Now is the Time. Memphis is the Place.

Greetings from Junt Land

A conversation with animated web series creator Munirah Safiyah Jones

Memphian Munirah Safiyah Jones is the creator behind a web series called “Junt Land.” Her “eclectic mix of satirical, anecdotal & introspective visuals” take on dating culture, body image, and whatever else she feels inspired to tackle. The debut video “Dating in 2018: How Men Communicate” went viral.

I had come across her work and enjoyed it. I watched, clicked “like” and moved on, respecting her from afar and not expecting to get to know her. Then a mutual friend emailed to suggest that we meet.

We sat down at Art Bar a couple of weeks ago, uncertain where the conversation would take us.  We got the basics out of the way. Born and raised in South Memphis, one of 10 siblings in a creative family. She went to high school at Central. She chose U of M for college.

Once we warmed up to each other, we entered a deeply honest conversation about expectations once people start paying attention, and the pressure to keep up. We talked about perceptions of Memphis and its artists, the price of putting your voice out into the digital world, and what’s on the horizon for her creatively.

Choose901: How’d you get into film and video?

Munirah: I can’t really pinpoint a time in my life where I was like ‘Yes, that’s what I want to do,’ but I was always captivated by motion pictures and film. I don’t know that I’ve ever taken it seriously to be honest, as far as my own art is concerned. I’ve done it professionally, worked at WMC-TV 5, and now I’m a Senior Production Specialist for a billion dollar company based in New York where I do video work.

Personally, I was never consistent with anything that I did. I did everything from music videos to short films. I would produce live events with my sisters where I did film showcases and fashion shows. But I would go long stretches of time without doing anything, so I kind of made a decision last year that I would try to start producing stuff and just put it out there to be consumed and however it was consumed, whatever.
I started a series called Interrupted, a visual series. I started late last year and said I would continue that into 2018 just to produce something, some kind of content on a somewhat consistent basis. I did not do that. I went all the way into June of 2018 having done nothing and then I just decided to make this cartoon. I made it over the weekend. I posted it. It went viral. And here I am yet again, struggling with being consistent on a much larger platform now, having garnered the attention of some major people. In real time, I’m trying to create a living breathing portfolio on the internet that people can watch and be witness to, and hopefully, it’ll take me very far.

Photo by Jonathan Castillo, Form + Flow Photography

C901: Tell me about the dream for this. Is it to stop the regular 9 to 5?

Munirah: Yes, to be the sole proprietor of my art. I don’t see anything wrong with working for the man per se, because the man has good health benefits and all those things, but I would like to be working for a major network and kind of create a pipeline out of Memphis where I can tap into some of the artists here and just create some dope content on a major scale.

C901: Have you lived anywhere else?

Munirah: I have not. I have been told that I have to leave Memphis to succeed, but I don’t know that it’s necessarily true for me right now, because what I do, I can pretty much do anywhere. I will say there is a certain synergy that is needed that I don’t know that I necessarily have here. And don’t get me wrong, if Oprah called me up tomorrow and was like, “Hey I need you to come on,” I’m gone. Yeah, bye.

I’m not going to leave Memphis in the dust. I don’t know that we have had the opportunity to showcase the nuances of the city. We’re known for BBQ and Graceland and that’s great, but the idiosyncrasies here are amazing and they deserve to be shown, like any other major city. We know their lingo. Like L.A., New York, we know the cities, the boroughs. People don’t really know much about Memphis. I would like to be a change agent in making that more known. I’m not trying to die doing it. I don’t want to become a martyr, but that’s a goal. 

C901: Where does that filter into where “Junt Land” is telling stories? Are those two separate things?

Munirah: No, I think they work in tandem. Right now, I’m kind of known as the dating, relationship, vignette-y type person, and that’s fair because that’s basically what I’ve been doing, and it’s gotten me to this point. There’s so much more I want to delve into with the cartoons —the socio-political aspects of this city, the racism, everything here. I’m still going to do it in a witty, smart way, but I think it’s a good vehicle for me to explore. We’ll see. Some things are in the works.

C901: Do you feel like your work is for a specific audience?

MunirahIt’s definitely for a specific audience, but it does have appeal beyond. I’ve had white women, gay white men, women of all ethnicities send me messages saying “Thank you. I thought it was just me. I’m dealing with this, too.” Having said that, I do make female-centered work that is for black women, and I don’t apologize for that. I do it unapologetically. That’s who I’m speaking to, that’s who I am. I don’t feel the need to try to create work that is for everybody because I’m not everybody. The black woman is overwhelmingly my audience.

Photo by Jonathan Castillo, Form + Flow Photography

C901: Tell me about school and what role, if any, it had in your gravitating toward film and animation. Did you do any sort of programs in school that led you to this path?

MunirahGod, I was an extremely uninvolved student. I did not enjoy school, at all. I wasn’t really involved until my senior year of high school, and it was too late to try and build relationships. I was in theatre class. I wrote plays.

C901: Where’d you go?

Munirah: Central High School. Before that, no, I was not involved. I didn’t have any friends. I never went to games. I was just not into that world or that life. I wouldn’t say I was an outcast, but I was very much introverted and maybe somewhat of a pariah at certain stages. I was one of those teen angsty kids. I felt way more comfortable outside of school with friends or family just doing my own thing, and I was so happy to be done with school when I was.

C901: I appreciate that perspective and the honesty in that because it’s not everybody’s thing, and it would be sad if it were the highlight of your life and it’s behind you.

Munirah: Right, I feel like these are my high school years. I’m going through prom and homecoming and dating and…I’m glad to be experiencing them as a full grown woman, in full charge of my body and my faculties, and I know what I want. But yeah, that was my educational experience. I had some good teachers, but honestly, my transition from grade school to middle school was rough, it was horrible. I went from such a diverse atmosphere and surroundings to…not those, so it was rough.  I made it out. I’m here. I survived.

C901: Okay, I won’t pry into that any deeper. In thinking about how Memphis is trying to brand itself to the world, I think everyone wants to focus on how there is something special here, especially in the people and so many different kinds of people and while we have our problems…

Munirah: Like any other city!

C901: We’re the somewhat reasonable corner of the state, though. It’s a weird place to be and there’s just so much in the mix.

Munirah: I honestly forget I’m from Tennessee until it’s time to vote. I like Memphis. There’s a duality there where I’m also extremely frustrated. There’s a hesitation to express those emotions about Memphis, the frustration and anger and the disappointment because Memphians are extremely protective of this city and we don’t like the people that point out our shortcomings. And we really don’t like for outsiders to do that. We need to get to a point where everybody is willing to talk about the things that are wrong with this city so that we can get to a place of fixing them. I don’t know when that will happen. I feel like we’re on the precipice of it, especially with this latest election and some of the people that we elected. I feel like we’re moving in a good direction.

C901: Some progressive energy.

Munirah: We got some statues removed.

C901: People are unafraid to call things what they are.

Munirah: But, yeah…the Memphis brand. What is it? (laughs)

C901: For me, being from here, what I would like for it to be is just the authenticity and how cool the people are. They just do what they do. There’s warmth and everybody’s genuine, or it at least starts out that way. There’s so much creative energy. There’s also a lot of pain… a lot, a lot of pain. We focus on music history a ton but I’m fascinated by what’s happening now with music in Memphis. There’s just so much cool stuff. There are artists making a living here. People who could be working in larger cities are working here and producing phenomenal work. That excites me. The creative community here excites me.

Munirah: It’s just about making this the norm. I don’t know what the conversation is. When someone asks, “Where are you from,” and you say Memphis, I wonder what is the inner dialogue that they have. “Oh, you’re from Memphis you must be…” what? What are they filling in the blank with?

Hopefully, it’s, “You must be dope. You must be creative, you must be… about your shit.” Because there is that grit and grind here. A lot of people say if you can make it here in Memphis, you can make it anywhere. It can be a hard city, but I don’t know if it’s any more hard or less hard than any other city.

C901: How has it been for you? You obviously have a good full-time job and the space to create when you choose. From your perspective as an artist here, is there something about Memphis that makes that easier or not?

Munirah: I will say that my foundation has made it easy for me. Yes, I grew up with ten brothers and sisters, but my father was an excellent provider. We all went to college, we all had cars, went on vacations. It’s not like we were living in a mansion, we were living in South Memphis, but the man provided. I had that in my favor. Then, I’ve always been a go-getter. I’ve always had the fortitude to go for what I want, and I’ve always been somewhat crafty. I’ve always been smart about my money.

C901: So wherever you were, you were going to make something happen.

Munirah: Yeah. I really haven’t had to struggle to be honest. It’s not like everything just fell into my lap. I’m a hard worker, I worked to get here. Having said that, I do realize and recognize that a lot of my peers didn’t grow up like that. A lot of them are single-parent households below the poverty line struggling, scraping for everything, and a lot of them had to leave Memphis to get a foot in the door or get a leg up or whatever. I just didn’t have to do that.

C901: Did you go to U of M?

Munirah: Yeah, U of M. I don’t know what it is about moving. It just didn’t seem appealing to me to move to New York or L.A. and pay three times what I’m paying here for probably a third of the size of what I have when I’m doing okay here and I’m still able to create. If an opportunity should take me to one of these cities, I’m not going to second guess it. I don’t have this overly romanticized perception of Memphis. I love the city. I’m all about being progressive and taking the next step, so we’ll see what happens. Having said that I do plan to be traveling a lot in 2019.

C901: When it’s not your work and not your personal creative projects, what do you do?

Photo by Jonathan Castillo, Form + Flow Photography

Munirah: Hmmm. Ratchet things. (laughs) For fun? For leisure? It depends on the weekend. I could be doing horseback riding at Shelby Farms, ziplining, or just driving around. Levitt Shell. Artistik Lounge. Whatever’s available here, I might do. I was here [Crosstown Arts] last Saturday during the SPINS that they do here. I might have a kickback at my house. I’m always trying to find something interesting to do because there is plenty to do here if you’re looking for it.

Besides that, lately, I’ve been meeting a lot of interesting people, fellow artists. I’m interested in trying to create some kind of co-op because I have noticed, with a lot of these social media influencers or celebrities, or whatever you want to call them, they started off together. They were making videos together and then kind of branched off and did their own stuff and blew up.  But they will still come together and make videos together. We do have some social media influencers here with millions of followers, but everybody’s siloed kind of doing their own stuff. Some of them have started reaching out to me wanting to collaborate, so I’m trying to create some kind of a co-op so that we can make some big shit happen. Big thangs.

C901: What has the local response to your work been like?

Munirah: I made this video called “F**kboy Defense 101“, and some men in Memphis took offense to it. They decided to make a “no pigeons” version to my “no scrubs,” basically.  So their version is they’re defending themselves against the “bitter chick clan.” It was like, why put this energy and all these resources into this when we could be making something dope together? Somebody just tagged me or sent me a status from one of them today saying that video number two was on the way so I’m like…okay.

C901: It’s always funny when someone makes something that wasn’t about them, about them.

Munirah: If you’re not a f**kboy, why are you offended? Why are you responding? Either laugh and appreciate it, or you move on. That’s the kind of stuff that kind of disappoints me about the arts scene here.

C901: I guess that’s the drawback of having a take on anything at all and isn’t it already hard enough for women to just have space to express?

Munirah: Why does there need to be a male version to it? Why can’t you have your own story? Don’t bastardize what I did, just create your own stories. It is what it is and I can’t really focus my energy into it too much until people start tagging me in it.

I have to kind of limit my interactions with people on social media. I don’t go to YouTube and read comments. I don’t read comments on my Facebook page, even though Facebook is largely positive. YouTube is a cesspool. The worst comments… I made a mistake at the beginning of reading comments. The worst comments ever, some of the nastiest stuff.

C901: So you’re producing digital content and then letting it go.

Munirah: I let it go. You can consume it however you want to. I do feel bad at times that I’m not interacting with the people who appreciate it. I do feel like that’s an important part of connecting with my audience, telling them ‘thank you’ and just communicating with them a little bit. I have to create some separation or else it gets very toxic and unhealthy. I don’t want to form this addiction to, you know, wanting to be affirmed by comments. It’s a weird world. It’s a weird space.

C901: If there’s one last thing you wanted Choose901 readers to know about, what is it?

Munirah: I want them to know about Junt Land. And come along. It’s a platform in which I explore how women navigate the world, how we choose to opt in or out of constructs and what we can discover or choose to ignore about ourselves in the process. It was born out of the frustration and hilarity that (Black) women experience just by virtue of existing – and particularly as it relates to finding and choosing lovers and partners in a world that doesn’t choose them. It’s fun, facetious and f**kboy friendly. Ok, that last part isn’t true. But absolutely no subject is taboo. And I’ll dive into the uncomfortable stuff – sex, religion, politics, mental health, sexuality – with reckless abandon. Women and men will relate to all too familiar themes and shrink or rise up to accept uncomfortable truths.

You can read more about Munirah and her work at the Daily Memphian and Blavity, and follow Junt Land on YouTubeFacebook, and Instagram.

The views and opinions expressed here are obviously those of the author and interviewee, and not necessarily those of Choose901.