"When you see something that's super traumatic, I want you to be able to laugh despite it." | Caprice Williams
"When you see something that's super traumatic, I want you to be able to laugh despite it." | Caprice Williams Credit: Olivia Obineme

Burning sage. Healing sessions. Yoga classes. Filmmaker Caprice Williams admits that when she was a kid, she would have assumed that anyone who did these things was a total weirdo. Yet they’re practices that adult Caprice now preaches, ones that feature prominently in her new webseries Journey. In episode one, Magnolia (played by Williams) threatens to sage every part of her friend Gia (Antoinette Drummer). In episode two, Magnolia learns about the intuitive powers of tea. And in episode three, Magnolia invites a spiritual guide to join a party with her friends. While the moments are at times played for laughs in the series, what they represent is something that Williams takes very seriously.

“My people need to know that there are other ways, other outlets to healing, and spirituality is a big step,” Williams says. “It was a part of us, it’s been a part of us for a while.”

For Williams, it was creating the semi-autobiographical series itself that was the next step in her personal healing. Each episode of Journey starts with Magnolia writing in her journal, musing over her friends’ problems and reflecting on her past. From there scenes teeter between her present-day healing practices with her friends and flashbacks to her tumultuous childhood, creating a show that is equal parts laugh-out-loud, fantastical comedy and heart-wrenching, emotional drama. Williams wrote, produced, directed, and stars in the series—not an easy task for a first-timer in nearly every capacity, and one that can be especially taxing when it involves sharing parts of your life that even your closest friends weren’t aware of. And yet somehow Williams makes it seem like a breeze. Even when speaking about her obstacles, there’s a lightness and confidence in her voice.

It’s an attitude that likely helped her get to where she is today. Williams grew up on the south side of Chicago, and first discovered her love for storytelling as a junior in Mr. Freed’s creative writing class at Hyde Park Academy High School. After graduating in 2012, she left home due to a troubled relationship with her family. She went on to experience homelessness, spending years at Harmony Village, a transitional housing facility for young people ages 18-24. While she was pregnant with her daughter, her daughter’s father was shot and paralyzed. Within the series itself it’s insinuated that Williams went through even more hardships in her childhood. But she doesn’t like to dwell on the details too long in conversation, and instead looks forward to what she can do next to keep pursuing her dreams to better her community and keep telling stories.

The flow of the series is a lot like the steps of getting to know Williams: On first meeting there’s an immediate joyfulness that radiates, plenty of wit, charm, and warmth. As time goes on, that layer never quite goes away, but slightly fades to show the pain underneath, the past tragedies that led her to this point. Being able to find the balance between the two has been a priority for her in life and in her art.

“When you see something that’s super traumatic, I want you to be able to laugh despite it,” Williams says. “I want people to be able to smile, I want people to be able to see, it happened, things always happen to us, but if you can see your way out and you can see a light, you can find a reason to smile, then you just kind of sort of beat that problem, you made it through that problem.”

Williams wrote the script over two weeks last April, filmed for a week in October, then premiered all seven five-to-ten-minute episodes on February 28 on the Rouz Productions YouTube page. Early in the process she brought on experienced local cinematographer Jakub Wasowski after connecting for another potential project years earlier. He was immediately on board, calling Williams’s scripts one of the best he’d ever read—”impressive” is his favorite word to describe Williams—but he was still skeptical about the learning curve ahead.

“I said, ‘Listen Caprice, this is going to be a lot of work and you cannot underestimate that it will be probably one of the hardest projects in your life,'” Wasowski says. “And she said, ‘Yeah, I’m in. Just tell me everything.’ She was ready to learn and jump in and that’s what she did.”

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“He’s Polish,” Williams says of Wasowski, “and I think his accent just made everything super pleasant for me, even when he was telling me I’m doing something wrong. I was like a kid in a candy store. I was ready for that knowledge, I was ready for the critiques, for the criticisms for everything, for people to tell me, ‘I think you need to do this a little better.'”

As if the ambitiously short timeline and lack of experience wasn’t enough, COVID threw another wrench in the works. Shoots became more complicated while following pandemic protocols like distancing, sanitizing, and taking the temperature of everyone on set before beginning a day of production, not to mention the lack of locations available for certain scenes—much of the series ended up being shot in Williams’s apartment.

In addition to her crew, along the way Williams had the support of her close friend Maya Neita, who did everything from stapling the initial scripts and organizing release documents to cooking food for table reads and stepping in as a performer. “She didn’t have an assistant for these things, all while being a mom and working and hiring a production team and making sure you have the cameras and providing locations,” Neita says. “When she needed to rehearse, she would come over here, and I would be whoever she needed me to be at that time.”

Neita and Williams first met in high school as acquaintances, but later reconnected and became close friends when they were pregnant around the same time—Williams’s daughter is five months older than Neita’s. In one of their first meetings Williams told Neita she was writing a book, something that initially surprised Neita and immediately let her know this was a woman with aspirations. The moment Neita realized the two would be friends for life was when Williams started to let her guard down, a rare occasion. Once their children started growing up together, their connection became even stronger.

Williams makes a point of not pressuring her daughter into following in her footsteps or going down any specific path. Instead Williams is just slowly exposing her daughter to the projects she’s working on as a way to show her following your dream, whatever that may be, is possible.

“My daughter is super creative, she knows how to draw, like, she could be an artist,” Williams says. “She loves to dance, she loves to sing. She could be Beyoncé. She could be whatever she wants to be, all I know is I need to just support her and whatever decision she chooses to make.”

Though the series is finished, Williams is really just getting started. She’s already started writing season two of Journey, packing in everything she learned the first time around and introducing stories from her time experiencing homelessness. Through CAN TV she is working on creating an interview show called Unpack the Gifted, on which she’ll interview local folks who don’t usually have a platform for their message. Her first guest will be Ralph Bennet, the disciplinarian during Williams’s time at Hyde Park Academy High School who also had plenty of run-ins with her classmates G Herbo and King Von. Williams is also working on putting together seminars called “Unblock the Creativity” that she’s hoping to bring to the young people at Harmony Village, her old shelter. And she’s looking for funding to place all these and future projects under one umbrella: Rouz Productions.

“She is not yet even close to showing people her potential and showing the world what she can do with her beautiful creative mind,” Neita says.

While Williams admits that her own hard work and perseverance has helped her get this far, she still preaches that spirituality was the key ingredient. That includes not only her healing practices, but also an unwavering belief in a higher power, one that through the course of filming the series became infectious.

“I personally have somehow remained neutral in that area but in a lot of sort of 50-50 situations Caprice would always say, ‘God will do what’s right for us,'” Wasowski says. “I would just usually shrug, but I actually have seen that working.”

Going forward, Williams is ready for anything that stands in her way, and in some ways embraces those obstacles. Slowly but surely she’s sharing more of her own story, not to dwell on the past, but as the only way she knows to move forward and thrive.

“If the road isn’t blocked, then I can get past freely and probably never learn from any mistakes,” Williams says. “So there are times I want to give up but then I think about the problems and that God hasn’t brought me this far to leave me, and it gives me strength.”   v