Shawn Antoine II ’19 is not one to wait. For anything.
At 3 years old, he had his first television interview for NY1. He was interviewed by the Parks Department about the need for the refurbishment of a playground near his preschool. It worked.
At five, Antoine conceived of and ran a successful toy drive, saying to his friends, “I’m going to be the boss and you are going to be my workers,” his mother, Sharon, recalled. “Shawn has been an inquisitive child and a self-starter since birth.
“I call him my alpha child,” she added. “He’s always been a leader, a self-starter. If he sees something and wants to do it, he does it.”
Nowadays Antoine wants to be a film director and writer. And true to form, he’s head-down-all-in already. Antoine’s multiple award-winning short film “Showtime,” which was shot while he was still a URI student, just took the 2019 Hip Hop Film Festival’s “Best of the Fest—New Jack Winner,” an award given to first-time directors. Antoine shot the film, guerilla-style (meaning without permits), on the streets and in the subway cars of New York City on a crowdfunded budget of $5,000. And he did this while balancing the demands that come of being a defensive back on URI’s Division 1 Football team and studying public relations at The Harrington School of Communication and Media.
A 2018 winner of a URI Diversity Award for Arts and Culture, Antoine also wants to establish a nonprofit that pairs young people with mentors. Antoine said mentors’ influences made a difference in his life, crediting his mother, his professors, his football coaches, and Tony Balko, lead information technologist at the Harrington Hub, with his success. In 2015, Balko taught Antoine to edit his first documentary-style film, “The Movement: Black Lives Matter.” Antoine shot footage of a protest in New York City while on his Christmas break. His goal was to capture the tension between community and law enforcement in the city, Antoine said. He shared the film on YouTube and Facebook and it was viewed more than 15,000 times within the first 24 hours of his posting it.
Motivation, drive, connection
“Shawn is an amazing filmmaker,” Balko said. “He’s so driven and motivated that it was a breeze to help him get started with editing video.
“And his passion for his ideas extends far beyond himself. He really cares about his craft and his audience, and I think that’s why his work connects for so many people.”
Antoine, now in the midst of a year-long, paid apprenticeship on NBC’s “The Blacklist,” said the idea for “Showtime,” a coming-of-age film about the diverging directions two brothers’ lives take when one is offered a chance to audition for Juilliard, came to him when he was asked to pitch an original project for a film competition. It was 2017 and Antoine was interning in Los Angeles.
“I’d see these kids dancing on the train, but I didn’t know what their lives were like off of it,” the Harlem resident said. Showtime is a type of performance that originated on New York City’s subway cars in the 1990s. Typically the show involves at least two people: a dancer who uses the poles in the cars to perform a close-quarters, acrobatic, Cirque du Soleil-type dance called litefeeting, and a busker who passes a hat for money.
New York City was kind to the student filmmakers: During a pivotal scene in a subway car showcasing the actors’ litefeeting and busking, passengers hung back, watching silently, almost reverently, refusing to move and ruin the moment. “People piled up behind us to watch” the filming, Antoine said.
Antoine hopes to one day make “Showtime” a feature-length film. “A short film is a proof of concept,” he explained. It’s the equivalent of a start-up. You go pitch it to different investors” in the hope of one day making a full-length feature, he said.
There is a moment in “Showtime,” when the dancing, the litefeeting, is shown in slow motion, and classical music replaces hip hop. It is a radical and magical turn in the film, meant to illustrate a moment of mastery—a familiar feeling, Antoine said.
“It’s like when I was playing football,” Antoine said. “The game kinda slows down in that moment. That slowing down is the moment of synergy when you’re in control of your world.”
Antoine has no plans to go to film school. And in truth, film school might slow him down. At the moment, Antoine is negotiating with Magic Johnson’s network Aspire, which wants to air “Showtime,” and actor and director Nate Parker is inviting him to film festivals.
“I just left college without spending any money,” Antoine said. He attended URI on a football scholarship. “And I’m already in the world competing. I’m constantly learning from professionals. I am constantly writing, watching films, doing research.
“Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready for it.”
Learn more about Shawn Antoine II.