Vanichi Magazine presents I MARRIED ADVENTURE an exclusive interview and fashion editorial with power couple Rodney Charles and Yasmin Rams.

They’ve walked runways all over the world, created and starred in award winning films and documentaries, and even spearheaded their own humanitarian efforts for young artists. Husband and wife team Rodney Charles and Yasmin Rams embody the “slash” generation as global filmmakers / models / humanitarians. They took a break from their jet set lifestyles to tell Vanichi Magazine how they do it all in this in-depth interview and fashion accessories editorial entitled, “I Married Adventure”.

Rodney Charles is instantly recognizable for myriad reasons. Entertainment professionals like Jason George, Hill Harper and Bill Duke know his work with the African Artists’ Association (or 3A’s). That’s an organization that Rodney, being of Ghanaian and Grenadian descent, founded to inspire the arts and entertainment industry. If that’s not enough, he’s also won numerous awards and nominations fro directing and screenwriting due to his feature films “The Disciple” and “Reclaimed” as well as a short entitled “African Cowboy.” If that’s still not enough, his chiseled face has also graced campaigns for Barneys, Virgin, Banana Republic and many, many, many other top brands.

Yasmin Rams is a force of nature in her own right. This producer and documentarian sees an issue and tackles it. Upon seeing the deplorable working conditions of sweatshops in Thailand and Myanmar, Yasmin couldn’t sit in her frustration. Instead, she picked up a camera and directed her first documentary. Since then, her work has received support and grants from the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, the Busan Film Festival, the Asian Cinema Fund and the Asian Network of Documentary. It’s obvious to understand why Yasmin strives to wear responsible clothing in her personal life as well as her modeling work.

Scroll down to read the insightful interview conducted by Vanichi Contributor Sonya Washington and see the editorial photographed by Sara Swaty along with full team credits and looks.

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VM: What is your idea of beauty?

RC: Beauty to me is that which is in perfect alignment and in harmony with its nature-Not just skin deep. That’s why I feel something that is truly in congruence with its nature can be beautiful-be that as different as a landscape, or a hunting adult lion, or a helpless puppy. That’s why I feel that two equally beautiful people can elicit vastly different responses towards the perception of their beauty, this is based on the degree to which each of their energies or personalities are in harmony with the beauty that their physical appearance may seem to infer.

YR: I believe the wonderful filmmaker Shaun Monson puts it best in his fantastic documentary “Unity”: There is beauty only when your heart and mind know what love is.

VM: How were you discovered as a model? Did you meet any obstacles while getting started?

RC: I was never really “discovered” as a model, I began acting as a boy in London and as I grew I began to do more television commercials and dance professionally also. Often I would work with older kids who modeled, so I became aware of modeling that way. As a teenager in London I was asked to shoot new acting headshots and the photographer also wanted to shoot some fashion images so those were my first fashion shots.

It felt easy since by that time I had been performing in live theatre and dance jobs that were much harder work, but not as well paid. However, the difficulty thereafter was finding good Agent representation as a model! My entire career it has been the same – all around the world – Rejection! Most model Agencies in London pretty much refused to represent me because I was very dark-skinned and “African-looking”. I would continue to be rejected by top model agencies in Paris, Milan, Germany, Tokyo and New York.

The fascinating thing about all this is that I would often be approached directly (sometimes in the street!) by people casting for fashion shows or print shoots, and I began to develop friendships with these individuals that I worked with because they liked the fact that I brought a fun professionalism to the modeling jobs from my discipline as an actor and dancer. They were used to dealing with entitled kids who had always been told how beautiful they were and so these kids complained about everything. This couldn’t have been further from my reality, I had gratitude with a capital ‘G’.

By the time I got to New York, I had amassed a very impressive collection of European fashion magazine spreads (tear sheets) and my portfolio was what most American models would dream about being able to amass in Europe. However, I was summarily told by every single top NYC model agency that I was not right for them.  Eventually I ran out of money and while homeless in NY I came up with the idea of doing what these agents did, myself! I spent half the day in the magazine section of a bookstore and looked up fashion editors of the magazines I thought might be likely to shoot with me – and I called them and pitched directly to them. Of the 5 fashion editors who agreed to see me, 3 booked me for shoots and several weeks later I was able to take those magazines back to the model agencies that had rejected me and I was grudgingly given a shot. Thankfully people responded to my look and I’ve had a pretty remarkable career so far.

VM: What was it like to write your first screen play? What inspired you?

RC: I grew up with my two cousins, Paul Anthony Morris and Kwame Kwei-Armah (today both are award-winning UK playwrights and directors) and we were all greatly inspired by American Filmmakers, Spike Lee and Robert Townsend, who created their own filmmaking and acting opportunities. So my cousins and I wrote as a team initially, you know kids’ stuff, but pretty good with hindsight.

The fact is I spent a lot of my teenage years thinking about my mother, who died of cancer when I was 13 after a three-year battle, and one day I began to write this story and I just couldn’t stop writing. ‘Once Upon A TIME’ was a bedtime story told by a mother to her twin sons as she puts them to sleep. It begins as a conventional fairytale with flamboyant narrative about Kings, Wizards and Castles but is met with a stark urban visual juxtaposition based on the life of neo-Nazi skinhead attacks and police violence I knew as a kid growing up in London.

I really had no clue what I was doing as far as traditional industry story structure, but all the same I shared it with Kwame and Paul. They read it and surprisingly said it was good and asked if they could hold onto my script. A couple months or so later I received a call from Kwame telling me that he had entered my script into the Greater London Arts: Advanced Film and Video competition and ‘Once Upon A Time’ had won!

Far from being delighted, I went into a panic and felt terribly fraudulent – to win an advanced writing award with my first solo attempt. I thought that I might have broken some law.  Eventually we settled down to the understanding that the prize was a budget to make the film. So the three of us Paul, Kwame and I made the film and ‘Once Upon A Time’ was picked up by the BBC and also screened at the London Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, FESPACO, and I traveled with the film to screen at New York’s Lincoln center and in Atlanta, etc.

VM: What obstacles have you overcome in your life that shaped who you are?

RC: There are certain challenges that can befall us early in life that leave defining echoes, I would say losing my mother as a young boy to cancer left its mark for sure. Maybe as a result, I grew into someone who makes bold (some might say courageous) choices. This has its own challenges, and throughout my life I have found my courageousness rewarded by homelessness in three different countries and with no exit strategy. This is truly not as sexy or as romantic as it is sometimes made out to be-at least not if you look like me. The media has a plan for guys who look like me and happen to be homeless and that plan is NOT a good look.

VM: No one would look at you and expect you to have ever had moments in your life when you were homeless. How did you overcome such adversity?

RC: I was homeless in Paris, Milan and New York for periods of time. I was able to eventually escape homelessness by doing something I was culturally never taught how to do very well, and that was to “speak up”. I had talents and skills that were valuable but I was very modest and almost embarrassed to speak up about my skills or successes to anyone. In Europe this was viewed as an appropriate level of humility, but in America it is career suicide. Once I learned to “speak up” and let people know what I had achieved my value began to be recognized. But it took me an inordinately long time to realize this, and it is something I struggle with to this day: self-promotion or “tooting your own horn” as they say in Britain. I will say that while I would not wish homelessness upon anyone, it does teach you who you really are. It clarifies what you are willing to do, or will not do, out of fear or desperation. This is a really valuable thing to know about oneself. It is a primordial fear after all, to be homeless.

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VM: How have your travels shaped your perspective on life and work? Does your locale affect the creative process for your work?

RC: I believe that travel gives you perspective-things that may have seemed important before can shift due to a new, expanded international awareness. At the same time, things that seemed of little value (like the ability to express yourself clearly and confidently) may suddenly become priceless gifts as you travel.  So to some extent your location can impact the way you are allowed to approach your life and your work but thankfully in my personal experience it rarely ever stops it-that I couldn’t allow.

YR: Without my travels I wouldn’t be the person I am today. In terms of my work, I went into filmmaking because I realized the potential of film as a tool to raise awareness, a tool to create understanding between people and understanding for issues that surround us. While traveling, I comprehended once more, how important film is but also how often films are being made through a Caucasian lens which does not service the majority of the planet, to say the least. Filmmaking, by its very nature is a collaborative effort. It brings people together-behind the lens, in front of the lens and opposite the screen. No other medium can do this. So that’s why I wanted to help create it.

VM: What are your goals with the African Artists Association? Why is it important?

RC: At the African Artists’ Association or 3A’s as we are affectionately called, it is our mission to inspire, educate, and demystify the arts and entertainment industry. We have created a successful coalition between individuals of African heritage and those inspired by or with a respectful interest in Africa. Our intention is to prevent a new generation of professionals from making mistakes due to not having access to or not learning from those who have been successful.

We provide our members with access to the individuals with the information and first-hand conversational knowledge of the entertainment industry that we are most often denied, even in this age of globalization and worldwide social networks. The 3A’s organizes and presents educational workshops led by industry professionals covering a variety of topics such as film financing, film distribution, most aspects of filmmaking, income management, tax preparation, and casting opportunities and information for actors, models, and voiceover artists.

VM: What was it like to create your first documentary? What inspired you?

YR: The first documentary I created as a director was one about a Myanmar girl who was an undocumented immigrant working in a Thai garment factory. I found out about her whilst filming the above mentioned bigger documentary on the Thai-Myanmar border. She was the daughter of a friend with whom we would oftentimes eat lunch since she was a great cook and cooked the best Myanmar curries.

I was shocked when I heard that her daughter was working at the close-by garment sweat shop in the most horrible working conditions from 7am to 11pm and sometimes even later. Before I had come to Thailand, I had already tried not to support sweat shop work by almost never buying clothing from big shops and preferring second hand shops. Thus, sweat shops had already been a topic of thought for me for a while. However, being this close to a friend who had to endure such conditions was once again shocking and I decided to make a short documentary about her story. It is the story of so many exploited people in so-called developing countries in order for us in America and Europe to be able to buy cheap clothing which we will toss away in a heartbeat.

VM: What is it like being a female documentarian?

YR:  Being a female documentarian has not yet influenced me as much as being a female producer. As a producer, meaning someone who has to handle the business aspect of filmmaking, it can sometimes be challenging. Women have to prove themselves more than men do. When a man walks into a room people ask “How will he pull this off?” When a woman walks into the same room people ask “Can she pull this off?”

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VM: Did you meet with obstacles when you were getting started with your career as a documentarian/model?

YR: It’s difficult to give an exact starting point of my career as a documentarian since I have been making films for quite a few years now-in the beginning not as focused as later on of course. However, the very first big documentary which I produced was a film by a very talented filmmaker and political refugee from Myanmar, shot in the fields of Thailand. We had no funding for a while and I spent my own money to make the film become a reality. My director being an undocumented immigrant, couldn’t travel anywhere with ease like I could.

Therefore, I became the person who always had to carry all equipment from Bangkok to the border of Thailand and Myanmar. We’re talking heavy camera, tripod, sound equipment, etc. And all that, due to our limited resources by bus. It was exhausting. However, if you really want something, carrying tons of equipment as a single person from the tram to the night bus and back again is not something that would stop you. What was more challenging was filming at the Myanmar-Thai border where there were many military check-points which we had to pass, checking for undocumented immigrants such as my director. Further, since he was a political refugee we of course didn’t have any permits to film, so we relied on the permission of the village chiefs and landlords. Therefore, it only took one incident of being caught at a check point or being told on by anyone and my director would have been sent back to his country where years of imprisonment in cruel prisons were waiting for him.

So it happened that we did come across one landlord who had things to hide, which we didn’t know of before we filmed in his fields. He began telling all sorts of lies about us to the village chiefs. He even threatened our driver. We found out that he was involved in drug trafficking and a pretty evil man. So one morning, our driver woke us up at 6:30am saying that the village chief was now waiting for us. It took a lot of humble explaining to convince him that the landlord’s lies were just that, lies. The entire time I was intensely afraid for my director, because as a European and Caucasian I knew that the racist colonial system had created a situation in which I would probably be safe. However, he was not. Ironically, he, having been a very strong activist in Myanmar, was way less afraid for himself.

Where ever you film as a documentarian, if you are recording people in extreme situations, you always encounter challenges, because extreme situations bring about the real character in people – which can be starkly bad, however, at times also surprisingly beautiful.

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VM: What advice would you share with other aspiring models/creatives who want to make art, as a creator or a model, in their life?

YR: For aspiring models, I would always say: stay true to yourself and don’t let your worth be defined through the fashion industry and superficial values. I meet too many young models that are or become bulimic or develop eating disorders as well as spite for their own bodies. Defining yourself through your body is never a good idea, because ultimately, every body will fall apart. The spirit is the only thing worth defining oneself through. For aspiring filmmakers, my suggestion is to follow your heart and never give up on your vision-but be flexible.

 

VM: Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? How does your view shape your work?

YR: Yes! There is still a great deal of misogyny and degenerative gender roles present in today’s films. With the films I produce and direct I am trying to destroy the idea of the damsel in distress and leave current and future generations with positive female archetypes.

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rodney charles clark madison adventureVM: How would you describe your personal sense of style?

RC: My sense of style is a hybrid. Which I guess makes sense with my cultural backgrounds, my history of international travel, and my experience with modeling and global fashion. Personally, I love color. I prefer fitted silhouettes. I tend to lean more toward sophisticated, clean, tailored lines with no visible labels-I HATE LABELS! I will only rarely become a label billboard for the designers I choose (often this is something I’m being paid to do) or for those who have a worthy cause that I wish to promote. For example, I have found emerging designers in Namibia, South Africa, and London and I love the boost it gives them when I wear their lines in televised interviews or in my films.

YR: I dress to make myself happy and express myself. Sometimes, it therefore gets a little bit crazy and colorful. At other times, it’s more conservative and elegant. I don’t have a specific style that I limit myself to since I am a pretty multifaceted person.

 

VM: What is your personal definition of luxury?
RC: Being born in the 20th century of African and Caribbean heritage I define true luxury as autonomy, the freedom and right to self-governance. This autonomy, this freedom to choose is a luxury that we all too often take for granted, and worse still, do not sufficiently utilize.

YR: I became close to Buddhism in my teenage years which shifted my entire frame of mind towards more simplicity and a focus on non-superficial values. Nowadays, I think there is a tendency towards seeing something as truly luxury if it has been produced fairly and sustainably, that is, without anybody or anything in its production chain suffering. It would make me incredibly happy to be living surrounded by products that are produced fairly, ecologically friendly, and non-toxic.

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[divider]The CREATIVES[/divider]

Featuring – Rodney Charles & Yasmin Rams – @rodneycharles1 & @yasmincrams

Producer – Joy Donnell – www.doitinpublic.com@doitinpublic

Photography – Sara Swaty – www.sara-swaty.com@sara_swaty
Styling – Kiley Ogle – www.kileyogle.com@kileyogle
Makeup x Grooming – Mandy Perez – www.mandyperez.com@mandyperezmakeup
Photography Assistant – Sussan Yeo  – @sussanshiokshiokyeo
Animal Wrangling – Carlos at SCHOOS DESIGN
Retouching x Art Direction x Post-Production – Marcus Christopher – DELTAGRAM@deltagramstudio
Special Thanks to GAMAL J. PALMER of GLOBAL EYE and KWAKU ALSTON

Photographed on location at SCHOOS DESIGN

Craft services provided by HUGO’S RESTAURANTS@hugosrestaurants

[divider]The LOOKS[/divider]

All Jewelry: AMMANII Jewelry – @byammanii

Clothing: Men’s Brocade Blazer Men’s Blue Blazer from THE GENT’S CLOSET  – @thegentscloset , Dress from LA MAISON DE FASHION – @lamaisondefashions, Men’s black oxford lace up boots by TAWNY GOODS, silk paisley pocket square by POCKET SQUARE CLOTHING, Black Travel Bag by CLARK & MADISON, Men’s Blue Blazer by MANLY COLLECTIONS@manlycollections, Dress and Feather + Mongolian Lambs Wool Cape from LA MAISON DE FASHION

 

 *Want to see Rodney and Yasmin on the cover of our TRAVEL x LUXURY issue? Click here.