Reel Talk: Geeking Out on Time Travel with Theo Hollingsworth

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Theo Hollingsworth in character as Sirius Lee, standing with his fingers clasped in front of his chest, while wearing futuristic sunglasses.
Theo Hollingsworth in character as Sirius Lee, standing with his fingers clasped in front of his chest, while wearing futuristic sunglasses. (Spencer Whitney)

Over 4 weeks, Rightnowish is looking at filmmaking in the Bay Area. Learn more about the series here.

Oakland-based filmmaker Theo Hollingsworth knows about nerds. Back when he attended Howard University, he was given the nickname “spoken nerd” because of his personality and passion for poetry.

More recently, Hollingsworth’s independently produced comedic sci-fi series, Sirius Lee: The Problematic Time Transplant, dives into its own nerdom with quantum physics while addressing outdated perspectives on masculinity, gentrification and much more.

Hollingsworth, who grew up in Michigan, Tennessee and New York, has called the Bay Area home for nearly a decade. Currently an employee at Pixar, Hollingsworth has taken it upon himself to get ingrained in the community by doing production gigs with organizations like the Mandela Grocery Cooperative and BAYCAT. With his latest series, Hollingsworth brings local businesses and Bay Area actors into the production process, telling a wacky fictional story that’s rooted in true community support.

Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with Theo Hollingsworth.

Pen: Your latest project, Sirius Lee: The Problematic Time Transplant, bring us into that, what's it all about?

Theo: It’s really about a quantum physicist / rapper / martial arts expert from the 80s… 1980 specifically, messing around with his gadgets and opens up a time portal and ends up transporting 40 years into the future. So he's in Oakland where he's from originally, but he's 40 years transplanted from his time.

Theo: The story is how do I get back to my time? But along the way, he enlisted the help of a roommate and his long lost son, his estranged son, Junior.

Theo: He's problematic as the title indicates, it's not like he's a bad guy, by any means. But he's got some outdated thoughts. He thinks all drugs are bad. So reefer is bad. He's also kind of a guy who's like maybe got some backwards ideas around masculinity, you know, so they got to update him on that. So, it's kind of like a story about catching him up, fitting him in to help him get back to his time.

Pen: The references, as you said, are problematic, at the time in the 1980s was one thing and then talking about in 2020 is a different thing.

Theo: Exactly. Yeah, man. I mean, O.J. Simpson was a freaking hero. And then when he finds out about OJ Simpson… No one would have told you anything bad about Bill Cosby or O.J. Simpson in 1980…. That's what they wanted you to be! If you wanted to make it as a Black man in America, it's like, yo, these are your models, now go! Right? And so it's a hard pill to swallow. But he swallows it.

Pen: I know nerdy stuff is incorporated into a lot of things that you produce and it’s also very Black. I've seen the rise in the popularity of Blerd's in pop culture. What is a blerd to you and why is it seemingly more popular now?

Theo: Basically a blerd, which I totally I ride with, is a black nerd. And the reason why I think that is, is popular is because of how voracious of an appetite Black folks have for social media. It’s just so easy now to showcase your nerdy ass sense of humor or your nerdy ass interest in comic books or sci fi or whatever. And when you put that out there, people tend to gravitate toward you. So yeah, I'm happy to be a part of it. I’m on all these Facebook groups and I’m like maybe i'm not a nerd ? There's levels to this shit … I'm like the level two / three nerd.

Theo: You know, I always compare this series, Sirius Lee, The Problematic Time Transplant, it's really like Austin Powers, meets the last OG in Brooklyn. Right… When white people are weird, like, they don't think that Michael Myers is a nerd… It's just whenever Black people do something that isn't traditionally what you see them doing, it's like, oh, he's a nerd! It's like nah, I'm goofy... I'm a goof! But does that necessarily make me a nerd? I don't know.

Pen: I wonder if it's because of stereotypes of how African Americans have been depicted in films before, and this is contrary to the stereotypes, on the far other end of the spectrum, right? This isn't gangster so it’s definitely nerd!

Theo: Yeah, I'm definitely not gangster.

Pen: Def a cool nerd, I can vouch for that.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.