available to watch from Feb. 25 to March 7.


Image from the film, “nature of the dream.” Contributed.

Maddie Johnston, Arts Reporter

The year 2020 was a watershed moment for racial justice as protests rippled across the country after George Floyd’s killing. For University of Iowa graduate and director Miriam Randolph, these issues, coupled with challenges for creators brought on by COVID-19, inspired her to create a film that was centered around Black voices. If she was going to make a film, during a pandemic, it was going to be this, Randolph said.

“nature of the dream,” is an upcoming film presented by the Des Moines Playhouse that explores Black identity in Iowa and questions the American dream through the lens of Black Americans. The film consists of nine actors, all Black Iowans, whose performances and monologues have been inspired by their real-life experiences. “nature of the dream,” is an amalgamation of their stories, designed to uplift Black voices and challenge the disconnect between Black and white communities in Iowa.

When director Randolph first reached out to Iowans for auditions, a script did not exist. She purely asked people to come and share about an instance when they or a loved one had a personal experience with racial inequality. Auditioners could share encounters of microaggressions, racial profiling, or ways in which systemic racism suppressed or affected them. Once “nature of the dream” found its cast, the group worked collectively to build a script from the ground up.

The cast and crew that emerged was one of predominantly Black creatives, all from varying backgrounds, genders, and ages; each one with a different story to tell. It was through their sharing of stories with one another and open conversations that the team was able to cultivate a script that, Randolph felt, offered a multidimensional representation of what life is like as a Black American.

“The question I asked my cast was, ‘Does the American Dream apply to you?’ Randolph said. “And we got so many different answers to that. And basically, it came from, ‘Yeah, of course it does apply to me,’ or, ‘No it doesn’t apply to me.’ Because if we look at the Constitution, it wasn’t written for us.”

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The film also engages in the more personal dreams of Black Americans. The name itself, “nature of the dream,” serves as a double-entendre that brings both American dreams and Black individuals’ dreams into focus. While the film revolves around Iowa, the stories that appear can resonate with a much broader population of Black Americans, Randolph said.

Iowa, statistically one of the whitest states in America, is known for a concept called, “Iowa nice,” Randolph said. But this concept has been problematic for Black Iowans when people use “Iowa nice” to “nicely talk their way out of racism” and deflect the conversations about racism that need to be had, Randolph said. Micah Ariel James, assistant producer and dramaturg of the film and UI alum, said she hopes “nature of the dream” will serve as a catalyst to these conversations.

“The first step of a conversation is learning about other people’s experiences,” James said. “So, whether you see other people’s experiences and you go, ‘I identify with that,’ or, ‘I had no idea that people were experiencing that.’ I hope that what people take away from it is the beginning of, ‘From here, I can have further dialogue with the people in my community,’ so that we can figure out how to make safer spaces for all people.”

In her usual film setting, Randolph said, she is typically the only Black person in the room. She said she has felt personally responsible to be the person to speak on racial issues. Her goal for the “nature of the dream” set was to create a safe space for her cast and crew, one where they could be comfortably and unapologetically Black. For Randolph, it was therapeutic.

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Kierra Lewis, UI alum and assistant director and producer of “nature of the dream,” said, as a filmmaker, she shared Randolph’s experience of working with a predominantly white cast and crew.

“I just feel like with this day and age, you know, your cast and your crew needs to reflect the world, and so this was like the first time I actually felt seen, felt heard, and you know, it was just a safe space,” Lewis said. “So, I commend Miriam and the rest of the crew and the cast on that.”

Tickets for “nature of the dream,” can be accessed on the Des Moines Playhouse website. The film will be available for online viewing from Feb. 25 to March 7.

James said she hopes for the film to be an opportunity for Black people in Iowa to see themselves, hear their stories, and connect with their families and other members of the community.

“I hope that it also gives people the inspiration to find other ways where they might uplift other people’s voices,” James said. “I hope that in centering these stories, it puts in people’s minds, ‘We should also do everything we can to center these otherwise under-represented, under-told stories.’”