This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.
During the pandemic, Prince George’s County, Maryland, native Shawn Cosby said she was tired of watching TV and didn’t want to “stand still.” She says while listening to a jazz album that her brother gave her for Christmas, an idea for a film came to her.
It was the story of 16-year-old Memphis Braxton, who desperately wanted to be a hip hop dancer. His parents didn’t want him to become a dancer because he had a heart condition. Braxton went behind his parents’ backs and joined a dance academy.
Cosby didn’t idly stand by, quickly shaping the story into a script. She said she found herself awake, writing until 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Two weeks later, she had completed it.
Cosby is the writer and co-director of the soon to be released independent film, “33rd and Memphis.”
Cosby said her character’s ambitions got the better of himself, and he begins making decisions that create a lot of problems for his family, new friends and his dance company.
“It’s a redemption story. It’s a story also about the intersection of your life,” Cosby said.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to make a decision, she said.
“You have to make a decision whether to go right, or do you go left, or are you going to keep straight, but what you cannot do is stand still,” Cosby said.
She said for the film, things fell into place even in the midst the pandemic, from finding local dancers and actors, as well as finding local locations to shoot. They worked for two months straight without anyone contracting COVID-19.
Cosby’s first feature film, “Those We Don’t Speak Of,” came out in 2016.
Cosby knows the world in which her character Memphis lives quite well. She has had a successful career as a choreographer and actress, and she began dancing at the age of 7. Cosby said she wasn’t the greatest dancer when she started.
But, she said that she learned early on, “If you really want to grow, find the best dancer in the room and watch them and mimic them.”
Cosby was part of the first class of performing arts students at Suitland High School. She said she was in love with the movie “Fame.”
“I wanted Debbie Allen to be my teacher and I wanted the whole ‘Fame’ experience,” she said.
She also began to act professionally, which she said was “painful at times.”
She left the University of Maryland in her junior year, after securing a reoccurring role in the series, “Homicide.” She said she remembers having to tell her parents that she made the decision to leave college. She said their response was, “make it happen.” And she has.
She has choreographed for many artists and films including “Step Up.” And Cosby is a recipient of the Alvin Ailey Award for Choreography.
Cosby is also the artistic director and founder of Center Stage Academy for the Arts, a facility she opened in 2018. At the academy, students are taught teach vocal performance, acting for TV and Film, as well as contemporary dance, ballet and hip hop.
“33rd and Memphis” premieres at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22 at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Find more information about the film on its website.