East Orange native’s new film hits close to home

Yucef Mayes

EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange native and filmmaker Yucef Mayes, his upcoming film is no stranger to putting part of himself into everything he creates. His film “The Patient,” slated to debut next year, is no exception.

“The film is about a woman who escapes the hospital for an unknown, heartbreaking reason,” Mayes said on Jan. 2. “It’s inspired by HIV and AIDS. This film is personal.”

Mayes, a self-taught filmmaker, studied writing at The New School, a university in New York City.

“I was a short story writer first, and I had a hard time just to command the language. Writing is different from film,” Mayes said. “I worked for an alternative school at the time and had access to film equipment. I was already a short story writer, and I wanted to take the short stories and try to make scripts. It was self-taught. I was looking up ‘how to make films’ on YouTube. From there, I was making films.

“The first short film I made was called ‘Driver,’” he continued. “I was big in the Newark arts community, so I met a few artists who actually dabbled into film and there was a connection. … I’m not really a camera person, but I learned how to edit because the job had editing equipment. ‘Driver’ did pretty well. I submitted it to film festivals.”

Mayes’ second film was “Zahra and the Oil Man,” about the daughter of Muslim street merchant who fights to save her father’s business in Newark.

“That film was on kweliTV and it was on CBS partners’ ‘African American Short Films.’ The rest is history. Filmmaking is what I want to do now,” Mayes said, adding that “Zahra” also premiered at the American Black Film Festival last June in Miami. “Through that, it did very well through the film festival circuit, such as the American Black Film Festival, Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival. Tim Reid, the actor who played the father on the show ‘Sister, Sister,’ saw the film at this film festival in Denver. He has a streaming site called ‘Legacy of a People.’ The network showcases films from the African diaspora. My film is on there, as well.”

Through film festivals, the film was on BadamiTV, which has a network that appeals to national audiences. The film also premiered on CBS on Sunday, Nov. 23.

“The film has been touring all over the country,” Mayes said. “It won a few awards and was nominated for a Black Reel Award.”

And now comes “The Patient,” Mayes’ most personal film.

Mayes’ parents, who were drug addicts in the ’80s, died from AIDS when he was 19 years old. His stepfather and mother, who were unable to get clean and take care of their health, died a few months apart.

The inspiration for Mayes’ third film draws from a real-life event, which took place when he was in high school.

“The day of my prom, my mom, who had dementia, escaped the hospital to see me off for my prom,” Mayes said. “From that experience, I wanted to tell this story from her perspective. I feel as though there aren’t a lot of films that talk about how AIDS affected the black community or the black family. You see a lot of films about how it hits the gay community or white men, but how does it affect the black family? I feel like that’s something that isn’t talked about.

“The film is about a woman who escapes the hospital, but viewers don’t know why,” he continued. “The punchline for why she escapes is to see her son off for his graduation or his prom. We wrote two versions. It’s a short film that covers this woman and her journey to go see someone, you just don’t know who.”

Mayes plans to turn the short film into a longer film and is in the beginning stages of raising funds for this expanded project; he is also considering applying for some grants, as the film deals with public health.

“As far as public health, I want to bring awareness around stigmatization,” Mayes said. “When people catch an illness, there’s shame attached. As much as my mother died from AIDS, she also died from the shame of it. She kept herself secluded. She didn’t share, didn’t take her medication and abandoned all of her support.

“There’s shame attached to AIDS,” he continued. “However you caught the illness, you need help and support. People die from the social death of AIDS. Let’s have more empathy, instead of shaming each other.”