Metro Weekly

‘The High Note’ director Nisha Ganatra on the “absolute dream” of working with Tracee Ellis Ross

From "Chutney Popcorn" to "The High Note," director Nisha Ganatra's career has often focused on how women empower one another

nisha ganatra, the high note, tracee ellis ross
Nisha Ganatra, Director of The High Note

In 1999, a sweet charm locket of a film was added to the LGBTQ canon. Chutney Popcorn followed the attempts of a young Indian lesbian to reconnect with her mother by acting as her sister’s pregnancy surrogate. Jill Hennessey, who later went on to fame as TV’s Crossing Jordan, starred alongside newcomer Nisha Ganatra, who also co-wrote and directed the critically-beloved movie, which is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu.

“It was a labor of love for all of us, both making it and then convincing people that there was an audience for it,” says the director, who is part of the LGBTQ community. “It took me a while to view it as a success because it didn’t get a big distribution deal. But I think it was an important movie to make because it did stand firmly on the shoulders of all the queer cinema that came before it.”

These days, Ganatra doesn’t have to struggle as hard to get a big distribution deal. A sought-after director in TV (Transparent, Girls, Mr. Robot), her most recent two films epitomize success in Hollywood: Late Night, the sweet, tart tale of a powerful late-night talk show host (Emma Thompson) whose career and life are revived by an ambitious, opinionated young writer (Mindy Kaling); and the recently released The High Note, the winning tale of powerful singer Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), who reclaims her career and life thanks to an ambitious, opinionated young assistant (Dakota Johnson). Any similarities between the two films are entirely coincidental, says Ganatra, conceding that perhaps a female empowerment trilogy is in the works. “Maybe,” she says with a warm laugh. “Maybe.”

The High Note: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross — Photo: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

“With The High Note, what was radical to me was showing a black woman in a position of power, leading a joyful life,” says the 46-year-old Canadian native. “That is, sadly, radical today…. What message are we giving people if we’re not depicting a diverse quality of life whenever they are African-American in movies and on-screen?

“Comedies can bring issues to light while they’re being funny and entertaining,” she continues. “And that’s always my goal when making a movie: to make sure I have something to say about the state of the world, but also to entertain.”

Ganatra says it was “an absolute dream” to work with Tracee Ellis Ross, whose deep, resonant performance as the superstar Davis evokes the essence of her own superstar mother, Diana Ross. “She’s just so fun. She’s so smart. She’s so charming. We know she can make anything funny, we all know she’s a really talented comedic actress. But for her to come along and break our hearts with vulnerability and then to blow us all away with singing and dancing and performing — well, it’s just a little bit unfair that she has all of that talent! One person should not be allowed to be able to do all of those things!”

The High Note is currently available for purchase digitally and will be released on Blu-Ray on August 11.

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