|If you're in the market for film that's a little bit different, that dares to step outside of the norm, then "Loving Jezebe" just might fit the bill. Written and directed by Rockville, Maryland's Kwyn Bader, this quirky romantic comedy from Shooting Gallery was produced in association with STARZ! Pictures and BET MOVIES/Starz!.
The flick hits area's theaters after a successful tour of the film festival circuit. The story follows the trials of Theodorous Melville (Hill Harper), whose love life revolves around much drama. From very early on, the sandlot years, Theo's adventures in love revolve around pursuing women who are already involved with someone else.
Theo is not a classic "mack" or ladies man but he obsesses about love and he seems to have a knack for saying all the right things to disarm even the most caged vixen. You see, in his pursuit of love he encounters a bevy of beauties who are drawn to his sensitivity like a moth to a flame. He wants to love and be loved but the women who become a part of his life are ill-prepared to reciprocate for one reason or another. That is, until he meets the wanna be poet Samantha (Laurel Holloman), who though trapped in an abusive marriage finds a soul-mate in Theo. While male movie goers may empathize with Theo's curse of getting entangled with women who are just too gorgeous for their own good, women may be turned off by the one dimensional aspect of the female characters. They are erratic, disturbed, unfaithful, takers who are ultimately unavailable.
In an interview with MetroConx, Bader admitted that there are some autobiographical overtones in this his directorial debut. "Theo is a goodhearted person with a romantic sensibility and part of what makes the character interesting is that he understands these are symbiotic relationships, he never says its not his fault." Bader explained that he wanted to present a leading character not typically seen in Hollywood films. And the geekish passivity of Theo truly does not fit the mold of a Hollywood romantic lead. "Movies are usually geared towards the main character in a linear kinda way who knowd what he wants and sets out to get it," said Bader. "There will be conflict along the way and win/or lose there will be this huge moment, this climax towards the end of the movie. I was interested in a more passive kind of character who is less controlled. I wanted to do some of the things you're not supposed to do in American film but are done in European films."
In addition to the works of French filmmaker Francois Truffaut, Bader shared that he is influenced by the works of two of New York's most famous filmmakers Woody Allen and Spike Lee. "The mere mention of their names or their films conjures up an image in people's minds. That's because they both infuse their films with their own personality and a feeling of intimacy. That's what attracted me to their work and inspired me to make the film I did." It is this willingness to follow his passion and expose parts of himself that led Bader on his own interesting path to realizing this dream.
Bader has written scripts for the television special "The Tuskegee Airmen," narrated by Ossie Davis and worked as a researcher, writer and producer on such PBS/BBC projects as "Richard Wright: Black Boy," with "Eyes on the Prizes'" Emmy Award-winning producer Madison D. Lacy, Jr. And he admitted that his work in documentary has definitely had an influence on choices he made in this film, including the use of narration. But he wanted more. "I am a writer and filmmaker, there is nothing else for me to do. Once I was able to admit that to myself I knew what I had to do." It was this passion, fused with faith and strong support from family and friends that kept Bader going even when there were lean moments including the threat of eviction.
But has it been worth it? Was the process as he expected it? And is the film as he wanted it?
"I gave myself over to the experience and it was absolutely worth every moment," he said. "I don't know what it was that I was really expecting but I do know that in doing the film things underwent a kind of metamorphosis and a good director, I believe, has to be flexible enough make the adjustments that are necessary."
One component of the film that has gotten some attention is the fact that Theo's Jezebels are a multi-racial lot. Theo is bi-racial (parents are played by Phylicia Rashad and John Doman) and so is Bader. And like Theo, Bader said he has been involved a broad range of relationships. "That was my first reality. The film comes out of the life that I've been a part of. So when I was writing, I really wasn't focused on the issue of race. It's only when I was done and decided to take it into the world that I realized that this is something that people are going to react to." While some view Bader's depiction as a fluid exploration of human relationships others critique that given the system of white supremacy that defines all relationships between white and non-white people, the representations are na´ve and possible irresponsible.
Race was definitely an issue when Bader tried to sell the film. "It was an issue then because there's very few precedents for this in Hollywood and I was getting it from both sides." Both black and white executives expressed reservations about the economic viability of a film with relationships between a black male and white females. But Bader persisted unapologetically and the result is a film that he proudly claims.