My recent talk with producer, writer, and director Kevin Richmond, a North Carolina native exposes a variety of concepts that are not unfamiliar, yet affirming in our consistent struggle to make representation count beyond slogans, memes, or lip service. Especially in the horror genre. One atmospheric and viscerally compelling piece from his growing arsenal of expression was birthed from an overwhelming sense of loss and uncertainty.
"I was driving through the mountains of western North Carolina just as
the sun was setting. I began to reflect about how it would feel if I knew I’d
never see another sun set. Then I thought of my recently deceased aunt and her
bonds with the five other sisters she grew up with. And the entire story hit me
like a ton of bricks. And it took less than an hour to write the skeletal
storyline of the film and I’ve never been inspired so quickly where an entire
story appeared in my mind. I recall looking for a place to pull over and write
the story on a napkin but there were nothing but cliffs so I had to keep
driving until I found a spot. And the story wrote itself through my fingers.
It was never the zombie genre that appealed to me, it was always about the characters and their struggles to see the next day. The rest is history. What started off as a mere personal reflection turned into a film whose subject was a metaphor for life."
Although it's been five years since the release of Richmond's negotiated angle with the necropolis narrative, One Last Sunset, I'm thankful it's managing to continue to arouse interest in audiences and content creators. The film offers Nita (Alma Hill) and Brigot's (Brandy Renee Brown) journey, two of the very few left after a virus destroys the human population and re-animates the dead. But it is a school teacher they come across whose unpredictable behavior poses a much more greater threat to their survival.
|Brown as Brigot (left) & Hill's Nita (right)|
The coincidental and simultaneously culturally significant fact that the two leads are in fact Black is evidence to the strength of the story. I asked Richmond about these intentions and he responded with sincerity; "Bottom line is we had a strong character driven script with One Last Sunset. Brown and Hill earned those roles in the audition. There were never any stereotypical areas within the script and it eliminated any stereotypical hurdles to avoid during casting and filming. And we now have a testimonial human story and the main thing to walk away with is to say that we have two phenomenal Black actresses that give absolutely amazing performances in the film.
Responses have been overall positive. Sunset made its festival rounds from The International Black Women's Film Festival to the 1st Annual Genre Film Fest and managed to come away with awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay as well as Best (Lead) Actress due to Brandy Renee Brown's astounding performance. All of this context demonstrates a strong case for no matter how recycled a theme, if you can produce a perceptive, character-driven story with a racially diverse cast with care, you'll attract a large and loyal audience.
The unfortunate fact that filmmakers who are adamant about centralizing characters of color in their movies often meet with producers and investors who wave the stifling stench of caution to the idea that those characters are likely to make the final product unsuccessful. These antiquated excuses have been on shaky ground for years yet stubbornly held. "I was advised by a circle of fellow producers against the casting. They went so far as to say that I 'couldn’t have dark skinned black women in a horror film' or that 'the script needed to become a comedic hood movie'. It’d be a flop and I need to re-cast the picture."
"The fact that the film didn’t cater to traditional casting standards allowed us the opportunity to turn the wheel in another direction and provide the inadvertent experience for women of all shapes and colors to see themselves in our characters in One Last Sunset. Aside from the hurdles of indie filmmaking, one of the best pros about being an indie producer is that you can shoot the film you want to shoot without any pressure from others trying to change your vision. If you pay for the party, you can dance with whoever you want to. In this case , we danced with strong Black female characters that not only taught us how to deal with an apocalypse , but also taught many people that there’s an audience out there for these types of characters."
The acts, practices, and responses to those in a position of powerful influence in the entertainment industry are undeniably consistent. Sunset is yet another case of how visual narratives are evolving against this relentless, white supremacist system. Richmond is over the "cliché and unoriginal stereotypes where Black folks run from danger, smoke dope and die early from doing dumb shit" and is relieved to see "contemporary horror films/media continue to build new bridges and erase the legacy of racism in film and it affects all genres". Now is a time where we are breaking down walls, and also building our own houses.
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