"Mariam is amazing." That's what Chip, one of our project producers, said when I asked if he had any thoughts on who we might ask to read. Chip knows Mariam through shared time at the Desert Island Supply Company, a fantastic non-profit creative writing program in Birmingham. (Please check them out. They have a wonderful mission!)
I don't think anyone could meet Mariam and not feel the same way Chip does.
We filmed Mariam in a classroom at Woodlawn High School. The circumstances under which Mariam read were pretty impressive. First of all, here's this young student, and she's reading in front of her peers. Students are milling about in the background. She's under a spotlight of sorts. Then, you have to consider, she's reading in a second language—and she's reading poetry, which is another language. She was only 14 at the time.
We gave Mariam encouragement throughout the shoot, "Nobody gets this right. Nobody gets this right because there is no 'right.'" We just want people to read as themselves. Easier said than done.
Mariam also helped with our last minute idea of having one of the poem’s lines read in Fulani, her native tongue. She translated the lines for us right on the spot. Also easier said than done.
You could really see Mariam find her way as she became more comfortable with the verse. I liked watching that unfold. By the end she has taken confident yet humble ownership over the verse. It's definitely hers.
by filmmaker Jenn Crandall as told to writer Liz Hildreth