When Myisa Plancq-Graham and Ali Graham moved to Seattle three years ago, they were experiencing the city for the first time. And from their apartment in Lower Queen Anne, the married couple could see the water and the Olympic Mountains. It was beautiful, Myisa says now. But there was something that they weren’t seeing.
“There just wasn’t much diversity,” says Myisa, a biracial woman who grew up in San Francisco and lived in Atlanta and Los Angeles before moving here. “I did not really understand how important that was to me. I felt a void, and I felt a need to seek it out.”
Ali, who is black, was similarly struggling. Bouncing between long hours at Amazon in South Lake Union and his LQA home, he had little opportunity to explore Seattle’s more diverse enclaves, and lived in a world radically different than the one he had known as a youth. “I didn’t realize how much of a bubble I grew up in in Atlanta,” he says. “Everything is black there. The police chief is black, the school superintendent is black, the mayor’s black. Bankers, architects, scientists, it’s everywhere.”
It was a difficult adjustment for the couple, who were led to Seattle by a lucrative tech job for Ali, the latest on a resume that included work as a music supervisor at Warner Bros. and in the legal departments of Verizon and Beats by Dre. Ali was “following the money,” he says. But he was feeling the call of something more important. Two things, actually. First, since watching the fallout of the Michael Brown killing, both he and Myisa felt that they needed to do something for the black community. But they didn’t know what. Second, he was distressed that his long hours were leaving him little time to connect with his wife.
Then, early last year, Ali had an epiphany that answered both calls. He and Myisa would start a video production company, through which they would tell the stories of the African diaspora in Seattle and beyond. They named their company Uncoded, LLC. “I felt that it was a way that we could not only personally engage with the community here in Seattle, but also create a space where black people can see one another,” says Myisa, who had been running a photography business since she lived in Atlanta. “Where they could learn about one another.”
A year later, the couple has created a collection of short-form documentaries being distributed under the series title The Uncode, some of which will be screened this weekend at a first-anniversary fundraiser at the Northwest Film Forum. Each story, told in the voice of its subject and filmed with Myisa’s roaming lens, fills out the diversity that the couple was missing in its early days in Seattle.
“I want to empower all of these people to tell their own stories,” says Ali. “That is who we are and what we do.” NorthwestFilm Forum, 1515 12th Ave., 329-2629. $8. All ages. 7 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 23.