Bermudian lands leading role in documentary on Mary J Blige
Bermudian cinematographer Kalilah Robinson was “flabbergasted” at the news she’d landed the lead photography role for a documentary about the Queen of Hip Hop R&B Mary J Blige.
Ms Robinson was director of photography on My Life directed by Oscar-winning director Vanessa Roth which is to be released via Amazon on June 25.
Ms Robinson, 38, who was raised in Devonshire and is now mostly based in California, had the privilege of accompanying Ms Blige on The Royalty Tour which the superstar co-headlined with American rapper, songwriter, and entrepreneur Nas, in 2019.
"This is my highest profile project to date,“ said Ms Robinson.
“Given that we were interviewing the iconic character who created this music and genre, from the standpoint of the subject matter, it was the highest profile.”
The documentary celebrates the 25th anniversary the triple platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated album My Life.
Ms Robinson added: “It is a bit surreal. I remember in ‘94 when the album came out, she has been huge and iconic since I was a kid. Getting the opportunity to go on tour with her was crazy and brilliant.”
The American singer, songwriter, actress, producer and philanthropist has a track record of eight multi-platinum albums, nine Grammy Awards plus 32 nominations, two Academy Award nominations, two Golden Globe nominations, and a SAG nomination.
Ms Robinson and her crew dipped in and out of the tour attending about eight concerts in West Palm Beach, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia and Brooklyn, New York.
In the trailer for the film, Ms Blige describes the album My Life as “probably my darkest album at one of the darkest times I’ve had”.
Ms Blige’s road to stardom was not a smooth one. She was raised in the Schlobam Housing Projects of Yonkers, a city in New York State, and battled with mental health issues, addiction and abuse.
Ms Blige, who performed at the National Stadium in Bermuda in 2009, said of her time recording the album: “Most of the time I was depressed and didn’t want to live. I had it all inside and I was able to sing it and write it, and I didn’t know that so many people felt the same way.”
My Life made Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Ms Robinson described Ms Blige as the consummate professional and one of the hardest working people she has ever met. She got to shadow the singer including stints on stage in front of thousands of adoring fans.
Ms Robinson said: “I spent a lot of time following her which was principally my job – during the tour I am a fly on the wall and at almost every show [that I attended] I was either on the side of the stage or behind her on the stage.
“The Royalty Tour was a Nas and Mary J Blige collaboration, and they had a phenomenal video intro – they rose out of the second floor of the stage and I was backstage as they entered.
“There were times when I could chat with her briefly but I wanted to capture the moment and not impose or make anyone uncomfortable. It’s my job to observe and let the moment happen. I did chat quite a lot with her sister who is a big part of her team – we were very chummy for a lot of it.”
Ms Robinson also got to film iconic music and cultural icons who were interviewed as part of the documentary.
Ms Blige is executive producer along with Sean Combs (AKA P Diddy), while the film also features appearances by Alicia Keys and Taraji P Henson. Quincy Jones is the executive music producer.
Ms Robinson studied at Saltus Grammar School and left Bermuda in 2000 to study Psychology with a minor in Film Studies at Stanford University in California.
She had ambitions to become a marine biologist but during her spare time took extra film classes before being won over by the profession.
Her work has taken her around the world including West Africa for a National Geographic film about successful women around the world.
Ms Robinson, whose grandfather Dr Kenneth E Robinson was an educator and historian, said she is “immensely proud” of a series of documentaries she has worked on in the past in Bermuda for the then Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.
Ms Robinson is currently working in the editing phase of American Murderer – an upcoming true-crime drama film that will be pitched to film festivals.
She said: “I’m also doing short films, mostly with female of colour directors, and jumping on to another high-profile documentary which I can’t say anything about at this stage.”