The Pharaoh of Hood Films: Oakland’s Renaissance Man of Media

By JR Valrey 

Pharoah Powell has always inspired me as a renaissance man of media, in Oakland. He is a filmmaker, podcast host, author, comedian, the former road manager of the revolutionary rap group the Coup, and more. He is currently knee-deep in setting up screenings for his soon to be released film, “Vampire in Oakland”, which is an adaptation from the book he authored with the same name. The premiere screening will be on Thursday, August 19, at 7pm at Tommy T’s Comedy Club, in Pleasanton. I sat down with Pharoah Powell to talk about his two newest creations, as well as cinema, in general, check him out as he gets into his film bag in this Q&A.

JR Valrey: What and who inspired you to get into filmmaking?

Pharoah Powell: I was always a huge movie fan as a kid, but “House Party” and then “The Five Heartbeats” were the movies that when I walked out of the theater, I knew I wanted to make movies myself.

JR Valrey: What are your top 5 movies in cinema history and why?

Pharoah Powell: My top 5 are: “The Color Purple”, it’s just an epic story; “School Daze”, I literally went and enrolled at Laney College after watching that. That movie changed my life; “Boyz n the Hood”, ‘until this day I always get upset when Ricky dies; “Let’s Do It Again”, is a true masterpiece in comedy; “The Five Heartbeats”, I have seen it 100 times, and will probably see it 100 more. It’s just an epic journey. 

JR Valrey: What inspired you to write “Vampire in Oakland”, in terms of a local horror movie as well as book?

Pharoah Powell: I specialize in hood cinema, but I wanted it to be ‘extra’, and the vampires are really an allegory for what a Black man, no matter how powerful, still has to endure in this society. 

JR Valrey: Where did you get the idea for the story line? What is “Vampire in Oakland” about in a nutshell?

Pharoah Powell: The story line comes from the thought that no matter the era, the conditions in some parts of the hood never change, there has to be a hidden hand with an agenda. In this case, it’s a class of parasitic vampires controlling the underground economy.

JR Valrey: I saw that comedian Mario Hodge is playing the lead character, why did you think he was the one who could fulfill the vision for the film?

Pharoah Powell: Mario is Oakland through and through, and I felt he’d be the most active entertainer out right now, who would embody the spirit of what we are trying to portray. 

JR Valrey: How difficult is it to write a book then adapt it to film, by writing a screenplay and filming it?

Pharoah Powell: It was pretty easy, because I wrote it with that in mind. Sometimes a book is written, and then someone comes along and has to adapt it, but in this case it was written with the intent for it to become a movie all along.

JR Valrey: What is VJTV and what part do you play there? How has VJTV been a part of the development process of “Vampire in Oakland”?

Pharoah Powell: VJTV is a partner in everything I do, a long time comrade, and collaborator. Basically VJTV could be considered my OG, and I rarely make a move without touching bases and getting input. VJTV is a direct link to the originator of Black broadcasting, Soul Beat. So with that type of history, resource, and knowledge, it gives me the media guidance that most aren’t able to access.

JR Valrey: Does the movie have a soundtrack with local artists?

Pharoah Powell: I’m actually in the process of putting it together right now.

JR Valrey: How will “Vampire in Oakland” be released? How and when will people be able to see it?

Pharoah Powell: I’m going to do a series of screenings, in the Bay Area and northern California as a whole, and then sit down with distributors to see who can give us the best deal, to take it out to the rest of the country and internationally.

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