As an artist, Victor Wilson Jr. doesn’t like talking about his work. He’d rather show you.
The filmmaker, who calls himself “Pudgy,” grew up on Kansas City’s East Side and has always been a storyteller. Wilson was a cultural maverick back in elementary school, where as a young student he became transfixed on the arts.
“I’ve always been a dreamer with a big imagination,” says Wilson, who attended K C Middle School of the Arts and Paseo Academy for Fine and Performing Arts high school.
There he became acquainted with Langston Hughes and fell in love with poetry. He was mentored by his teacher, Stan Banks, a longtime local poet and author. Hip-hip came calling and Wilson dabbled as a rapper—a natural transition from writing poetry.
He still writes music and performs. However, his focus is now on filmmaking. As a filmmaker, Wilson is clearly heavily influenced by Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee and music video director Director X.
Now the former mortgage banker is finally sharing his vision with the world with his self-produced TV series, Return of the Shihan. The series, loosely based on Wilson’s life, is part superhero movie and part martial art flick, with a comical edge. “I grew up being a fan of movies from all genres, and I finally got my chance to blend my passion of martial arts, which I’ve practiced since I was a kid, and telling stories.”
The recent premiere happened on a partly sunny but unusually cold spring evening in Kansas City at The Gem Theater, located in the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District. Close to five hundred people packed the theater, listening to Wilson’s inspiring speech about the journey to create his film. The audience seemed to hang on every word, periodically applauding and cheering. The building was abuzz.
Wilson is part of a new crop of up-and-coming local filmmakers who are now producing some of the most interesting films and TV series coming out of Kansas City. They are mostly young, Black and under-funded.
Return of the Shihan was produced with a micro-budget, where the currency was mostly favors and hook-ups. “My day job funded the entire project,” Wilson says. He runs Community’s Keepers, a business that works with people whose annual income falls below the poverty line to prequalify them for various services through the government’s Lifeline program.
“We only filmed on Sundays for a year,” Wilson says. “It wasn’t easy, but we got it done.” There weren’t any seasoned crew member on the team nor any professional actors in the series, he says. “I found people who had a like-minded vision. We were all a group of people with drive and passion.”
Wilson is very clear on his future. He has ambitious plans to pitch his series to a major network or streamer. It’s not exactly an unattainable dream. Kansas City native Morgan Cooper, another young and hungry Black filmmaker, created the blueprint.
Cooper’s reimagining of a dramatic version of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which he filmed guerrilla-style in Kansas City and way under the radar of the city’s established film community, went viral. Now, he’s an executive producer of the highly successful Peacock TV show Bel-Air, now in its second season.
So for Wilson, anything is possible as long as he stays on his cinematic grind and continues hustling.