While countless college freshman spent their days deciding which clubs and societies to join and whether they should major in Biology or Economics, filmmaker Orlando Pinder decided he was going to change the world.
Now 22 and a senior at Chicago’s Columbia College, he has made a wide range of short films and music videos, both documentary and fictional, that uniquely challenge the world around him. Pinder seems well on his way to accomplishing his lofty goal, and he believes his most recent film, Mulatto, might just get him to the finish line.
The 11-minute film, written and directed by Pinder, captures the hardships of a young, mixed-race girl as she struggles to escape the control of her gun-wielding, Confederate flag-towing, abusive father.
The son of a third generation Italian-American woman and a black man whose ancestors were North Carolina slaves, Pinder is eerily familiar with the difficulty that comes with being mixed-race.
“I feel like people always wanted me to choose between a black and a white identity,” the young filmmaker says. “They constantly ask, ‘what are you?’ just so they know how to best communicate with me.”
Pinder noticed the same identity struggle in his industry, where films are often labeled as “black” or “white” and are marketed exclusively to the corresponding audiences. “We rarely see an intersection that appeals to both,” he suggests.
Mulatto, which stars 12-year old Khali Spraggins alongside Chicago Fire alum T.J. Karam, saw actors of all races and backgrounds audition for the two roles.
“It wasn’t because they necessarily thought they were right for the role, but they wanted to show their support for the whole project,” Pinder says.
In all of his work, the artist fiercely addresses the often-stigmatized misunderstandings of 21st-century America head-on. “I think it’s ridiculous to ignore what’s going on around us,” he says. “To leave out politics is just kidding ourselves.”
He discovered his love of filmmaking back in high school, while living in Bethesda, Maryland. Heavily influenced by his surroundings and the undeniable pressure of college applications, Pinder produced Dignity, an official selection at the Buffalo International Film Festival that explores how those in power can make or break the people below them. He also played a pivotal role in documenting the Baltimore riots of 2015, his coverage of which was featured in Al Jazeera’s Emmy-nominated Baltimore Rising.
While his films continue to shed light on the most dangerous misconceptions of our time, Pinder is careful not to write people off as “good” or “bad.” Instead, he believes that most fall somewhere in between. In the same way that Mulatto takes on intersectionality in its casting and its intended audience, its plot tackles the duality of love, exploring what happens when “your love for family conflicts with your ideologies.”
“Painting racism with one brushstroke wouldn’t do justice to those affected by it,” the filmmaker says. So, rather than tell viewers how to think, Pinder believes it’s all about how you watch the film. “Your reaction will depend on where you fall politically, but it’s about finding the humanity, even in places where it’s not always obvious.”
Despite its brief duration, Mulatto was not easy or cheap to produce. In order to raise money, the writer/director sought donations from friends and family and eventually raised a little over $2,650.
Larry Beck, a retired criminal prosecutor and patron of Pinder’s films, believes that the beauty of his work is that “in capturing a seemingly hopeless world, he somehow creates a small glimmer of hope.”
“You can’t watch Mulatto and not be absolutely moved,” he says. “To distill in 11 minutes what Orlando’s been able to is beyond what many could in two hours.”
Indeed, everyone involved in the film—whether Tatiana Goodman, the casting director who has devoted additional time and energy to distribution efforts, or Karam, the lead actor-turned-executive-producer—feels such passion for Mulatto that they consistently go above and beyond to ensure it garners the attention deserved.
As Pinder and his team begin submitting Mulatto to film festivals, including Sundance and SXSW, he is prepared to do whatever it takes to get the work out. “Perhaps I’ll even pull a Michael Moore,” he jokes, referring to the documentarian’s daily calls to Toronto Film Festival representatives when submitting his first film.
The next step will be finding the right distributor. Pinder’s dream forum would be Amazon Prime, an outlet that reaches people of all walks of life, but he’s open to anything.
“It’s not even about the money for me,” he says. “We’ll give it away if it’s on the right platform.”
In addition to Mulatto, Pinder has I, too, am America, a documentary of Americans’ reactions to Trump policy since his inauguration, on the horizon for this year. He believes the 35-minute film will, if nothing else, capture a totally unprecedented and pivotal point in American history.
Pinder is aware of the power he holds as a filmmaker and hopes that by challenging his audience’s preconceived notions, his films will help create a call for change and togetherness in an increasingly divided world.