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Co-Writer of ‘God’s Country’ Shaye Ogbonna Discusses the Power of Making Art  Activism   – Black Girl Nerds


Co-Writer of ‘God’s Country’ Shaye Ogbonna Discusses the Power of Making Art  Activism   – Black Girl Nerds

On the heels of the 2016 election, Shaye Ogbonna and Julian Higgins connected at an event for a film Ogbonna was working on. Although they both attended the American Film Institute at the same time, they had never met. 

The former classmates discussed how disillusioned they were with the current state of affairs in America and shared a desire to make art their activism. That conversation was the genesis of their writing partnership and their film God’s Country, an outstanding suspense/thriller starring Thandiwe Newton (Westworld, HBO). Newton plays Sandra Guidry, a college professor in an all-white town sucked into an escalating confrontation with a pair of white hunters who trespass on her land. Ogbonna and Higgins’ script is an adaptation of “Winter Light,” a short story written by James Lee Burke. 

A few days after experiencing God’s Country at the Sundance 2022 film festival, BGN had the honor of speaking with Shaye Ogbonna via Zoom about the crafting of this incredible film.

So much of God’s Country is felt rather than explained. How were you able to build the story in that way?

When I’m writing something, I always ask myself, “Does this character feel real? Does this character feel lived in?” With Sandra, I’m working on familiar terrain. I was raised primarily by Black women and have a unique perspective because Black women are the people who have most influenced me. When Julian came to me with the idea to make the lead character a Black woman [as the character is not in the original short story], I remember the conversation. We were at a brunch spot, and I got up excited and just walked around. I literally couldn’t sit down. I wrote Sandra with a sense of humanity and connection. For example, the idea of her grieving is something that I wanted to bake in because grief is a universal experience. It’s a way for the audience to relate to Sandra before she goes on the journey of the film.

Julian told me before you started writing the screenplay you talked about it for six months. Why was it important for you to create the bond in that…

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