We had the good fortune of connecting with Deborah Jane Burke and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Deborah Jane, how does your business help the community?
The House of Deborah Jane Studios is a production and content creation company located in Orange County, California. Our mission is to create dynamic media that makes a social and spiritual impact in the world by telling the stories of diverse, marginalized people — in innovative ways. We have developed multiple television, film, digital, and musical projects. Most recently, one of our TV series was offered a comic book deal. Currently, we are producing a short film, Strange Fruit: The Hip-hopera, a hip-hop musical about racial reconciliation.

My passion for engendering social impact through narrative initially sparked in the OC, a predominantly white suburb. I was raised the daughter of Guyanese immigrants (a scientist/inventor and doctor/professor). Growing up as the only black family on the block, I experienced racial exclusion at home, at school, and even in church. Being an outcast ignited my desire to write stories that gave diverse people a voice and promoted multicultural unity.

After completing my Bachelors in English & African-American Studies at Stanford University, as well as my Masters in Screenwriting from USC Film School, I launched the company. Now as a president, screenwriter, producer and hip-hop recording artist, I create dynamic content with a team of experts that champions multicultural voices and powerful women’s stories. And guess what? No time could be better. Our country is in a surge of civic unrest and racial reckonings. Strange Fruit: The Hip-hopera is our most important work because it delves deep into the historical divide in this country. George Floyd and the many other black lives tragically gunned down by the police are symbolic “strange fruits” of America. Their deaths actually began long ago in a country steeped in systemic racism. After marching in the BLM movement, I knew I had to launch this film to explore the historical roots of the tragedies we see today. Our society simply cannot progress forward unless we go back to heal our roots. This is what our movie is all about.

My team launched a GoFundMe to help fund the film. (All donations go toward production costs!) Our urgent, ultimate mission with Strange Fruit is to ignite racial reconciliation across our nation (and eventually the globe) through powerful musical cinema. In that way, we can make the greatest social impact possible.

Website: www.strangefruithiphopera.com

GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/strange-fruit-the-hiphopera-short-film

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My artistry and passion was sparked as a child. Surrounded by Broadway musicals, historical fiction, and jazz music, I understood the power of telling stories through music pretty early. However, as one of the only African-American kids in my school, church and neighborhood. I also grew up pretty ostracized. My Guyanese parents raised us in a predominantly white Orange County suburb where I was a first generation kid — often in a cultural conflict between my African-American ethnicity, my white surroundings and my Caribbean heritage. I remember our next-door neighbor moved out because they did not want their daughter to play with me and my sister. My parents had no context for this type of racism, so I was left to decipher it. The result? Often feeling outcast by whites and the few blacks – like I never really had a home. This divide sparked my passion to write stories that gave diverse women a voice and promoted multicultural unity.

As a kid, I was pretty desperate to discover my roots and express my imagination – which I did through literature, hip-hop and musicals. I remember when my father took me to see Les Miserables on Broadway. I was enthralled! I knew immediately I wanted to create a musical of that caliber that dramatized the social issues of my people. When my father gifted me with the groundbreaking album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, for my 16th birthday, my life drastically changed. Hip-hop connected me to my roots and gave me a marvelous creative outlet, dancing, rapping and writing.

In addition to founding a hip-hop dance team, I devoured as much African-American history as I could — basically living in libraries after school. At 12-years-old, I began reading slave narratives. (I know, I was a unique kid.) Stories of my heroes, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglas thrilled my mind… but they left me haunted with a recurring nightmare. Night after night, I woke up in 1845, in the Antebellum South -– a slave. What would I do?

That question followed me to Stanford University, where I completed my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing and African-American Studies. There, I discovered hip-hop theatre -– a dynamic combination of hip-hop, story, and revolutionary social protest drama. Although I’d never written a play before, I knew the story I needed to tell was my childhood nightmare: a modern woman trapped as an 1800s slave… but as a hip-hop musical, like Hamilton. I wrote and produced Strange Fruit: The Hip-hopera at Stanford in 2004, raising $8000 to bring it to life on stage. It was my Les Miserables. I was even lucky enough to direct Issa Rae as one of our star actresses back when she was a student. Strange Fruit:The Hip-hopera was awarded a plaque. We received a standing ovation, and when I took a bow, I heard God whisper, “This is just the beginning”…

After graduation, I jumped into Hollywood — working long hours in production on film and TV sets such as TBS, BET, PBS and at FOX for 4 years. During that time, I chiseled my screenwriting craft as a Cosby TV Writing Fellow. and completed my Masters in Screenwriting at USC School of Cinematic Arts, where, in 2011, I re-wrote Strange Fruit into a feature film.

After USC, I set my set my sights on producing Strange Fruit as a feature. Let the challenges begin! It has been an uphill battle. So far, Strange Fruit’s script has received glowing reviews from industry executives, garnered interest from celebrity talent, and has been well-received in screenwriting contests. I have even been interviewed by TD Jakes’ team on my behind-the-scenes journey through Hollywood. Nevertheless, it has been a tough road. My co-producer India Alston and I pitched the feature to Hollywood executives. Nearly every exec was compelled and excited by the project… but taking the next action step was another matter. Most often, execs want to see a visual of the film’s concept – which is why we are currently creating a short film of Strange Fruit.

I have been working for the past year on producing this short film, and I am excited about the amazing journey. Our plan is to shoot the short in Atlanta, 2021, and use it as a proof-of-concept to pitch to larger studios. As a believer in God, I’ve experienced the key to this entire filmmaking process is having RADICAL FAITH. So, I stay on my knees in prayer for my team, doing my best to trust God with the movie’s progress. It truly has been like walking on water. I call Strange Fruit a God-project. It is thrilling to witness God bring the film extraordinary support: We have a cast and crew of 30 talented producers, actors, dancers and singers — including an award-winning director and DP. The script has been table read by professional acting troupe, First 15. We have been supported by our church, The Sound, who donated a large amount to the project. Over 70 people have contributed on our GoFundMe. My business is being established around the film. I have been working day and night for the past year, and I can’t even tell you the generosity of the people involved. From our director organizing the physical production, to our music director contributing his considerable vocal talents, to our chorographer creating dynamic routines, to our marketing director designing our pitch decks, to our co-producer creating our website, to our music producers making powerful tracks, to our art designer scouting plantations in Georgia, and our casting director who spent 3 months auditioning our cast after 3000 people submitted. Moreover, my company is buttressed by fantastic leadership and mentorship. My company’s spiritual advisor has been praying for this film from the beginning, my business mentor (and pastor) filmed our investor video (and designed our logo!), and my mother – who serves on my board of directors- has visited banks with me to receive funding. Even one of our actors rallied her family to raise over $1000 in donations.

Our team is still fundraising to reach our $100K goal in order to greenlight Strange Fruit the short film. To contribute to our GoFundMe you can click here: https://gofund.me/a5e1eabb
Or visit our website at: www.strangefruithiphopera.com We appreciate each of our supporters (and every dollar counts!)

The mission of my company, House of Deborah Jane Studios, is to create dynamic media that makes a social and spiritual impact on the world by telling multicultural stories in innovative ways. Strange Fruit is our most important film because it not only fulfills this creative goal, but it truly manifests a global mission of racial reconciliation. I am proud to be a black female-owned studio in the making. I aim to pioneer in the intersection of music, cinema, and social change.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I live in a cozy little retro city called Old Town Orange. If my friends were visiting I would take them straight to Orange Circle. They could enjoy the sites and sounds of stylized cafes, warm vibes, vintage cars and friendly people. We certainly would have to grab a burger and milkshake from Watsons, a favorite 50’s diner. Then, we would stroll through the neighborhood, where they would be charmed (everybody is!) by the 1940-50’s styled houses adorning picturesque tree-lined avenues. We would take a spin around Chapman University, the prestigious and pristine college campus centering the town as well. Old Town Orange is truly nostalgia for the senses as it time travels you to a whole other vintage era.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to dedicated this shout out to Reverend Dr. Donald Lamb, my business mentor and spiritual advisor who has covered my organization in prayer from day one. Reverend Lamb is also founder of Hallelujah, I Have a Testimony, a virtual church that honors personal testimony. https://www.hihat.live/

I would also like to shout out The Sound, an Orange County church led by transformational leaders, Pastor Brian Heney and Pastor Danielle Heney. They are dedicated to the mission of racial reconciliation and spreading the message of Jesus Christ. Their motto is “many voices, one call,” and they have been instrumental in contributing to our film, Strange Fruit.

I would definitely like to shout out my entire cast and crew, including our director, Nabila Lester, music director, Dedrick Bonner, choreographer, Tai White, casting director, Kimmie Smith, script consultant, Andrew James, co-producer, India Alston and marketing director, Tracy Yassini. Their tireless efforts, sacrifice and passion is legendary at this point. These talents helped to create a dream, and I could not do it without then.

Finally, last but certainly not least, I would like to shout out my mother and father; both pioneers who came to America and lived the American Dream through hard work, sacrifice, and vision. My father, a scientist, and my mother, a doctor, raised our family in Orange County, giving me the tools, support and love to truly pursue my passion. I love you mom and dad! I literally would not be here without you!

Website: www.strangefruithiphopera.com

Instagram: @strangefruit_hiphopera

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborahjaneburke/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deborah.jane.75

Youtube: https://youtu.be/G3M_swBoNgw

Other: In addition to being a filmmaker, I am a hip-hop recording artist with a pin-up girl style. Here is my mixtape music video Classic Girl: https://youtu.be/Dh8cIEU4faQ Rap La La: https://youtu.be/RnHMIABIjtU 99 Problems Being Black Ain’t One: https://youtu.be/T0XdinAZbF0

Image Credits
Frank Xochichua

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.