Web Series Spotlight: ‘Chrysalis’ Delivers Baltimore Noir With Black Muslim Characters

by Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, originally published at Televisual


This week I’m starting a new feature on this blog called “Web Series Spotlight.” I regularly get pitched series by creators and find it difficult to write about all of them, because I often write about trends and bigger ideas, sometimes good, indie series just don’t fit. No longer! The web series market has a larger, oft-discussed curation problem, something which networks and news sites are trying to fix. I figured I’d pitch in.

First up is Chrysalis, an urban web series by filmmaker Nia Malika Dixon. Dixon is a new independent filmmaker, who a few years ago decided to pursue her passion. She didn’t go to film school, instead she learned the old-fashioned way: on set (how refreshing!). Chrysalis is her third short, a five-episode crime drama intended to build investor interest in a feature-length film.

Chrysalis, whose title refers to the cocoon a caterpillar creates before it transforms, tells the story of Jamal, a young Muslim man living in Baltimore with an infant child and a less-than-desirable career choice: drug dealing. The series kicks off by introducing Jamal’s world and an act of violence which sends it into chaos.

The series is dark and moody, intimately shot and confident. It’s worth a look. The first episode, recently released for early fans, is below. But first, let’s hear from Dixon:

Dixon’s passions are thrillers and crime, along the lines of The Wire and Law & Order: SVU. What she adds to the genre is a focus on spiritual struggle: people who have made morally complicated choices at odds with their faith — in this case, Islam. She focuses on strong female characters, though Chrysalis stars a young man.

“I haven’t seen a film in my life where an African American woman stars in it and has to do with that struggle,” Dixon said, referring to a crisis of faith. “I wrote the story that way to show that not just men deal with that.”

Dixon was born and raised in Baltimore, and while the series is not autobiographical, she does understand the circumstances facing her characters. “It’s not my life. It’s the life of others that I’ve grown up with that I know.”

For now, Dixon is enjoying her outsider status as an indie filmmaker telling her own stories. “It’s very difficult to get funding as a director,” she acknowledges, but she adds, “I didn’t want to be a part of the corporate culture of making movies.”

Projects like Chrysalis are small, Dixon understands, but for her are part of a broader project for media change. “You can make change on certain levels, and the entire construct itself is so big. It won’t actually change. That sounds so bleak!”

“I don’t consider myself trying to do an overhaul of the entertainment industry, but I do see myself trying to inject myself as a virus.”

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at team@racialicious.com.

The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.

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