Alchemy of Solitude director Viktoria I.V. King on the plurality of justice

“Do you want to ask questions or do you want to live?”

International-award-winning film director, screenwriter, and producer Viktoria I.V. King poses this question throughout her newest upcoming film, Alchemy of Solitude, which she describes as an “autopsy of an activist”. Set in an alternate reality, where activists-turned-assassins are trying to end a race war, the film forces its characters — and its audience — to ask themselves: “how far will you go for radical change?”

Last month, I had the honor of talking to King about the inspiration behind her film, the ways social justice and activism can manifest, what it means to reclaim your voice, and more. As her biggest project to date, Alchemy of Solitude stars a killer cast, including Leo Kubota (Spectrum), Rachael Chau (Law & Order), Jean-Patrick Simeon (Zoey 101), and Rivka Rivera (Orange is the New Black), and is the culmination of a three-year journey of self-discovery, rage, healing, and community-building. The “Sicario-meets-Moonlight”-esque film explores darker themes of war, but rather than focusing on the spilled blood, it questions the way violence itself shapes the lives of the characters and the world by examining: “What is the violence doing to them? What is their anger doing to them? What is their pain doing? Can they find healing? Can they find peace?” King hopes the audience will navigate the film with a sense of reflection about their own emotions and impact. (Watch the trailer here!)

Alchemy of Solitude is the first film in a four-part planned series centered around “justice that you see and justice that you don’t”, largely inspired by the public response to real-life tragedies experienced by Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other people whose stories have yet to be told. King also draws inspiration from her multi-ethnic background and the intersectional issues that impact her communities.

“There always is a hashtag. There’s always a name, and there’s always a crisis right? Especially within the country that we live in. But I come from multiple backgrounds, so the things that happen in different communities affects me. Anything that happens in the Asian community affects me. Anything that happens in the Black community affects me. So in that regard, there wasn’t a single event per se that made me feel like this was a story that I wanted to tell.”

Through this film, she hopes to be able to honor her ancestors and their histories, a challenge that many of the lead characters in Alchemy of Solitude also face. She explains that although it may be difficult to honor many ancestors, especially as someone coming from a very culturally diverse background, she already believes that she’s her ancestors’ “wildest dreams” because she’s taking space and seizing opportunities that they were never allowed to. Thus, she wants to live her life proudly and boldly, to thrive, make art, and help as many people as she can. While everyone has a different definition of honor, she knows that by staying true to herself and in alignment with her values, she will be able to continue honoring her ancestors. King also embraces the notion that the current generation is the new ancestors, so we need to remember to both carry on the work of our forebears and leave a sustainable legacy that can be continued by future generations.

She says that throughout filming, she had to remind the cast that, “There are words that you are saying that have repercussions. There are words that you are saying, that are reflective of what’s going on in our world today, and that are going to be reflective of what’s going on in our world 20 years from now. So, you really need to think in terms of legacy.” Her guiding vision produced a heart-wrenching film that she believes “isn’t just about the actors trying to honor their ancestors… this is a film for our ancestors.”

When explaining her creative process, she describes it as, “…intensive. It felt like an intervention. I felt like I went into the deep end of my most creative self. Like, okay, if you think you’re creative, let’s have you go into that ocean. And really keep on swimming down to the bottom, and let’s see if you can have it”. Creating Alchemy of Solitude meant undertaking a challenging journey of self-growth and rediscovering what justice, storytelling, and activism meant to her. It forced King to confront uncomfortable realizations about rage, and more importantly, how to navigate and direct that rage to create a meaningful impact in the fight for justice.

“This came from a point of rage. And I feel like rage, as a woman, is so, I don’t know, so taboo, like we don’t talk about it. I’ve never dealt with that word, “rage”. I’ve never had that in my vocabulary before, but of course in 2020, there were so many things that were happening for me in particular that I felt like I couldn’t breathe because I had every single community that I’m a part of have some tragic thing happen, and it was just like I had no break. So there was rage that sort of stirred up in me, that I did not know what it was, and I was scared of it, and I wanted to hide it and hinder it.

But instead, I was like, “What if we find the power in it? What if you tap into it? What happens when someone reaches a point of rage? What does that do? Do you want to have a purpose for your rage? Do you want to just lash out for your rage?… What does rage plus purpose plus impact equate?… What did that equate for myself first?”

That was how I was like, I need to know for myself, because I feel like I want to think about these things, and the only thing I could think about was justice. The only thing I could think about was… understanding the sort of plurality of what justice actually is, and how many people have different definitions of what justice is.”

From understanding the “plurality of justice”, King talks about how her views on social justice have changed over the course of her career, and even during this project alone. Alchemy of Solitude provided a sense of clarity about what she stands for and how far she is willing to go to stand up for what she believes. Before creating this film, King described herself as more bashful, cautious about how other people could perceive her.

Now, she says, “Throughout the course of this film I’ve changed. It’s not even like, oh yeah, I’ve changed, I’m stronger now. No. I am a completely different person. I’m a lot more confident, a lot more clear about who I am, my vision, what I want in this world, what my purpose is. And it’s because of this film. It’s forced me to look at myself almost through an autopsy of myself, of my soul and think, “Okay, well are you the activist you claim to be? Are you someone that will do stuff for change? Are you someone that will push the envelope? Or Are you just pretending to be? And if so, what’s stopping you, what’s getting in your way? And I realized that I was the only one getting in my way, because I was afraid of how people would look at me or treat me, and I’m not afraid of that anymore.”

King acknowledges that justice and activism can take many forms, which are explored throughout the film, and she adamantly believes that anybody can contribute to the movement for social progress, from being on the front lines of marches, to petitioning representatives, to catering for a social justice organization’s meeting, to simply sharing space and supporting others’ wellbeing. Above all, she emphasizes the importance of intentionality in our decisions to act, or not to act, and in our choices about how we show up for our communities.

“There’s this proverb, where it’s like, if you aim at nothing, you get nothing. And it is a compromise, but I feel like if you’re willing to compromise, then there is a way. There’s either a will to find a way, or there’s a will to find an excuse. Either way, you’re gonna find something… I think that is the thing that I’m most passionate about with this film and the thing that I’m hopeful that we have more conversations about: understanding the vastness of justice…No one is asking you to be something other than yourself… now, since I’ve done the film, I feel like there’s no excuse. It’s just laziness at this point. So it’s either you’re not in tune with you are, and therefore you haven’t figured out a way to be in alignment with who you are, or it’s just an excuse. And then own that, you know. That’s okay. Maybe you’re not someone that’s for change. And that’s absolutely okay as well, but you have to be honest about what it is that you are, you know.”

For King, storytelling and “artivism” have empowered her to reclaim her voice and stand up for the injustices faced by her communities. She describes the most rewarding part of her work as being able to connect with and uplift people: “the thing outside of art that makes my heart sing is really providing space for people. I feel like when you’re doing social justice there’s such a toll that you take on emotionally, mentally, spiritually, that is so hard that I love being the person that checks in. I love being the person that shares peace or smiles at them or lets them know that they are seen and heard today… I feel like I’m most passionate about sharing space with people. And I’m most passionate about making sure that they are healing. And that they can find peace as they’re doing it. More like an advocate.”

Through bringing Alchemy of Solitude to a wide variety of audiences, King hopes to provide a space and build a community for healing, catharsis, and action spurred by the powerful emotions elicited by the film.

“[In the film] we go through a form of rage for you, so that you don’t have to. But if you just watch it, you still feel a certain way. Here’s a safe space where we’re just gonna give you love, healing, and peace, and give you the tools and resources that you need, to know how to channel that into a point of power and how to channel that into a point of productivity and impact, which is what I ended up doing for myself. ‘Cause if it’s just rage, that’s dangerous. It’s just a fire that won’t be put out, but it’s better if you could find the power in that fire, the power of, “Okay, now I feel charged with something. What am I gonna do with that?”

I want to build a community where if people turn to us and they’re like, “What do I do with this?”, it’s like, oh here are all the options you could do with this.”

After three years of writing, casting, filming, and producing Alchemy of Solitude, King reflects on her biggest lesson learned from the whole process: understanding how powerful your voice actually is and to stay in tune with who you actually are. Creating this film allowed her to “reclaim my voice. I thought I had a voice, you know, I really did. I really thought I had a voice before, and throughout the course of making this film I realized I did have a voice, I just didn’t have the power behind it…I did lose myself throughout the course of it, but I also gained a new sense of identity. It felt like I went through a fire, and what came out was my power”. 

According to King, her previous works were never intended to be overtly political, but in reclaiming her strength of voice with Alchemy of Solitude, she felt empowered to boldly express herself as an artist and as a person.

“I’ve always thought that I’ve tried to shy away from it. “I’m shying away from all the politics”, and then you realize, no you’re not, and you’re right in the middle of it. So you should just own that, and this is the first time I’ve ever owned myself, my true identity within myself as a human being, myself as an artist. It is literally my DNA, my blood being poured out on screen in front of everybody. But I also feel like I don’t feel burdened by that. I feel like that’s my power.”

King’s pride in the story of Alchemy of Solitude and its sequential films lies not only in the personal lessons learned along the way, the “masterclass” actors, or the stunning visuals, but in its ability to build a lasting sense of hope, inspire communities to come together, and mobilize people to take action for justice.

“…if I’m gonna make something, whatever it is, I want it to be impactful, I want it to feel like it can live on beyond me…What I wanted was a film, and what I ended up with was art…This is a film that can actually be the seed from which a garden can grow. ” 

Alchemy of Solitude premieres September 9, 2023. Until then, you can watch the trailer for the film here.

Amy Nguyen

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