Over the weekend, hip-hot artist Jasiri X posted this image on his twitter feed. It’s taken from the front page of the New York Daily News’ website. Note the screaming headline and the sympathetic caption: “Accused killer Dylann Roof had one chance at a stable family life — and his abusive dad ruined it for…
Earlier in the week, I reviewed Four of Hearts, a new movie by writer/director Eric Haywood which is currently making the film festival circuit in search of a distribution deal. My wife and I saw it at the Black Harvest Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and afterwards I sat down with Eric to discuss the making of Four of Hearts, his career to date, and his experiences as a Black writer and director.
As promised, here is Part Two of that interview:
You’ve been in the television and film industry for awhile. As a Black writer and director, do you feel like things have changed – for the better or the worse – over the years?
You know, it’s weird. It’s a very strange time to be working right now, because you could very easily ask ten different people that same question and get ten different answers. I would say, on balance, I don’t feel like things have changed all that drastically over the last decade or two in terms of opportunities, other than, now we’re at a point where you can sort of seize opportunities for yourself, regardless of your ethnicity. That’s what we did with “Four of Hearts.” The movie was self-financed. I owned the camera. I owned the editing system. So, there were a lot of things that probably would have been inaccessible to me as little as five, ten years ago that now were at my fingertips. That’s something that’s available to everybody.
And there are also means to promote a film that didn’t exist back then – through social media and all that.
Exactly – social media, Facebook, Twitter, that’s been a huge, huge gift for filmmakers, and webseries creators, and any kind of content creators, really.
You don’t see a lot of mainstream films where the central characters are a professional, successful married Black couple. Do you think that’s a challenge in terms of getting it to a wider audience, getting a distribution deal, or do you think maybe this is a good time for that?
It does seem, unfortunately, to be a little bit of a hindrance in the marketplace, because there’s a fairly clear and very narrow parameter for the kinds of films that a lot of the gatekeepers and the distributors are interested in getting behind. Like you said, there really aren’t too many films that I can think of off the top of my head that feature a young, successful, middle class, married Black family who are determined to work through their problems. We’re getting into this thing now where your best chance of getting a film made with a Black central character is to do a biopic, and, at a certain point, I feel like we’re going to run out of people’s lives to depict. Where are the “average, normal” Black people? You’re not seeing too many of them, except coming from independent filmmakers.
In the past, with “The Cosby Show,” or things like that on television, there was something very guarded about the way in which the people affiliated with that show wanted to portray that family. It always struck me that they didn’t have the same free hand that someone like Norman Lear might have had when he wanted to play off of tension and so forth. One of the things I like about your film is that the characters aren’t necessarily perfect – there are rough emotions that come up in this situation, and I like that. It’s more real to me.
You know, I would never take anything away from “The Cosby Show.” I think it was revolutionary for its time. But you also have to keep in mind, we’re at least fifteen years down the road from “The Cosby Show,” and I think the show’s more conservative approach – if you want to call it that – was probably what was called for at the time, and it obviously opened tons of doors. Now, I think we’re getting to the point where people want to see what else is behind those doors.
Well, let me ask the important follow up question to all this. What’s next for Eric Haywood?
(Laughs) Well, there are a couple of things in the works right now. Nothing that I’m specifically ready to announce just yet, but I would say keep your eye on me and when the next project is ready to be put out there, I’ll be the first one screaming about it from the top of the mountain, via social media and elsewhere.
You can follow Eric on Twitter (@Eric_Haywood) and follow the Twitter account for Four of Hearts (@FourHeartsFilm); “like” Four of Hearts on Facebook; and check out Eric’s personal website (erichaywood.com) for more information and updates.