The stars of ‘Blackbird’ descend on Houston for a special screening and Q&A session
About a week ago, I had the pleasure of participating in the Houston press junket for Blackbird, a film you’re probably aware of by now. In attendance were writer/director Patrik-Ian Polk, producer Keith Brown, budding actor Torrey Laamar, and the queen-of-comedy-turned-Oscar-winner herself, Mo’Nique.
Seeing the film back in October at aGLIFF, and having the opportunity to speak with two of the stars (Julian Walker, Gary L. Gray) prior to its theatrical release in select cities last month, I was eager to gain some additional insight into the groundbreaking flick. This was my first press junket, so I didn’t quite know what to expect, and admittedly, I was a bit nervous. After all, here was my chance to meet THE Patrik-Ian Polk, a man I’ve admired long before Blackbird, and whose courage and tenacity birthed previous trailblazing works like Punks (2000), Noah’s Arc (2005-2006), and The Skinny (2012). I was excited to meet Mo’Nique as well. I had seen most of her recent interviews in support of the film and was impressed by how effortlessly she answered many of the hard-hitting questions. Not only were her responses well-articulated, they were also real—the kind of talk I can appreciate and respect—and in my opinion, made her all the more likable.
With that said, and all else considered, I made sure I was prepared for my moment with some of entertainment’s top brass.
The press junket was graciously hosted by Loud Inc. and Houston Splash. Media members were stationed in a suite at the University of Houston where we were given one-on-one access with each of the talent present before a public screening and Q&A session. A nice spread of food and drinks was provided, but I opted to do without and instead soaked in the moment, and when the right time presented itself, made a beeline to where the VIPs were holding court.
Below are some highlights from the evening.
How the film came about:
“Blackbird is based on a book by Larry Duplechan which I encourage [everyone] to read. It’s a wonderful novel I read when I was 16 and a freshmen in college. It was the first time I experienced any work of art that was told from the point of view from a black gay character. It was life changing, and as an aspiring filmmaker at the time, I knew someday I wanted to make that book into a movie. I spent a couple of decades working on it. I wrote the first draft of the script in the early 90s. We tried to make the film about nine years ago with Jussie Smollett from Empire who was going to play Randy and the money fell through. And then it came back around again and finally here we are.”
On the film’s take-away message:
“LGBT youth, black LGBT youth especially, need the love and acceptance of their families, so I hope that people can take that message from the film—the message of tolerance and love and acceptance.”
Homophobia in the black community:
“I take issue with this assertion that the black community is more homophobic than other communities. I don’t think that’s true. And we, gay folks, are just as guilty as everyone else in perpetuating that. We have to actively engage our families in our lives as well. A lot of times your family takes their cue from you. So if you come home and don’t talk about your dating and your boyfriends and whatnot, they’re not going to feel comfortable asking you about it because you’re tight-lipped about it. You’ve got to be willing to open up and talk to your families about your lives. And you will find it’s not a big deal. They will very quickly get over it and realize you’re just like the heterosexual members of your family. It’s as much on us as it is on them. The hope is that movies like Blackbird will encourage all of us to have the conversation and stop being so silent about it all.”
“I’m going to shoot a film in Atlanta this summer, and [I’m] working on some new TV show ideas as well.”
This is Laamar’s first film, and what a way to kick off his career. He does a great job as Todd and is even more captivating off screen.
A little bit about himself:
“I’m originally from Martinsville, Virginia, but my main life has been spent in North Carolina between Kings Mountain and Greenville where I go to college at the moment. ”
On filming and his motion picture debut:
“The whole experience itself was one of familiarity. For some reason, I really felt comfortable there. The people around me made it comfortable—Mo’Nique, Isaiah Washington, the whole cast and crew made me feel comfortable. I tried to humble myself as much as possible during the process.”
“When I first got the script I looked at it and was like, ‘Okay, so I’ve got to do all this.’ I [didn’t] know how I [felt] about that. But as the process went on I realized that what doesn’t make you comfortable makes you grow. In order to feel comfortable about something, you have to feel uncomfortable about it first so that you can bring attention to it. That’s what we’re doing with this film. We’re bringing attention to the uncomfortableness of people not feeling right with our community.”
“Graduation in December!”
While Polk may have been the point man for the night, Mo’Nique was definitely the centerpiece, edifying the crowd, cracking one-liners, and even taking over moderator duties for a brief moment at the Q&A. Due to time constraints, I didn’t get a chance to speak one-on-one with her, but luckily I was able to snag a picture (see center photo above). After that point, my evening was made.
Blackbird will be available on VOD, DVD, Blu-Ray, iTunes, and other streaming services/platforms in August 2015. I HIGHLY recommend it!
Watch the ‘Blackbird’ trailer
by Deon Newsom
* Photos by byswayambrose