Narcel Reedus ~ An Interview

Reedus

“Everybody has their thing. And everything and everybody has a story. Digging deep to find and tell that story is my thing.”

~ Narcel Reedus

… and film is the medium writer-director Narcel Reedus reaches for to tell his stories. In his feature film project One Day in June, Reedus directs his attention to Father’s Day, that one day in June when fathers are recognized as special. Be they biological, step-dad, or guardian, that third Sunday in June is designated as the time when those for whom he has cared are to offer gifts of appreciation. Just check the Hallmark card aisle. Praises range from the serious to the comical—all singing glory to that one man whom we deemed did his job right for yet another year.

Reedus is developing this project and plans to bring to the screen the conundrum of the fatherless child juggling the emotional and psychological remains of anger, shame, and guilt over the father who chose, for whatever reason, to let go of his family. As its bookend is the trek taken by one man named Russ, a musician, who finds the courage to search for the children he left behind.

Poster

Yes, Reedus reaches deep to bring to our minds those strands of life that more often than not are taken for granted or simply overlooked. His digging for the depth, however, is informed by his observations of the socio-cultural dynamics within the African American community. I spoke with the filmmaker, who talked about his love for film and how this medium is a powerful tool for storytelling. Along the way, we discussed the poignant matters of manhood and fatherhood, and their cultural import in today’s society.

TDR: Why did you choose film as your tool for storytelling?

REEDUS: My first introduction to film–certainly in my past as a child–planted the seed and facilitated my development as a storyteller later in life. I remember seeing The Learning Tree in Chicago when I was 5 or 6 years old. For sure, that experience shaped me. I watched a lot of the older black & white films that came on WGN … they held my attention.

TDR: In what ways did film inspire you to tell stories?

REEDUS: My mother and I watched films together, and what I realize now but did not then is that my mother and I were building unconsciously a foundation for the art of storytelling.

TDR: You mentioned your mother and watching films with her. I remember how my mother and I bonded over watching soap operas, affectionately known as “my stories”. Talk more about your mother and how she influenced you.

REEDUS: All in retrospect—I was the youngest of 6, a mother’s boy. My mom and father were older when they had me so I did not get the discipline my brothers and sisters got. I do remember really enjoying that experience of having my little snack and watching a movie on channel 9 on this little black and white TV with my mom. That experience certainly instilled in me an underlying beat–a foundation for filmmaking, storytelling … those sorts of things.

I anticipate communities getting together to talk about growing up without a father. I want One Day in June to be that tool or healing mechanism that enables children, mothers, and families to understand why is it difficult for fathers to step up and to be present.

TDR: The story of focus here is your feature, One Day in June that has to do with Father’s day. How was that concept developed?

REEDUS: Angela Washington and a former student of mine Ms. Pruitt were thinking of a title from a script Ms. Pruitt wrote. It needed more work, and I pushed her towards a bigger concept. We were bouncing around ideas for a movie. I thought June is the month for father’s day—that one day where we recognize fathers. Father’s Day doesn’t get the merit that mom’s day gets; but that collaboration laid the foundation for me to consider the importance in the title as it connects to Father’s Day and to the overall idea of what is a father in our society.

TDR: Your target audiences are African American males and female adults 18-35. Why not children who right now are experiencing the “remains” after a father leaves?

REEDUS: I think that in terms of me developing this story, I came up with people, with characters that I wanted to make it rich and dynamic. If this man is going to find his children, I had to place him in a time where he could do that. So how old is he? When did he start? We made him mid-50s and a horn player who performed with the popular Funk bands of the 1970s. That means that he was a teenager who traveled with band members who would trade off horn players from one concert tour to another.

TDR: I remember the funk bands, and how some of my classmates had formed their own groups…

REEDUS: In my neighborhood and around town posters for Con Funk Shun coming to town would go up; none of them printed the year, just the day and date. They reused those posters from city to city because they were on the road and he traveled a lot. They met women and had kids and thus became biological fathers.

Con Funk Shun

Con Funk Shun

TDR: … and this is where your character Russ, who is a musician, enters. What are the other threads running through this feature film about children and fatherhood?

REEDUS: Sometimes we have men who choose to not to be in their child’s life and, of course, we have men who, because of circumstances beyond their control, cannot be in the home. In the film, we had to have iconic characters to communicate these situations. For example, there is this unspoken mythology that strippers grew up without a father. Mercedes, an exotic dancer, has a father, Jamal, who is in prison. So, I asked the question through this familial set-up “What does it look like to be an exotic dancer and to have a father in prison?” Little Man is Mercedes’s son growing up without his father. By virtue of not having a father he is asked to step up and to become the man of the house … to take on this responsibility.

TDR: How do women / mothers figure into your project?

REEDUS: More recently we had a Transmedia Storytelling fundraising event. Our target audience with this film is really going to be single parent mothers—those black women who grew up without their fathers. They are the force that is going to be most interested in this. Some men certainly will gravitate towards it; others are going to be turned off by it.

TDR: To what do you attribute the resistance?

REEDUS: There is some hurt and defensiveness from men, and there is this question, “why don’t you talk about those men who ARE present in the home?” that they will ask. ….

Russ Campbell, the father (Chip Hammond)

Russ Campbell, the father (Chip Hammond)

TDR: In what ways to you see One Day In June instigating dialogue about Black fatherhood?

REEDUS: It’s going to be a movement. I anticipate communities getting together to talk about growing up without a father. I want One Day in June to be that tool or healing mechanism that enables children, mothers, and families to understand why is it difficult for fathers to step up and to be present. Once we show this on the screen where we see a man decide “I’m going to seek ways to find my children” it will create a national dialogue.

Something definitely happened to the Black male that trended from the New Negro out of black empowerment into this divide of corporate America. These trends, I believe, left some black men without a badge of honor and without a sense of being.

TDR: Why do you feel it is so difficult to ‘step up’ into that role as father?

REEDUS: I really believe that promiscuity is the new masculinity. Some men are having as many kids that their seed can produce. One Day in June can be a message to them: It is not too late to step up! I strongly feel that we need to move beyond finger pointing and the deadbeat dad syndrome. This film will answer the question, “ok how do I step up? How do I face what I have done?”

Mercedez (Ida Weldesus), granddaughter

Mercedez (Ida Weldesus), granddaughter

TDR: The “promiscuity is the new masculinity.” When do you think this happened?

REEDUS: I think the shift happened when the tangible effects of the Civil Rights movement netted visible changes in the black community in terms of housing and education. There was this attitude of taking every material advantage that economics could bring. There certainly was a swift and sharp divide. Reagonomics played the part … economics … Rap culture and its music.

TDR: In what ways to do you believe Rap culture and its music contributed to these attitudes?

Reedus: Something definitely happened to the Black male that trended from the New Negro out of black empowerment into this divide of corporate America. These trends, I believe, left some black men without a badge of honor and without a sense of being. So, they were left with a sub-culture that became glorified in Rap music. During this time “I am Bad. I have a lot of women. I have a lot of money and respect and gold chains, and I overcompensate for the lack of education, a job, or a career!” became the mantras of the day. The culture emphasized this “me” maleness, and embraced the athletic body: look how bad I am; how violent I can be; I’m a player… I’m a pimp! Blaxploitation … all of these elements moved into the 1980s and nested in Rap culture. They even are present in this present day.

Lisa (Erin Monet), youngest daughter

Lisa (Erin Monet), youngest daughter

TDR: How do women figure into this trend?

Reedus: The glorification of the idea of multiple women and masculine virility all combined together attributed to this epidemic of fatherless children … multiple children with multiple women … “These are my claims to fame, and this is the movement that I have made in my community! I don’t need the upper middle class badges of education and corporate agility to get the house, land, cars, and access to people places and things.”

Jamal (Dennis Scottbey), oldest son

Jamal (Dennis Scottbey), oldest son

TDR: One day in June obviously deals with angst, regret, and memory; how our actions through memory will hold us accountable, so we have to move to satisfy their desire to be reconciled. All of these happen that ‘one day’ in June. Talk about that moment when Russ is in a room, sitting on a bed alone with a TV dinner tray.

Reedus: “In the quietness of everything there is time to reflect on addressing my fatherless child” is the spirit of that scene. When we first opened up the movie, Russ is in his apartment with a little Hispanic boy with smudges on his face; he lives next door. There was a fire, and Russ rescued that little boy and stayed with him for the night. Later Child Protective Services picked up the boy; but that fire burned something in Russ, and sets in motion this desire to search for his own children: Chris, Lisa, Jamal, and Keisha.

TDR: So, the fire serves as a metaphor …

Reedus: Russ felt he had to stop ignoring his shame and go into the fire– the burning building of memory. The house that is burning is his shame—a shame he could not face before then. After that fire, Russ realizes he will not die; it will not kill him. He also realizes that this particular journey will be very difficult but in spite of the difficulty he has to walk that road. He has to. There is no turning back from it. There are very few times in our lives do we have those moments. We can count them on one hand.

Keisha (Vedra Grant), oldest daughter

Keisha (Vedra Grant), oldest daughter

NPR: What do you feel is the value of taking those journeys?

Reedus: There was an honor in saying “this is what I am going to do: be it going to school, get my freedom, marry, fatherhood.” It was divine because we truly believe that we had the perseverance to ride through the storm. There is something about the decision and the process that makes us who we are. Generally, we make deliberate choices about marriage or education or living arrangements. We used to be very thoughtful in making decisions about our children. We did not go back on them, either. … something to the effect of: I have decided that I am going to marry you. I am not going to change my mind. We are going to have children, and we are going to be together NO MATTER WHAT!

I am postulating now how often do we make those decisions that we do not go back on? We are living in society where we can go from Keisha, Valerie, Shenia, and back home to momma—even grandmomma–then move back in with Keisha. It is so transient! There are folks who are afraid of commitment; and, even more tragic there are men who feel living in the ‘big house’ ain’t a bad deal. I have to believe, however, that there are others out there who are going to die trying to live up to the core of who they are.

TDR: If Russ had been famous or had a solid paying gig in the city surrounded by friends, do you think Russ would have had this prompt from memory to move?

Reedus: If he were in New York in a part of the musician’s union and had a gig, I think there still would have been a fire next door; whatever he was doing there would have been a fire …

Chris (Charles Easley), youngest son

Chris (Charles Easley), youngest son

TDR: I am concerned about the character depiction of Chris – the Gay character. Why burden him with any kind of sickness? Why not a healthy gay male?

Reedus: Chris is someone who is trying to come to terms with who he is and how he is trying to live his life. He is speculative, and living off of his sexuality, his good looks, and his gayness. He is processing a bad break-up. The first place that Russ goes to is to Chris. Father and son take do take some time together which results in Chris going to rehab as he tries to get his life together.

TDR: Why not have Russ contact the mothers to get to the children?

Reedus: We did not want Russ to have to try to get through the kids through the mothers because contact would have undone completely what he is trying to do. The children are grown. The mother does not play a part in there. We do have some backstory that we are going to do on Russ … how did he get to be a horn player, his education …

TDR: Does this story of fatherhood come out of some of your experiences as a son?

Reedus: I come to One Day in June purely as an artist able to write for someone who is not me. I don’t have any children so I am not a father, nor did I not grow up without my father. I had a very solid relationship with him, so I don’t fall into those notions of what would motivate me to tell this story. If I call myself a storyteller I can tell anything. My motivation for this is not necessarily personal in terms of my life but it is personal in terms of me being a griot and understanding that this is just one of the stories in my community that needs to be told.

Film Screenings of One Day in June to be announced soon!

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Citizenfour @ The Ross

Edward Snowden, Citizenfour

Edward Snowden, Citizenfour

My dad cautioned me to always watch what I say; my mom warned me, “anything you don’t want told, don’t tell it, and never ever put anything in writing! That piece of paper could be used against you.” Dad never owned a cell phone; mom had one but never used it – not once. The landline–a green Trimline model with a rotary dial–still hangs in the kitchen. You’ll get a busy signal if you call when anyone is on the phone; there is no call waiting. Dad used to say, “If I’m on the phone, I can’t talk to anybody else!” There is no voice message system. Mom would say, “If you call and I don’t answer I’m not at home! Call back!” Neither parent worked on a computer.

After screening Citizenfour, the newest documentary by Laura Poitras, it took every fiber of my being to keep me from tossing out both my computer and smartphone and begin a retreat to the bygone technological era my parents enjoyed! The film charts the discovery of post-911 surveillance by the NSA and other entities of intelligence. ‘Citizenfour’ sends covert e-mails to Poitras and, later, Poitras along with Glenn Greenwald, an attorney and columnist from The Guardian, fly to Hong Kong to meet with Citizenfour at the Mira Hotel who turns out to be Edward Snowden, the whistleblower.

With camera in hand, Poitras unfolds the story in the intimacy of his hotel room, as Snowden, from his hotel bed dressed in a white t-shirt and jeans, narrates how he came to his discoveries. We’re in that hotel room for a long time, and the camera creates a claustrophobic feeling to such an extent, that after it was over, I couldn’t wait to get outside and breathe in the fresh cold Nebraska air! Snowden’s revelation of the web of networks that are involved to accommodate the cross-currents of information is mindboggling. The general premise is this: We are being watched. Period. Privacy is fast beginning non-existent as our conversations, text, voice, and e-mail messages are being monitored. If we know that our every movement is being monitored, then we would be hard-pressed to say what we really feel! We’ll have to start communicating in codes. Snowden believes, “We are building the biggest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind.”

So take heed! Watch what you say! Anything you don’t want told, don’t tell it!

CitizenFour plays through December 18 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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