The INTO Interview

Filmmaker Ashton Pina’s Manifestations Turned an Idea Into His First Film ‘Nana’s Boys’

Sometimes the best person to tell stories about your community is yourself. That was a lesson filmmaker Ashton Pina learned quickly. Now, he’s occupied his time with telling Black queer stories and his debut film, Nana’s Boys, is a testament to that. 

A natural born entertainer, Pina started off as a drag performer in his late teens. He knew that he wanted to be a storyteller, and eventually found his way into acting.

“I knew that I wanted to kind of share stories and be a performer, but I didn’t really know how to do that,” said Pina. “Growing up, coming out, and seeing drag, I started to do that. Then, I went to college, started acting, then auditioning and realizing that [with] acting, you don’t have as much control.”

Coming to this epiphany, Pina decided that he could further place his career into his own hands through filmmaking. While creating films became a new passion, telling Black queer stories became his duty. Noticing the absence of Black queer representation in front of the camera and behind the scenes, Pina took it upon himself to build the space he knew he and other Black queer folks deserved. 

“I had my own stories to tell and I didn’t want to wait for somebody to say, ‘okay, Ashton, you’re the right person for this role’. I can go ahead and create my own opportunities,” said Pina. “There’s an absence of people like me, Black queer folks, and our stories deserve to be told from this lens and I’ve been committed to doing that since.”

With his debut feature film Nana’s Boys, Pina stays true to his commitment. The film, shot during the height of the pandemic, follows the story of Amari and Q. On his 30th birthday, Amari struggles with his own life and career journey, while for his purpose. Whereas Q, on the other hand, seems to find no problem in this area, as he’s on track to become the youngest partner at his law firm.

Photo caption: “Nana’s Boys” – Breaking Glass Pictures

In an effort to celebrate his long-time partner, Q plans an elaborate getaway, but that comes to a halt when New York City experiences an explosion that cuts off utilities across the city. This forces the “Big Apple” into a mandatory lockdown, but also forces Amari and Q to reflect on who they are, what they want, and how to move forward. 

The film follows the trials and tribulations of two Black queer men in love, something Pina intentionally placed at the center of Nana’s Boys

“Because we don’t see each other loving each other on screen that causes some controversy when we’re going out to date each other, because we don’t have examples,” said Pina. Not to mimic, because I think relationships, you get to create your own. But I think that having some people to look to and to champion Black love is super important.”

While the film tells a fictional tale, Nana’s Boys was inspired by Pina’s own life events. At the height of the pandemic, Pina was navigating challenges with his partner that shined a light on communication and honesty within his relationship. 

Through art, however, he channeled what he was experiencing in order to create a film that’s emblematic of what many relationships were traversing at the start of the pandemic. Additionally, Pina worked as filmmaker Radha Blank’s assistant, witnessing her win the U.S Dramatic Competition Directing Award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and inspiring him further to create films. 

And here I am, a 34-year-old Black queer person, who went out and made a film on his own that then gets to go out into the world. Sometimes I can’t even believe it.

“I was just so inspired. I have the skills. I have the tools and so I set a date with my team and I was like, we’re going to be filming here’,” said Pina.

But in order to do so, Pina needed to take a chance on himself. With a talented team by his side, including his sister, Taylor Rose, who created a short documentary titled The Process to go along with Nana’s Boys, Pina’s film came to be. 

Photo caption: “Nana’s Boys” – Breaking Glass Pictures

“It’s crazy to think that I wrote the script in two weeks. I would never do that again. I would love to spend more time to develop [the script], but sometimes you have to just jump in,” said Pina. “You can’t wait for the right thing. And here, two and a half years later, to be able to win a couple of awards and premiere at some of the biggest film festivals and ultimately be distributed by one of the top LGBTQ distributors is outrageous.”

Pina’s film is distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures, a leader in finding and distributing independent films. With over 500 different films within its catalogue, Breaking Glass Pictures has released an assortment of LGBTQ+-centered films, including Noah’s Arc creator Patrik-Ian Polk’s The Skinny. Pina’s film is currently available on VOD and will be released via DVD on February 23, 2023. 

Of course, as first time filmmaker, Pina doesn’t take this opportunity for granted. Witnessing the work of numerous independent filmmakers, Pina recognizes that not all get to reap the same rewards from sowing their creative seeds. 

“A funny thing is, we look at Sundance [Film Festival], right? It just happened. There are films that played at the biggest film festival in the world. People go out and make beautiful films that somehow the world doesn’t get a chance to experience because of all the gatekeeping,” said Pina. “And here I am, a 34-year-old Black queer person, who went out and made a film on his own that then gets to go out into the world. Sometimes I can’t even believe it.”

But seeing is believing. Pina and viewers alike can watch his film and bear witness to his belief in himself. Leveraging his inspiration, the events around him, and genuinely betting on himself allowed Pina to watch his feature film go from an idea to reality. Now, the film he manifested years ago has become his calling card. 

“When you’re introducing yourself, people are like, ‘well, where can I find your film?’,” said Pina. “Well, now, you can go on Apple TV+, Amazon, you can go anywhere digitally you can get a movie and you can find Nana’s Boys. When you manifest something and you do all the actions, whether it’s a big step or a little step to get there, whoever you believe in is always going to realize it for you.”♦

Read More in Film
The Latest on INTO