Nina Simone’s iconic song, “Four Women” is a powerful narrative of four black women of different hues with different but equally heartbreaking struggles. Making her directorial debut, actress Gabourey Sidibe brilliantly brings those stories to life on screen in the short film, The Tale of Four, for Refinery 29’s new media platform Shatterbox.
The four women are portrayed by Grammy-nominated singer Ledisi Young (Aunt Sarah), newcomer Meagan Kimberly Smith (Saffronia); Dana Gourrier (Sweet Thing) of Django Unchained; and Underground star Aisha Hinds (Peaches).
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly’s EW: The Show, the Precious Oscar nominee said she initially turned down the offer from Refinery 29 to direct.
“Like the theme of my entire career, I didn’t realize I was ready to be an actor until I got an audition. I didn’t realize I was ready to be a director until Refinery 29 asked me if I wanted to be a director,” she said. “I actually said ‘no’ because I didn’t believe I was smart enough to do it. I didn’t believe my opinions were valuable enough to share.”
But her producing partner Kia Perry convinced her to take the challenge.
“I couldn’t let her down, and in a strange way doing it for her allowed me to do it for myself,” she said.
Perry brought in the Nina Simone song “Four Women,” which inspired the short. “In less than three minutes [Nina Simone] builds an entire world, an entire universe around these women,” explained Sidibe. “So it was kind of easy to build a 23-minute film around these four women, and what happens is, we still want more.”
The film touches on the Black Lives Matter movement, which Sidibe said she was eager to explore because the state of the world brings her so much fear and anxiety. “What I did to be proactive is, I made this film,” she said.
The Empire actress said the project helped her develop both professionally and personally.
“As an actor I only worry about my one character, I only worry about my lines. But as a director I worry about the color of the curtains. I worry about everybody’s lines, every character,” she explained.
“There’s something really beautiful and freeing in knowing that I have the freedom to choose what you say and how you say it. I felt like a flower blossoming and I was learning myself and I was getting to know who I actually am and that my opinions are actually valuable because as it turns out people will listen to me.”
The 34-year-old Brooklyn native said she likes sitting in the director’s chair and wants to branch out into screenwriting because she has more stories to tell – including one about her pre-Oscar-nominated job as a phone sex operator.