I have rarely been as moved by a film as I was by BLACKBIRD. A thoughtful, poetic, compassionate film that uses truth, humor, and tragedy into an elegiac story that transcends the specifics of its plot, transmuting them into a timeless story of love, acceptance, and moving on. When I spoke with director/co-writer Patrik-Ian Polk and co-stars Mo’Nique, and Julian Walker on June 22, 2014, it was hard not to gush. Mo’Nique follows up her Oscar™-winning performance in PRECIOUS with another superb performance as the mother of a lost daughter, and of a son struggling with how his religion views his sexuality. Walker, in his big-screen debut, holds his own with her, in a maiden effort that is assured and complex, balancing innocence and wisdom, heartbreak and hope. Plus he sings with the voice of an angel as the conflicted choir boy.
The conversation covered finding Julian via an online audition, moving the action from California to Mississippi, why Mo’Nique works both sides of the camera in BLACKBIRD, and the topic with which I kicked things off, the use, and misuse, of religion.
BLACKBIRD is a poignant, sometimes dark, sometimes funny, but always compassionate film about religion, faith, and coming out. Walker plays Randy Rousseau, a choir boy with the voice of an angel who is struggling with his unbiblical feelings for another guy, and his mother’s withdrawal from life after the disappearance of his younger sister five years before. He’s not the only one in turmoil. His old friend, Efrem, who had no trouble with being gay, does not have the support of his family, and his new friend, Marshall, makes no secret about wanting to be more than friends with Randy. The film co-stars Mo’Nique as Randy’s troubled mother, Isaiah Washington as her estranged husband, along with Kevin Allesse, Gary LeRoy Gray, D. Woods, Torey Laamar, Nikki Jane, and Terrell Tilford, Walker was a student at the University of Southern Mississippi when he sent in an online audition to land the role of Randy, and this is his feature film debut. Polk’s previous work includes the award winning Noah’s Arc for television, and on the big screen,THE SKINNY, and PUNKS, which played at FRAMELINE in 2000. He directed from a script he co-wrote with Rikki Beadle Blair. Mo’nique tore up the screen and won an Oscar™ as well as pretty much every other major award, including our very own San Francisco Film Critics Circle prize, in and for Lee Daniels’ PRECIOUS. She has also conquered television in, among other things, THE PARKERS. She was also in Lee Daniels underappreciated SHADOW BOXER playing a character names Precious. In addition to co-starring in BLACKBIRD, she is also an executive producer of the project along with Washington and her husband, Sidney Hicks.