Candida Royalle Targets Ethnic Market with <i>Afrodite Superstar</i>

Candida Royalle is launching her new Femme Chocolat label tonight with the premiere of Afrodite Superstar, a romantic comedy from feminist writer/director Venus Hottentot. The movie screens at the New School for Social Research (65 Fifth Avenue) at 8 p.m.

Royalle conceived the Femme Chocolat line as an outlet for erotic films directed by women of color and featuring ethnically-diverse performers. 

"It's something that I've thought about for a long time," Royalle told "I would get asked a lot at college talks and interviews, 'where are the people of color in your movies? Why aren't there better movies for couples of color?' I would have no answers for them really; yes, I have people of color in my movies, but as far as a whole line, no. The product that's already out there often consists of ethnic caricatures and stereotypes, and it's not something that discerning couples would want to view – certainly not the Femme market."

The cast of Afrodite Superstar includes Simone Valentino, India, Mr. Marcus, Justin Long, Sativa Verte, Liliana Velasquez, Revay and Jay Junkers. Valentino plays the title character, a young African-American debutante who leads a double life as an aspiring rapper. Mr. Marcus co-stars as rap mogul CEO, who discovers Afrodite in a karaoke bar and grooms her for stardom as a gangsta girl with her true identity kept under wraps.

"It's a story about a young woman who is trying to find her own identity," Royalle told "She ends up trying to do that within an industry that is really rather hard on women. As she goes through this adventure, she really struggles with her own self-image, with self-acceptance – and she realizes that she's trying to fit into other people's ideas. Eventually, she walks away from it and claims her own image on her own terms."

Director Hottentot originally contacted Royalle through her website, "When I met Venus, she was a film student who knew of my work and wanted to consult with me on a short film project she was doing," Royalle told "When she asked if she could shoot something for me, I thought this could be a great starting point from which to launch the new line. She's an educated young woman, she's got a degree in film, and she's extremely talented."

For Royalle, the project presented an opportunity to serve as a mentor. Although she emphasized that Hottentot was creatively responsible for the movie, Royalle herself ended up taking the directorial reins during the sex scenes.

"When it came time for production, I was there on the set, and I did end up stepping in and directing the erotic scenes," she said. "It was not intended that way, but it was a good experience. We shoot the Femme movies differently, and it's not easy; I take a more cinema verite approach to the erotic scenes. What I tend to do is discuss with the actors what the scene is, who the characters are that they're playing and what would these characters do in this situation. For instance, there's one scene between a rapper and a groupie, so this scene is going to be pretty intense, with a lot of sucking and fucking. It's still shot like a Femme movie, but it's very assertive and direct, whereas the final scene between Mr. Marcus and Simone, where they finally give in and acknowledge their feelings for each other, is a much more sensitive, tender scene; it's hot, but it's more playful, more intimate. They joke a lot with each other, they laugh; she's a little self-conscious, so this is the kind of nuance I look for and we try to capture. When I say cinema verite, what I mean technically is we let them go as much as possible without interruption."

Royalle told that she has tentatively selected two women from the Afrodite Superstar cast to direct future Femme Chocolat movies. 

"The first challenge will be finding a market," Royalle said. "It's exactly what the challenge was when I started Femme Productions in 1984. When we released our very first movie through Femme, we had no idea if we'd reach our target audience. The rest is history, and I hope we have the same good fortune with this line and this first movie."

Afrodite Superstar arrives in stores April 3 through Adam & Eve Pictures.