Zoo (Volkerschau)

Two girls prepare for a fun day at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, Belgium, with the same expectations, but very different outcomes.

In short, Zoo captures a day at Volkerschau, a 'human zoo', or Negro Village, from the point of view of a 7 year old African Girl, and a 7 year old German Girl. Zoo celebrates freedom, explores perceived beauty and dreams deferred. It is a quiet dialogue that coolly observes humanity, unapologetically uncovers a loss of innocence, puts a magnifying glass on mother-daughter relationships, and looks racism in its ugly eyes. Zoo, a dialog on humanity, demonstrates that we don't know racism until we learn it. All of us are human, some of us only pretend to be.

  • Monda Raquel Webb
    Director
  • Monda Raquel Webb
    Writer
  • Monda Raquel Webb, Sabrina L Gray
    Producer
    Baby Boy
  • Preston L Holmes
    Producer
    Best Man Holiday
  • Daniel Russell, III
    Producer
  • Erian Appiah
    Key Cast
  • Kate Egan
    Key Cast
  • Donna Deter
    Key Cast
  • Chudney Tetteh
    Key Cast
  • Keith L. Smith
    Director of Photography
    Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day
  • Project Type:
    Short
  • Genres:
    Short, Narrative, fiction, historic
  • Runtime:
    11 minutes 1 second
  • Completion Date:
    January 10, 2015
  • Production Budget:
    15,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    RED EPIC
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    Yes
  • Student Project:
    No
  • International Film Festival Women, Social Issues, Zero Tolerance
    Jakarta
    Indonesia
    March 6, 2015
    International Premiere
    Excellence Award
  • The South Carolina Cultural Film Festival
    North Charleston, SC
    May 8, 2015
    South Carolina Premiere
    Audience Award
  • Best Shorts Competition
    San Diego, CA
    Online Judging Competition
    Award of Merit
  • 5th Annual Charlotte Black Film Festival
    Charlotte, NC
    April 10, 2015
    North Carolina Premiere
  • Baltimore International Black Film Festival
    Baltimore
    United States
    October 9, 2015
    Maryland
    Audience
  • Urban Mediamakers Filmmakers Festival
    Atlanta
    United States
    October 10, 2015
    Georgia
    Most Socially Conscious
  • I Filmmaker International Film Festival
    Marbella
    Spain
    December 11, 2015
    Spain
    Best Script
  • Mt. Vernon Film Festival
    Mt. Vernon
    United States
    November 10, 2015
    Mt. Vernon
    Best Short, Best Local Filmmaker
  • African American Women in Film and Cinema
    NY
    United States
    March 25, 2016
    New York
  • Women in Film & Television International Shortscase
    New Orleans
    United States
    March 6, 2016
    Louisiana
    Best of Narration
  • Kids International Film Festival
    Washington, DC
    United States
    May 26, 2016
  • International Movie Awards
    Jakarta
    Indonesia
    March 4, 2016
    Platinum
  • California African American Museum
    Los Angeles
    United States
    October 22, 2015
    California
  • Woman Up!
    Los Angeles
    United States
    November 2, 2015
Director Biography - Monda Raquel Webb

Monda Raquel Webb is an author, publisher, and filmmaker. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, Monda began her production career as a traffic coordinator for City Cable 16, a government municipal channel in Washington, DC.

She quickly climbed the ranks and served in all aspects of production, from grip, to production assistant, to producer to on-air talent even hosted her own on-air entertainment show, One on One with Monda Webb. As producer, she won awards from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) for Production in several different categories, including: 1st Place Talking Heads: FYI: Your government at Work, 3rd Place Documentary: The 1993 March on Washington, Honorable mention: The Civil War Memorial Project. Monda is also a featured Realtor on several episodes of HGTV’s Get it Sold and Designed to Sell. Monda is a member of Women in Film in Video, Washington, DC and Women in Film, NY.

Currently Monda combines producing, writing, performing and publishing under her consulting company, Monda Media, LLC, where she pursues her passion for the written word, spoken word, social media, television, and film under one umbrella.

The publishing arm of Monda Media has published four books and manages author brand, public relations, and marketing/sales of product and ancillary items. Future projects include a coffee table book; In Between Raindrops (Spring 2018), a memoir; Southern Secrets, Mountain Whispers (2020) two speculative fiction novels entitled Bone Heart (2022) and The Pretenders (2024). Monda performs her poetry nationwide, at various venues, including: Book Expo America, the Congressional Black Caucus, The Harlem Book Fair, Women in NAACP and the National Book Club Conference.

The production arm of Monda Media contributes to Little Known Stories Production Company, LLC, of which Monda is managing owner. She recently wrote, directed and produced her first award-winning short film, Zoo (Volkerschau), completed in 2015, which serves as her calling card to the film industry. Little Known Stories was created to do just that, tell little known stories hidden in the crevices of history's pages. Historical excavators, Little Known Stories Productions plans to unearth and tell true stories, and bring the past to the present, using film as a medium, in a purely organic way.

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Director Statement

Director’s Statement – Zoo (Volkerschau)

Bad Humans
I’ve always been fascinated by the depth of inhumanity in film and literature. Who can’t forget the public stoning of the unlucky person who chooses the wrong slip of paper in “The Lottery”, eerily similar to the modern day “Hunger Games”? Or experience the palpable shame of Hester Prynne’s abominable “H” in the Scarlet Letter? Cringe at the violence of the child savages of Lord of the Flies, and pity the incestuous brother and sister duo forced to come of age in “Flowers in the Attic.” No matter the genre, throughout history, mankind has, and does, continue to do inhumane things to other human beings. I can’t help but wonder why some people are so cruel, and how easily it can spread from one soul to another with lightning quickness. I’m convinced we’re not born with cruelty and bad intentions stamped on our hearts; that children come into this world full of light, hope and love – a light that appears to dim as many of us age. I was drawn to tell the story of a little African girl on display at a human zoo at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium in 1958. An overwhelming optimist, I chose to create a short story that restores and maintains the primary reason we were created, to love one another as ourselves.

The 1958 World’s Fair was the first since WWII. The organizers visualized a future ripe with technology, cascading with peace. The official fair poster boasted of a “Universal Balance for a more Human World”, yet Volkerschau, or human zoo, shined in all of its inhumane glory.

The Photo
I first saw the photo of a little African Girl on Twitter in March 2014 and experienced a visceral reaction. I couldn’t believe there was such a thing as a human zoo, and had trouble processing the year of the photo, 1958. American historical images flooded my mind like a newsflash. 1958. Ten years before I was born, four years after the decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education, a flourishing Harlem, an enviable Detroit, my 11year-old parents, the bourgeoning of the Civil Rights movement, and a little no-named African Girl in Europe paraded in front of strangers daily, so her family could eat. The humanity scale was grossly tilted. Most of us lose our innocence when we discover there is no Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny. Can you imagine what it would feel like to lose your innocence with several hundred people staring at you behind a fence? I resolved immediately to tell a story from her point of view – of what life may have been like on her first day as an object of attraction (human curiosity) in a human zoo.

I didn’t know the first thing about writing a screenplay, but I knew I could write. The story unfolded like a scroll in my mind and spirit as soon as I saw the picture. Things began to fall into place purely organically. I read a blog about a screenwriting retreat in Script Magazine by a woman I’d met the previous month at the Annapolis film festival. The Costa Rican retreat, sponsored by the Jacob Krueger Studio out of NY, offered daily yoga, sessions on meditative writing and hypnosis for writers. It was right up my alley, minus the price. I waged a Go Fund Me campaign, and raised $4,000 within 45 days. I wrote the script in Costa Rica, and polished it with a personal script coach from Jake’s tiny, but mighty band of teachers, Linda Roberts from Write Your Screenplay. The experience, plus the coaching transformed me from the inside out.
My friend and fellow filmmaker Ka’ramuu Kush pushed me on STORY to exhaustion, for which I’m thankful. After such an intense, ongoing drill, I knew the story inside out and upside down. I could articulate my vision, and knew exactly what I wanted to see visually. I’ve penned four books, and two spoken word CD’s, of which I’m very proud, but I’ve fallen in love with the discipline of screenplay writing, of meeting the challenge of communicating with limited real estate and action always holds a special intrigue. I look forward to growing as a filmmaker creating the rest of my life.

Perception – Less Than Human
Ethnographic displays, or human zoos, were extremely popular in the 19 and early 20th centuries primarily when television didn’t exist. Wealthy patrons would send explorers to different parts of the world to return with Eskimos, Native Americans, Asians, bearded people, longhaired people, Africans and more. Some came on their own recognizance; others were simply taken by force. The “human curiosities” would live in makeshift living quarters that closely represented home. They would entertain the crowd by performing customs native to their homeland, or demonstrate basket weaving, diving, use a bow and arrow, or whatever else they were asked to do.

It’s been theorized that human zoos are where the first tenets of racism began. Europeans began to assert their superiority over Africans, especially Pygmy’s, by insisting their color, cannibalism, and height made them primates.

This story begins at the 1958 World’s Fair. The Theme, “A World View, A New Humanism” was bold and hopeful, in an attempt to warm the frigid atmosphere after the cold war.
Fair organizers embraced and envisioned a superior future of technology and science, yet heavily promoted the human zoo. To me, there is no better definition or personification of irony.

Today, from the Black Perspective, America’s black boys continue to be shot and killed, and America’s black girls are kidnapped with little to no media fanfare. The overarching message resonates that our black boys are expendable, and our black girls are invisible. In an era where many of us are so concerned about being politically correct, post-racial, proud to recognize civil and human rights, it appears that some still regard black Americans as less than human.

The Story
Zoo is a Narrative Short that tells the parallel stories of two little girls, one German (celebrating her birthday) and one African, who are excited about going to see a live show. The African girl is the draw, and doesn’t know it. She and her mother recently arrived in Negro Village. She is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with her surroundings, and rightfully so. The German girl is the spectator, and doesn’t know what awaits her at the fair.

The African girl hears of an exotic creature, and asks her rock, her sole trusted source in the world, when she’ll be able to see this creature. Her mother tells her she will see the creatures, that they are pale, speak a different language and hold different customs. Armed with that comfort and knowledge, the African girl confidently follows a zoo worker, responsible for orchestrating her live feeding, to a fenced-in corral.
He holds a dog bowl filled with gruel. Wide-eyed and curious, African girl regards the exotic creatures her mother has told her about – until she meets the German girl.

The girls are a reflection of one another. They wholeheartedly embrace similarities over their differences. Only after the Birthday Girl’s mother recoils from African girl does she realize she’s the exotic creature. She retreats to the hut and tears away from the open arms of her mother. Feeling betrayed and alone in the world with the exception of her beloved doll, African Girl hides under a table, the legs of which represent a zoo of her own.

The guilt-ridden mother ends the film by escaping through performance. The Europeans applaud her entry into the fenced corral. African mother, along with other African women, sing in tribute to their ancestors, escaping spiritually, with their feet planted firmly on muddied ground. The purpose? To demonstrate freedom in captivity.

Vision/Style
Zoo is shot entirely in black and white, with three distinct exceptions. The bursts of color represent hope, friendship and solidarity. I want to send a clear message that Zoo, like life, is a stark contrast of black and white, figuratively and literally. We as humans would benefit if we all embraced life in vivid, kaleidoscope colors – only then will the world become a better place.

In addition to the English language, German, French and Twi (Akhan) add to the authenticity of the story. Purposefully, I didn’t name any of the characters in deference to the little unnamed girl in the photo. She inspired me to tell a compelling, educational yet inspirational story that lifts you after it haunts you. Zoo is about the cost of freedom, free will, choices and consequence.

I envisioned a haunting and somber tone to overlay the film’s exciting beginnings. I also stressed the importance of the cinematographer to freeze a moment. I wanted him to feel free to explore what a loss if innocence might look like. He takes his time on uncomfortable scenes with extreme close-ups and long-held camera shots. How do you capture the purity and innocence of a child? Look at them. And so we did.

The Production Team
Zoo (Volkerschau) is my calling card to the film industry, my Directorial and Screenwriting debut. I could not have done it without a super strong team. I called on veterans Producer Sabrina L Gray and Dir. of Photography Keith L Smith to help breathe life into the widely circulated picture of the little African girl with no name. I’m grateful to have a small, but mighty team that literally carried me through this project.

Casting
Zoo (Volkerschau) is a straight outta our pockets production. We didn’t have a budget to hire actors and barely crew. I enlisted the help of veteran Casting Agent Kimberly Skyrme (House of Cards) and she opened her files to be for non-SAG actors. I sent emails to approximately 20 people. I got a response from one. He brought his Dad along, so we got two actors for one.

The Challenge: Our DP told us we needed 75 extras for the “live feeding “ scene. It was like herding cats. I was literally casting from the local gym and Starbucks in my community of Olney, MD. Approximately 30 showed up.
Because this is a period piece, set in Berlin, Germany and Brussels, Belgium, I needed people who could pass for European. We held mini-auditions on my deck for the lead role for the German Birthday girl. I’d asked a good friend of mine to use her daughter as African Girl. I sent her a script and cautioned that it was emotionally raw. She didn’t read it until about three weeks before the shoot, and pulled her daughter. A co-workers niece became the new African Girl, literally. She speaks Twi fluently and wasn’t afraid of a crowd. Both girls had no acting experience, and simply lit up for the camera. They embraced their roles and played them flawlessly, becoming instant “besties”. The girls even planned a play date after the film.

The subject matter seemed to affect the adults the most. Several balked at playing a racist European. One background actor told me, “At first I wasn’t going to do it. Then I thought about what an important story this is. I just wished I wasn’t on the other side of that fence.”

Production Design – a Past Era
Recreating 1958 Europe and the World’s Fair on a micro-budget was made possible by the many different resources to procure period pieces, such as (eBay, Amazon, Thrift Stores and yes, even neighbors). Newcomer Lea Stiggle worked tirelessly to transform my back yard and upstairs bedroom to believable locations. Keith brought several supplies from Home Depot and hired a couple of day laborers to reinvent the image on the photo. A friend’s husband literally created the African Hut and Ticket Booth in three days. The little girl’s bedroom set was resurrected from a friend’s garage. I stalked a guy at the gym to get the prop car. Those are just a few of the things that happened organically that saved us money, boosted production value, and truly engaged community.

With regard to the actual physical production, my backyard in Rockville, Maryland served as the perfect natural backdrop to shoot Zoo, as it’s woodsy with patchy grass. One physical location saved us tremendously with production costs. Our hair and make-up artists, including wardrobe, worked in tandem to create a believable world where baby boomers can reminisce and the millennial generation can learn about a time and place before they were born.

The World’s Fair spanned far and wide, over 500 acres. It was a swanky, futuristic affair, the main attraction being the Atomium, a gigantic steel atom magnified 165 billion times, and standing at 102 meters high.

Volkerschau, or Negro Village, was located in another part of the fair, and featured a Congolese Village. Our representation includes a makeshift African Hut, while the Atomium looms bright and shiny in the background.

Director of Photography Keith L Smith obsessed over shot angles and movement to set tone. He pushed for a wardrobe reflective of the country and times; primarily cool colors such as navy, charcoal gray and black. Despite the jovial atmosphere of the World’s Fair, the underlying tone is haunting. There is a paradox between freedom and captivity, of being free in captivity, and of feeling captive in freedom. Zoo is the ultimate embodiment of what it means to release the chains, to finally “get it”, after a lifetime of searching.

By it’s very nature, Zoo is an opportunity to educate those who know nothing of human zoos, adding a layer of history that has been ignored and bypassed. Zoo should be an educational tool, becoming a part of school curriculums nationwide.

One of the actors, a 26 year-old male marveled at the experience. His role was to hammer the “Live Feeding” sign into the ground. Although he’d read the script several times, he said things didn’t get “real for him” until he saw the sign. He recapped his experience summarily. “Everyone, crew and cast, worked so well together. We, all of us, were transformed.

Our social media campaign revolves around the hash tag #letsallbehuman. We are growing a presence on FaceBook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Post Production
It took 13 edits to get to a final cut. The editor, Zhibo Lai, was gracious and patient. He worked nicely in tandem with our sound editor, Gregg Powers, another industry veteran. The film would not be what it is without the original music created by violinist Chelsey Green. She reviewed the rough cut, took to the studio, and created a beautifully haunting masterpiece.

Goals and Next Steps
Little Known Stories Production Company was formed to bring to light buried, historical stories. The company is dedicated to unearthing unknown stories located in the cracks and crevices of history’s pages, and telling those stories with film.

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

We hope that Zoo (Volkerschau) will touch, educate and uplift many, giving the world a new set of eyes.

monda raquel webb, director