Ashley Ratcliff is the assistant editor at Home Media Magazine. She is passionate about faith and urban films, which are the focus of the “Stepping Out” blog. The University of California, Santa Barbara graduate recently co-authored her first book, Stories 4 Women, a collection of true short stories. Ratcliff’s career began at the Palos Verdes Peninsula News, where she developed an affinity for interviewing newsmakers and sharing her perspectives in commentaries. Contact her with faith and urban film tips and inquiries at email@example.com.
One of the actresses I’ve always admired is Phylicia Rashad, who became my “TV mom” when she starred as the feisty, clever matriarch Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.” The way she commands an audience and brings such truth to the characters she portrays makes her stand out, to me, as one of the greats.
These qualities are displayed yet again as she stars in Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, currently out on disc from Lionsgate. If memory serves, this is Rashad’s second time starring in a Perry film (see 2010’s For Colored Girls).
In the dramedy, Rashad plays Wilimena Deeds, the widowed mother of Wesley Deeds (Perry), the poised but predictable heir of the family business, and his hot-headed younger brother, Walter (played convincingly by Brian White).
I saw the film in theaters earlier this year but recently revisited the film on DVD and was blown away once more by the depth that Rashad brings to her character. While Rashad’s role is supporting, she is very memorable as the strong backbone of the family who has it all together — at least from the outside looking in. When the threads begin to unravel, Wilimena doesn’t hesitate to tell her sons how she really feels in a way that makes you simultaneously empathize with and detest her.
In Good Deeds, we find Wesley trying to keep the family business afloat while enduring jealousy from Walter and pressures from his mother to marry Natalie (Gabrielle Union), his fiancée with an equally impressive pedigree. Wesley’s penchant for prioritizing others’ wishes for his life is tossed aside once he haphazardly befriends Lindsey Wakefield (played by the ever-beautiful Thandie Newton), the downtrodden janitor of Deeds’ building. She and her daughter are newly homeless. Lindsey’s husband died while fighting in Iraq, leaving her to fend for herself.
Lindsey’s brutal honesty is refreshing to Wesley, and their relationship leads the prim-and-proper businessman to live dangerously for once. When Wilimena learns of their new boundary-pushing friendship, she is quick to put the two of them in their place. You get the sense that Wilimena wanting the best for Wesley stems from a difficult past from which she and her husband worked tirelessly to rise above.
I’m glad the filmmakers opted to dig a little deeper into Rashad’s character in the “Motherly Love” featurette included in the DVD special features. Co-star Newton, who plays dogged single mother Lindsey, summed it up perfectly: Rashad is the epitome of grace and power.
The scenes involving Rashad, Perry and White prove the most compelling as you begin to discern that there are so many things left unsaid and so many pieces to a murky backstory that are untold. Perry reveals in the featurette that the three actors played their roles as if there was a family secret buried under the surface, which raises the level of intensity of that family dynamic and makes Good Deeds all the more interesting.
■ ENTERTAINMENT ONE July 17 sends out Bill Bellamy: Crazy, Sexy, Dirty (DVD $14.98), an hour-long stand-up special featuring the comedian engaging the audience on such topics as sex chat rooms, Jay-Z and Beyonce, and more. Due Aug. 28 is Redemption of a Dog (DVD $14.98), with Tony Rock, Lynn Whitfield, Tamera Mowry, Melyssa Ford and Faun A. Chambers. Out Sept. 18 is stand-up special Katt Williams: Kattpacalypse (DVD $1998).
■ IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT July 3 releases The American Dream (DVD $14.98), in which two best friends enlist in the Marines for a brighter future than what their home offers. Arriving Sept. 4 (prebook Aug. 7) is Suddenly Single (DVD $14.98), a stage play from prolific playwright David E. Talbert and starring Garcelle Beauvais (“The Jamie Foxx Show”) and Isaiah Washington (“Grey’s Anatomy”), in which a woman has to face being single after 17 years of marriage.
■ LIONSGATE June 26 introduces Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns: Season 6 (three-DVD set $29.98), in which David Mann (Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family) — the 2011 NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series — stars as Mr. Brown, a lovable patriarch just trying to make good on a misguided promise to his late father. Also due June 26 is C’Mon Man (DVD $26.98), with deleted scenes and outtakes. It stars top comedians Tony Rock (“Everybody Hates Chris”), Rodney Perry (Madea’s Big Happy Family) and Faune Chambers Watkins (White Chicks).
■ PHASE 4 FILMS July 24 smokes out Budz House (DVD $29.99), with cast interviews from stars Wesley Jonathan, and comedians Luenell and Faizon Love; a “Backstage at Budz House Comedy Special” sneak peek with comedians Kevin Hart, Chris Spencer, Love and others; music videos; and a trailer.
■ SONY PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT Aug. 28 (prebook July 26) offers Think Like a Man (DVD $30.99, BD $35.99), in which four friends conspire against their women when they discover they have been using Steve Harvey’s relationship advice — found in his bestselling self-help book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man — against them. It stars Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Taraji P. Henson, Jerry Ferrara, Gabrielle Union, Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Terrence J, Romany Malco, Gary Owen, Jenifer Lewis, La La Anthony and Chris Brown. Bonus material includes deleted scenes and a gag reel, with four featurettes exclusive to the Blu-ray.
— Maribel Castañeda contributed to this report
Much has been written and filmed about reggae legend Bob Marley, a striking, vibrant man who influenced the world with his revolutionary yet unifying music and message. Many of those prior works, however, were completed without involvement from Marley’s family.
Marley, due Aug. 7 (order date July 10) on Blu-ray ($29.98) and DVD ($26.98) from Magnolia Pictures, is the definitive documentary on the Jamaican musician, with interviews from his first-born son David “Ziggy” Marley, eldest daughter Cedella Marley and wife Rita Marley, among others who were closest to him.
“Throughout the years there have been a lot of things done about my father, and I’ve never been involved with any of them,” said Ziggy Marley, also an executive producer on the film. “To honor my father, being an integral part of this, I think he would appreciate that from me, as his first son. I wanted to honor him in that way, too.”
From time to time, Ziggy would hear about new projects focusing on his famous father. But those works are insignificant, he said, if they don’t involve the people who truly knew Marley, beyond what they’ve seen in archival footage, read in the press or heard on his albums.
“The only thing that mattered is that the thing that I’m involved with is the definitive thing,” Ziggy said. “I never looked at those things. … What do these people know about my father that I don’t know? … When I see somebody writing a book or making a film, who thought they know my father, but not really, I don’t give it any credit.”
Marley details the life of the icon, from his humble beginnings as a biracial child in a rural community in St. Ann, Jamaica, to his superstar status across the globe, to his death at the age of 36, caused by complications from melanoma.
It’s the in-betweens that matter most to the family members Marley left behind. Lessons learned while growing up surrounded by the Rastafarian culture, in which Marley was so richly involved, are the tenderest reminders of his dad, Ziggy said.
“We learn unity; we learn spirituality; we learn discipline; we learn about living natural; we learn about music,” he said. “All of these things were not only taught by my father, but taught by the culture that we grew up in. ... My father’s life teaches us about revolutionaries, really — having a desire to change or impact the society that we live in, to make it better for the oppressed people of whatever community we’re living in.”
Having been one of the kids who spent the most time with his father (he reportedly begot 11 children with many women), Ziggy said the things he learned about Marley’s adolescence during the making of the documentary came as a surprise to him.
“What I didn’t know about his color, his being mixed,” he said. “I didn’t know he got kind of ridiculed in his early years because of that in Kingston, and probably teased, as [his stepbrother] Bunny [Wailer] said, worse than teased. It was like, really? I was kind of angry at that.”
Robert Nesta Marley was so much more than his hit songs, a champion of the Rastafarian movement and a diamond from the rough streets of Trench Town. Ziggy hopes that in viewing Marley, people will see the emotional connection he shared with those whom knew him best.
“It’s much different when you … know somebody’s real-life story and what they’ve been through, not just through music or on stage, through their experiences in life,” Ziggy said. “[People] will see something different than what they’ve already seen about Bob, and just bring them close to him as somebody who’s a part of the human experience.”
Bonus material featured in Marley includes a commentary with Ziggy and director Kevin Macdonald; “Around the World,” a featurette with people speaking about Marley’s influence; an extended interview with Bunny Wailer; a “Children’s Memories” featurette with siblings Ziggy, Stephen and Cedella; “Listening to ‘I’m Loose,’” which showcases interviewees discussing their reactions to the song; a photo gallery; and a theatrical trailer.
“It was pretty cool doing the commentary on my side,” Ziggy said. “I spoke freely — the DVD’s going to be very interesting. I think probably even more interesting than the theatrical release. … It’s a pretty free commentary style. I’m pretty real, too.”
Perhaps a little too real, as Ziggy, when asked if the commentary afforded him the opportunity to articulate things he never had the chance to, responded, “Definitely. Some things I might regret, actually.”
Making sure Marley’s legacy lives on is something that comes naturally to Ziggy, who recognizes that his father made a lasting impression on people around the globe.
“I feel he is worth all the adoration, people adoring him and all of this,” he said. “... It’s legitimate because what he has done and what he means is real. I feel good about it. He’s worth that sort of respect and love that he gets.”
Prolific playwright David E. Talbert’s latest stage play, A Fool and His Money, soon will see its home entertainment release.
One Village Entertainment, Image Entertainment’s urban division, releases the play on DVD and as a digital download June 5, at $14.98. A Fool and His Money also will premiere on BET June 3.
The play centers on a down-on-their-luck family that wins a radio contest for a million dollars. Soon thereafter, it becomes evident that everybody wants a piece of the family’s newfound fortune, including an ill-intentioned, long-lost uncle, portrayed by comedian Eddie Griffin.
The contemporary musical morality play also stars Michael Beach (True Romance, Soul Food), Cindy Herron-Braggs (R&B group En Vogue, Batman Forever), Chyna Layne (Precious, Cadillac Records), Mishson Ratliff (The Heartbreak Kid) and Ann Nesby (Precious, The Fighting Temptations).
One of Talbert’s other plays, What My Husband Doesn’t Know, starring Michelle Williams and Brian White, was enticing, heartening and funny throughout. Though I haven’t had the chance to see his latest, I’m sure A Fool will be well worth the watch.
From her breakout performance as Derwin’s girlfriend on “The Game,” to starring in films such as Wild Hogs and White Chicks, actress Drew Sidora brings a bit of herself to every part she’s in. She’s Not Our Sister, a stage play from Johnnie Johnson, is no different, as she plays Cynthia Walker, the middle sister with her own strong opinions and sense of humor to match.
In the play, Cynthia and her sisters, Vivian (Kellita Smith) and Deniece (Azur-De), are thrown for a loop when, at the reading of their father’s last will and testament, they discover that they have a half-sister (Jazsmin Lewis) — a product of an extramarital affair — and that their dad was loaded. He leaves his four daughters $4.3 million, only if they can live together for six months. However, emotions threaten to keep the Walker women from getting their prize.
Home Media Magazine caught up with Chicago native Sidora to discuss stage plays, the similarities to her character and the release of She’s Not Our Sister, which One Village Entertainment — a subsidiary of Image Entertainment — welcomes home on DVD ($14.98) May 1.
HM: So the play hits DVD May 1, which I hear is someone’s birthday …
Sidora: It’s my birthday! It’s perfect, right? I have a reason to celebrate. It’s awesome whenever we get a chance to do what we love, and also to be able to have people can go and get a chance to view it and support us on my birthday. I’m definitely going to enjoy this birthday.
HM: Was this your first stage play?
Sidora: The producers actually gave me a chance to do a stage play three years ago, called Man of Her Dreams, which Clifton Powell directed. That was my second play at that time. Swirl Films really gave me an opportunity to really get a challenge, because these [plays] are kind of the foundation of acting. It has a lot of fundamentals that a lot of TV and film actors [need] to go back to the roots of theater, because you don’t get any second takes. Everything is more intense because you’re in front of a live audience.
For me, it was an awesome experience because it was something I really hadn’t done a lot. When they called me for this project, I was like, “Awesome!” Working with Kellita Smith was amazing because she’s incredible, and Jazsmine Lewis, Christian Keyes and Clifton Powell again. It was just a great cast.
HM: If you had to choose one medium — play, television or film — which do you like most?
Sidora: I enjoy them all, but with plays, you get the energy from the audience and you never know what your co-stars are going to throw at you on different nights. Some try to be playful and try to throw you off. It sort of keeps you on your Ps and Qs as far as having to be quick on your feet. I enjoy that because I’m constantly learning and growing and getting better.
HM: Are you anything like your character, Cynthia — the more comedic, laid-back sister?
Sidora: I think that when us, as actors, have a character that someone else writes, it’s our responsibility to find a little bit of truth in those characters. Even though we may not be that way on the day-to-day, I think for me, I do have a comical side, where I can kind of not take myself so seriously. I was able to bring that side of me out. She’s just a crazy, funny girl who … is trying to find her way in life. She’s trying to find love. She’s trying to make sure he’s the right man. She has a lot of insecurities, which I think a lot of women do when we’re trying to find our place in this world. What do I want to do professionally? Do I want to go to school, or do I want a job? I think that part of me was real ... I think I was able to bring a lot of truth to her character, and find those things about myself that were similar to her.
HM: What’s the dynamic like between you and your sisters?
Sidora: I have three sisters — two older, one younger. We’re best friends and we all are in each other’s lives. We know everything about each other and we all talk every day, three times a day. Actually, one of my sisters manages me. There were a lot of similarities. It’s great when you siblings that you can relate to and learn from. I have older ones who have been there, done that, and want to teach you and be protectors over the younger ones. Then I have my little sister, similar to the show, where she looks up to me as well. I have to have some level of responsibility to set that example in her life.
HM: As She’s Not Our Sister heads to DVD, who do you think should see it?
Sidora: I definitely think it’s a family program. People from my mother to my grandmother love it. Obviously, churchgoers — they are super fans of the show. Then I’ve got my friends, who are struggling in their relationships that find it appealing because they’re able to watch it and learn how to get over their mistakes in their relationships. Then I’ve got my niece, who loves it because we’ve got a lot of music and singing in the show. It’s a program that you can just sit your whole family down and eat dinner and just watch the show, which we don’t have a lot of on television. That’s why I think it’s so refreshing.
HM: As far as the messages that are in the play, what do you hope people will take away from it?
Sidora: No matter what you’re going through, it’s so important to keep your family around, a communicate what you’re going through with them and have that support and that love, to know that you’re not alone. That it’s OK to make mistakes, and that it’s OK to cry. But at the end of the day, keep family close.
Keep up with the latest from the actress at drewsidora.com. Catch the replay of She's Not Our Sister June 2 on GMC. The first film Sidora produced, Blessed and Cursed — starring Deitrick Haddon, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Karen Clark Sheard and others — currently is available on DVD.
It’s a formula that seems to be working as of late. Take a bestselling book, and turn it into a movie.
Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man self-help book is the backdrop for the romantic comedy Think Like a Man, starring a dynamic, predominantly African-American cast of Taraji P. Henson, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Terrence J, Romany Malco, Meagan Good, Gabrielle Union, Jerry Ferrara and last, but never least, comedian Kevin Hart. In the movie, women test tactics for successfully dating that are meant to shield against men’s wiles, creating a clever battle of the sexes.
The film came out No. 1 in the weekend’s box office, earning $33.6 million on opening day (April 20), which is quite a coup for what may be deemed an “urban” or “black” film. To date, its box office earnings total $36.3 million.
According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the movie’s opening also was “better than nearly all comparable titles, including all Tyler Perry movies except Madea Goes to Jail.” Think Like a Man also bested 2009’s Obsessed ($28.6 million), starring singer Beyoncé and Idris Elba, to become Screen Gems’ highest opener ever targeting African-American audiences.
No doubt, Screen Gems and distributor Sony Pictures Home Entertainment have put some dollars into marketing the film (The movie posters are ubiquitous in my neighborhood in Long Beach, Calif., and I’ve seen the TV spots more times than I can count). Likewise, some of Think Like a Man’s success presumably can be attributed to social media, with stars such as Hart and Terrence J actively Facebooking and tweeting about the movie (which was trending on Twitter last weekend).
Also, some of the stars surprised fans on opening day by showing up to various theaters in Los Angeles, helping build the buzz.
What’s more, the subject matter of the movie has gotten people engaged in discussions about relationships and the many dating faux pas committed by the opposite sex.
Having watched Think Like a Man during a press screening last month, I can tell you that the themes and scenarios presented in the film are universal, appealing to everyone. Overall, it’s a hilarious, feel-good comedy definitely worth seeing with friends or significant others.
Hart tweeted this: “#ThinkLikeAMan is not a Black Movie it is a GOOD MOVIE.....Let's show Hollywood that we can make great movies.”
I think they’ve proven their point.
A successful magazine editor with her own house and a fancy car to match, Regina Reynolds has the “independent woman” role down pat. But it’s her stubborn mentality that leads her astray in the emotive drama, A Mother’s Love.
Magnolia Home Entertainment April 24 (order date March 27) releases A Mother’s Love on DVD ($26.98). Bonus materials include a director’s commentary, handled as a critical analysis of the film’s messages, and an interview with Alexander and the co-producers.
In the film, Regina (Rolonda Watts) has gotten caught up in her material possessions, which triggers the demise of her marriage to Marcus (Julian Starks) and the estrangement to her drug-addicted daughter, Monica (Salina Duplessis). She loses her job after a misunderstanding with her boss, and the domineering woman argues with her prayerful mother, Georgia (Amentha Dymally), whose unwavering love allows her to see beyond her daughter’s pride and ego.
“Until you change yourself, nothing else will change in your life,” said Tim Alexander, the film’s director, producer, co-writer and cinematographer, among other roles. “… Every relationship the lead character had in her life was damaged: her mother, her daughter, her husband, her boss. She was the only common denominator.”
Originally envisioned as a stage play set in one room, Alexander (Diary of a Tired Black Man) took the story, developed by his cousin, Carolyn Alexander, and reimagined it as a film with more characters and heightened drama.
Alexander, with his Learning Through Conflict Pictures label, enjoys delving deeper into everyday problems with his films, an interest he groomed as a proficient blogger on social issues.
“Giving [viewers] a gentle, loving message doesn’t sink in,” he said. “Since they like reality TV and all these over-wound up shows and movies, I decided to make high-conflict movies that embed a message that you can’t detach from. And when you look at them, you’re looking at yourself and not the people on the screen.”
One such issue appearing in A Mother’s Love that many viewers will relate to is divorce. According to Alexander, women — like Regina — initiate 80% of divorces. Thus, he said he hopes the film will incite viewers to examine themselves.
“I hope that women, in particular, will realize that sometimes their strength and independence has them being competitors instead of companions,” Alexander said. “We’re taught that your education and your career are the defining moments of your life. On the other side of 50, your career doesn’t define you; the quality of your family does.”
Although it may be categorized as an urban film, A Mother’s Love is a universal story that transcends racial and cultural boundaries, Alexander noted.
“It doesn’t belong in just the black community,” he said, noting that the movie earned a five-dove rating from the Dove Foundation. “It just happens to have black people in it.
“This is a film that really needs to be shared,” Alexander added. “It needs to be sat down and watched with the entire family and discussed. … It doesn’t have any profanity, but it doesn’t lack a real punch in the jaw, as far as the visceral nature of the way it plays out. It was important to make a film that had all the exciting, edgy stuff, but nothing that would preclude anyone from watching it.”
She may be overbearing, opinionated and a tinge judgmental, but in spite of her personality flaws, she offers an unmatched love. Actress Ella Joyce embodies these motherly nuances in her character, Mrs. Myers, in Hopelessly in June.
“[It’s] dealing with today’s attitudes and issues, and … how it clashes with yesterday’s attitudes, in a comical way,” Joyce said. “It’s not your average romantic comedy. It has a funny bone appeal to moms, and yet it strikes at the heart.”
Phase 4 Films offers the movie on DVD ($29.99) June 12 (order date May 8), with deleted scenes and outtakes from the ensemble cast, which also stars Vincent Brantley, Carolyn Neff, Peter Jason, Keith David, Stuart Pankin, Edward Asner, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Johnny Gill, Keith Robinson and Chalant Phifer.
In Hopelessly in June, a love blossoms between Daleon Myers (Brantley), an out-of-touch financial analyst whose meddling, Baptist parents (Joyce and David) are pushing for him to find “the one,” and June Flowers (Neff), a beautiful, charming businesswoman with two white dads (Jason and Pankin). However, the couple’s disparate upbringings and values threaten to tear apart their promising relationship.
The Myers family is in for an awkward surprise when they meet the very liberal and eccentric Frankie and Francaise Flowers. While enchanted with their adopted daughter, June, Daleon and his parents initially are uncomfortable with the accommodating gay couple — a social-political commentary on how some in the African-American community perceive homosexuality, Brantley said.
“It’s the mom who all of a sudden realizes, ‘You’ve got to accept it,’ because mom is the center,” Joyce said. “She’s the heart. ... I think mothers would enjoy the craziness of it. I’ve heard so many mothers say that [children] don’t come with an instruction book. … All the little twists and turns that we see, we’re kind of not expecting. Then when we get hit with it, we’re like, ‘OK, so what?’
“This is a beautiful girl. She obviously was raised very well,” she added. “That’s another thing the story subtly touches on: Look at how great she turned out.”
Brantley, who makes his directorial debut and also co-wrote and produced Hopelessly in June, said Joyce was his top choice for the role of Mrs. Myers, a character he created with familiar references in mind.
“Having strong female influences in my life kind of collectively gave me the instincts about who Daleon’s mom was,” he said. “Mrs. Myers was a very strong-willed and determined character, which I thought influenced Daleon’s introvert [side], trying to control his life, make sure he’s in church. He’s finally at the point where he’s not listening to her and he is listening more to his friends.”
Though Joyce has no children of her own, she is familiar with playing the matriarch archetype, seen in her work from early 1990s sitcom “Roc,” Who Made the Potatoe Salad? and others.
“What I tried to do with Mrs. Myers is just make her a sort of updated Baptist church lady, as opposed to playing a stereotypical character,” Joyce said. “[I wanted to] just make her today’s lady. … Wanting to see her son get married and wanting to see him happy rings home with a lot of people.”
With heartening messages of hope and acceptance, Brantley said Hopelessly in June’s appeal to a female or motherly audience is only natural.
“I think one of the most important things about mothers is their ability to love and love unconditionally,” he said. “I think this will just add to the existing humanity that mothers already possess, and sort of a confirmation to mothers, especially if they have sons like Daleon, that there’s some hope.
“Love is unconditional,” Brantley added. “No matter how strange or uncomfortable a situation, we can always find a way through our humanity and love.”
It was the sincere message of faith-based film Decision that piqued country music star Billy Dean’s interest in exercising his acting chops again.
“I love it when a film or a piece of music absolutely cuts through everyone’s defenses and walls, and makes them feel again,” Dean said. “That’s the whole purpose: to remind human beings we’re emotional beings.”
The film is a heartfelt story of one lost boy’s triumph over the grief he endures following the death of his firefighter father (Dean), who dies in a car accident. Sixteen-year-old Jackson Conners (Michael Rosenbaum) starts ditching class to evade torment from bullies and is held back at school because of it. Struggling to stop Jackson from sliding further into despair, his mother, Ilene (Dove Award-winning Christian singer Natalie Grant), sends him away to spend some time with her rigid father, Wyatt Johnson (Rusty Whitener). While at his farm, Wyatt instills in Jackson a strong work ethic and Christian values, which empower the teen to stand strong when faced with another harrowing obstacle.
Decision arrives on DVD ($27.97) March 6 from Image Entertainment and includes a Bible study guide.
Flashbacks portray the once-solid father-son relationship between Jackson and his dad, Steve. Being a husband and father (he has an 18-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter) in real life made Dean’s role in Decision come naturally, he said.
“I love being a dad,” he said. “That’s my favorite thing.”
“There’s a lot that kids could learn from the other generation,” Dean added. “It’s very painful to watch kids go through mistakes that you’ve tried to warn them [about], and there’s nothing you can do. It’s hard to tough love. If there’s anything we need more of … it’s patience and tough love, when it comes to dealing with teenagers. Somebody told me once that teenagers rebel against hypocrisy. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is they can sense when someone’s not being upfront and truthful with them.”
Perhaps Wyatt’s sharing the gospel with Jackson in a clear, honest and relatable way is what helps the troubled boy come to know God for himself and make the decision to follow Christ. Wyatt plants the seed and Jackson, remembering his grandfather’s wisdom, calls out to God for help during a powerful scene in Decision. God answers his prayers and sets forth a transformation in Jackson, whereby he learns forgiveness and to place his faith in his heavenly father in the absence of his biological one.
The film also gave Dean a chance to practice another aspect of his artistry that he’d like to hone.
“I enjoy acting. I know just enough to know that I don’t know anything,” he said with a laugh. “The experience has been helpful in all areas of my artistic life.”
The Grammy Award-winning musician previously starred alongside Crystal Bernard and Dolly Parton in made-for-TV movies A Face to Kill For and Blue Valley Songbird, respectively, in addition to various appearances on TV shows such as “Wings” and “Diagnosis Murder.”
Combining both acting with songwriting is a new avenue that Dean aims to further pursue, giving him the opportunity to bring some of his songs to life in script form.
“Something that’s kind of old and dead in the water for me is going into a sterile environment like a studio and recording just a one-dimensional audio CD,” Dean said. “I don’t think people have the time to dissect and really listen to music. I think they need to see the music and the story, in addition to hearing it. … A lot of these songs are mini movies. It takes a little more than three minutes to unfold them.”
To say that actor Brian White (Stomp the Yard, I Can Do Bad All By Myself) has been keeping busy lately would be an understatement. Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, which White stars in, hits theaters Feb. 24, followed by horror thriller Cabin in the Woods, out April 13. His first stage play, What My Husband Doesn’t Know, recently was released on DVD, and White currently is hosting the United Negro College Fund “Empower Me” Tour via his organization, Black Carpenter, speaking to students about planning and building a successful future.
Home Media Magazine caught up with the multifaceted Boston native to discuss his experience starring in David E. Talbert’s What My Husband Doesn’t Know, what he looks for when choosing roles and working with the illustrious Tyler Perry.
HM: How would you describe your experience on your first stage play?
White: It was challenging and rewarding at the same time because it’s the most real of all of the acting art forms. There’s no second takes. The audience will tell you if they like what you’re doing or not, so it’s very organic and nourishing. It’s a group experience. The audience is the extra character, so there’s nothing like it. I had a wonderful experience. David [Talbert] is such a professional and a true master of his craft and he gave us such an excellent script to start from.
HM: In What My Husband Doesn’t Know, your character, Paul, displays a dark streak toward the end. That’s a role that I don’t think I’ve seen you play often. Is that something that attracted you to the role?
White: Yeah, I like playing characters that are disparate from Brian. I’m not interested in being the movie star. I’m happy to star in a good movie, but it’s not my goal to be a star. My goal is to be the best actor I can possibly be. To tell you the truth, I aspire to be like the Sidney Poitiers and the Harry Belafontes and the Billy D. Williamses and the James Earl Joneses of the world. It’s about the message and the performance, so I always look to try something new, to challenge myself and to get away from the routine. So David [Talbert] and Tyler Perry and some of these wonderful directors are blessing me with wonderful opportunities to challenge myself and explore.
HM: Did you have the ability to shape your character in What My Husband Doesn’t Know?
White: None. Zero. David is a shorthanded director, down to how I said the line, as far as accent, diction, to the dance steps. That’s all David. He knows every motivation for every line, the blocking, and we explored and tried things in rehearsal, but the final call — what’s up on the screen — is Mr. Talbert’s vision, his work, and we are hired as the people to make it three-dimensional.
HM: You’ve done movies, some TV work with “Men of a Certain Age,” and now stage plays. Which medium is your favorite?
White: As far as the acting itself goes, there’s different benefits, challenges and blessings between the three genres, but if you’re going to do just one all the time, of course it’s films. Films are by and large bigger budget, more posh. You get to fully explore whatever character you’re portraying for that time period and then move on. You know the beginning, middle and end to the story. … Film is the most artistically fulfilling and it is a career, so it’s the brass ring as far as what we all compete for. But theater is fantastic and it’s the most pure of all the art forms, so hopefully I’ll be able to do all of them for the rest of my career.
HM: What do you look for when you’re deciding to be a part of a project?
White: The message. The size of the role doesn’t matter. Let’s say Daddy’s Little Girls, which I did for Tyler Perry. I had two scenes. They’re memorable scenes but there’s a clear message. I wanted to portray a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I wanted to make a cautionary tale. You don’t have be the star of the movie if you can help support the … parable that the director and the writer are trying to tell. I grew up on the four artists I mentioned before, and shows and images like the Cosby family — doctors, lawyers, educated, proud, work out your problems together. I try to do everything I can in my career to steer people back toward those kinds of messages because that’s not exactly what we celebrate and glorify today. It’s important to me.
HM: In a recent interview, you made the observation that Will Smith has “never made anything that wasn’t for everybody.” Is that what you’re striving for, to branch out from making “urban” films?
White: No, I’m just trying to make films that appeal to me and the people that I love and know. I was raised by two moms — two strong black women who both went to college, they’re both graduates, both have climbed the corporate ladder, and both have taught me that there are no limitations, other than the way you think, and how much you empower yourself. I like telling stories that speak to that. I have pictures of my mom’s mom and my mom’s dad in the ’20s sitting in Cadillacs in furs. I like universal stories. When I was a kid, and I was watching Will Smith in Enemy of the State, it didn’t feel or seem any different than Tom Cruise in The Firm. Watching Denzel [Washington] opposite Julia Roberts in The Pelican Brief didn’t feel or look any different than any of the cool Tom Hanks movies that I loved and still love. It was Sidney Poitier’s Oscar [for 1963’s Lilies of the Field] — his character was the only person in that movie that didn’t speak to him being black. Everybody else reacted but he didn’t. That’s why he was so regal almost, and people are like, “Wow.” How you carry yourself matters. How you think of yourself and your circumstance and your position in society matters, and it effects how everybody else sees you. So I’ve always loved those kinds of performances. … I just like to be part of the positive message, part of pointing out those kinds of elevated, positive, empowering ideas.
HM: So you’re starring in Good Deeds. You’ve actually been in quite a few Tyler Perry films. How was this time different?
White: They’re always different. Tyler affords me the luxury to play characters that are the most disparate from Brian. I don’t get the opportunities that I get from Tyler anywhere else. What I really love about Tyler is he always has such a positive message. … He’s really pushing the envelope. What I love about Good Deeds — my mom, my wife and my friends got to see the premiere. My mom and wife cried. And they’re pretty much the harshest critics of movies that I know, especially the ones that I’m in. They keep it real. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it. If it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for them. If it doesn’t touch them, it doesn’t touch them. And they were sitting up in the theater bawling. My friend, Angelique, gave such a nice compliment. She said, “Tyler Perry made a movie that, to me, feels like Pretty Woman — minus the whole prostitute thing, of course.” It feels like that kind of a movie. And the performances — Gabby’s (Gabrielle Union) amazing. Tyler’s incredible. Phylicia Rashad is haunting. Thandi (Newton) is wow, like stellar. And the movie works, so it’s exciting to even be a part of this machine that is Tyler Perry, and putting out these positive messages. Whatever you don’t agree with it or you don’t like it or you love it, whether you think it’s the best thing ever, you’re talking about it. He’s got a lot of positive messages that people are talking about and I love being part of it.