Growing up Avoca, Wisc., Emily Kuester felt like an outsider in her small town community. As a transracial adoptee, she navigated life without feeling completely part of either white or black culture — something that was jarringly obvious once she moved to Milwaukee for college.
"I was just excited to be around people who looked like me and be around diversity and all of that," recalls Kuester. "I quickly realized that I didn't know anything about black culture."
On the opposite end of the cultural spectrum, Milwaukee native Santana Coleman grew up in a large black family in the city and moved to Platteville for college. Fast forward to their post-college history, when Kuester and Coleman met while working together at 371 Productions. The two were working on a film idea for a Black Public Media fellowship when Coleman thought Kuester’s experience should be a short film.
The film, “Black Girl Training,” follows Mia Kosh, an adopted black girl in a white community who doesn’t know anything about being black. As an adult preparing to meet her biological family, her friends seek to help her get ready and find her blackness. The project aims to tackle race, identity, stereotypes, and expectations in both a funny and celebratory way.
“It's not just a story about adoption, it's not just a story of feeling outside of your community. It's a combination of those two and all of the things that I had to go through as I was growing up," says Kuester.
The upcoming short film (and upcoming series) addresses being a black woman in the Midwest and the expectations that come along with it — as challenging and ugly as they may be. It also includes humorous training lessons such as watching "Friday," learning new dance moves and vocabulary, and getting woken up on a Sunday with blasting gospel music.
Coleman notes that diverse representation on the camera is just as important as it is behind the scenes. "The most important thing to us is having a mostly women crew and having a diverse crew," she says. "We just really want to shine on some women and people of color in this process."
Through the process of developing a short film and raising the funds for production, Kuester says that "Black Girl Training" is a learning experience for everyone involved, and hopefully will have a great impact on future audiences.
"There are stereotypes that are being portrayed on both sides towards white and towards black people, and I've been able to kind of live my life being able to break both sides down," she notes. "I think a strength of 'Black Girl Training' is that we are able to kind of confront these stereotypes, but do it in a way that allows people to laugh and allows people to look at things from a new perspective ... We have to be able to talk about them and we have to be able to conquer them."
"It's really more important about how you view yourself ... and that you're proud of yourself, and that's also a really strong image that I'm trying to portray with 'Black Girl Training,'" Kuester adds.