For Karyn Parsons, storytelling has always been in her blood – even during her days playing the charmingly highfalutin Hilary Banks, older cousin of Will Smith, on the TV series “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and living in glossy Los Angeles as a successful 20-something actress.
It was her craving for tales of tenacious protagonists that led Ms. Parsons to create Sweet Blackberry, a children’s film production company dedicated to telling the unfamiliar but true stories of black Americans and bringing them to life through animation.
Her third and latest film, “Dancing in the Light,” for instance, is about Janet Collins, who became the first and only African-American prima ballerina at New York’s Metropolitan Opera more than 60 years ago.
“Things that are really painful in history, in African-American history, I think a lot of people just shut [them] out,” Parsons says while talking over cups of Earl Grey tea. Because Sweet Blackberry is still more or less a one-woman operation, she works mostly out of her home in the Brooklyn borough of New York. But on days like this, her fingers clack away on her laptop in the cafe down the street from her children’s school.
History can often seem dry and abstract , she says, “so I wanted to do something that was engaging and pulled you in, in a way that kids know fairy tales…. I knew Little Red Riding Hood so well, but wouldn’t it be great if it was a story about a real person?”