Summer Mason and Nicole Sievert, co-editors of the magazine-turned-creative agency ONX, take a shot together. Whisky. We’re tucked into a booth at Radio, a small bar in Downtown Oakland, Summer’s dyed-blonde curls (they’ve been talking of shaving their head, though) and Nicole’s fluffy, gauzy, halo of a pink shirt framed by the crimson walls. Together, they’re facing the question we’ve asked every person we’ve met this month— “Where do you come from?”
Nicole, with her dark eyes trained on the table in front of us, makes a little motion toward Summer— Could you go first? You instantly pick up on the sync between the two, as Summer picks up on the conversation, diving in. “I come from a house of 7 boys, no parents, and us just raising each other.” They talk with a boisterous fondness of their family. “Looking back, it’s not sad. I love that that was my family. All I needed was my brothers. They raised me and I raised them and that’s the beautiful part of it.”
It takes longer for Nicole to answer. She tells her story of being uprooted from her home in the Philippines, moving to Los Angeles just three days before her eighth birthday. Her voice is soft, she pauses. “If I ever do have an opportunity to go back to that place, that won’t be home. This will be home, and I’m scared of that.” Her words unfold slowly; she’s thoughtful and guarded telling us about taking care of herself at such a young age and facing political corruption. “I’ve always just been very angry, felt like I was robbed of something.”
The two are conscious, vocal in fact, about holding space for each story in their friendship and partnership. Summer lays it out for us. “See, I don’t hold Nicole’s narrative at all, but I will be one of the biggest protectors of it. And I know that Nicole feels the same way toward mine.”
This intention turns conversation toward their project together: the third season of ONX. This season is notable both as the agency’s first film project (prior to this, ONX had produced print art magazines) and because it’s the first project that’s had both steering the head of it.
Summer, ONX’s founder, recounts their first meeting. “I will never forget—the first conversation I had with Nicole, she asked me, ‘Okay Summer, what do you want?’” Summer laughs. “I don’t think anyone had ever asked me that question before.”
Potent in that moment, and threaded throughout the conversation, and, in retrospect, through their own personal histories as well, is this hunger for self-determination. You can trace it back to the 3-year-old magazine’s early photo spreads, which held titles like “Don’t let me be misunderstood.”
Don’t let me be misunderstood— It’s the grounding intention with which they work together, and was, ultimately, what sparked Summer to create ONX in the first place. “Growing up I never got to see great depictions of my brothers. We never got to see anything that captured us. My biggest thing was always to protect images of black people. And the best way to do that is to make them yourself.”
Together, they reimagined ONX entirely, laying out lofty goals to bring ONX beyond the bounds of any single project. They dreamt of ONX acting as a creative agency for POC artists in the Bay Area, creating opportunities to hire POC and black photographers and videographers and stylists and make up artists. Their first project in this departure from print? The answer came easily to Summer.“I just realized, like, I’m a filmmaker and why the fuck am I not making films through ONX?”
Their first film, Copper, recently released, focuses on a redefinition of black womxn’s death.
But this film about death is anything but morbid. It floats on a soft, romantic palette, creating a surrealist dream-world where, as Summer describes it, “you’re no longer bound to a body that faces so much negativity— you’re free.” Given the subject, there’s more grit behind the film than your typical pastel palette, but never grime. Summer is adamant about that: “I didn’t want to recreate death. You can already find so many videos, all these terrible images of black death that get so normalized. It’s disgusting. I don’t want to have to see blood.”
Instead, the film, titled Copper, looks to its eponymous element as “this passive way of rebirthing blood.” Truly, it exists as the perfect abstraction of the liquid, rusty and red. Even down to the taste of it; after all, blood is metallic.
“It was just so easy.” Nicole’s voice, previously slow and careful, speeds up when she’s talking about the project. “It was so fundamentally easy because everyone was so supportive. I’ve never experienced [that] level of support for something that I’ve worked on, where it was just so easy to be like yes this is what’s needed, and yes that should be a thing, and yes this project needs to be seen, these voices need to be heard!”’
Summer feeds off this excitement, and the conversation takes on its own momentum. “There was this feeling this wasn’t a side project. This wasn’t something we did on the weekend. This is something we both recognized that we wanted as careers, work we have applied for consistently and gotten rejected for and so we were like fuck you— let’s do our own thing.”
Nicole laughs, “Yeah, I was just tired of getting rejected” — a lighthearted play on some deep (and super relatable, thank you) bitter frustration. True to form, ONX, in the midst of being told what they could or could not do, decided to take the matter into their own hands and just do it.
Though it doesn’t seem like rejection will be a problem for either much longer. With each new release, ONX has garnered more and more enthusiasm, and with their big dreams for expansion, the collective will be impossible to ignore.
Moving forward, ONX plans to find more opportunities for commercial work to pay for a growing portfolio of creative projects, which they see as spanning everything from experimental films to music videos to documentaries.
They just finished filming their first commercial film, released as a promotion for a multicultural concert featuring the singer Yuna, held by Superb Productions April 2017. Within the next few years, they want to get a studio in Oakland to have as a base, or a hub, or really just a home for black and POC artists to come and work together.
Behind it all is this tremendous sense of love; that’s what you come away with when you talk to Summer and Nicole. They ooze it— for each other, for the project, for everyone that touches it (and that seems to be a lot of people and growing).
“People don’t want to see us being badasses together,” Summer adds as we slide out of the booth, tipping the bartender on our way out. “I think the scariest thing to see is Womxn of Color and Black Womxn banding together.”
Written by Athena Scott
Photography by Lily Woo