The reviews are in and “Big Words” is proving itself to be one of the most well received independent films of the summer.
The Neil Drumming penned and directed offering has been props from the New York Times, the Atlantic and from EURweb as well.
Heavy on dialogue and story-telling, this tale of maturation is universal but rings especially true to modern black male. I recently had the chance to discuss this quality offering with writer/director Neil Drumming regarding the film and why he wrote it.
“I was really interested in telling a story about growing older and dealing with past regrets or past relationships,” said Drumming. “That also tied into hip-hop because I worked in dealing with the culture because I grew up a fan of hip-hop music and I wanted to tell stories about the music industry, about rappers and it was kind of a connection between those three things. I just wanted to tell a story with hip-hop as the backdrop.”
“The story stands by itself. Hip-hop is the context in the way that baby boomers are the context for a film like ‘The Big Chill’. But the story should be about characters. So, the primary focus is the story and the story emanated from the three characters that I came up with.”
As stated by Drumming, “Big Words” is character and dialogue driven. Those attributes are a successful allow for individual scenes with in the film to stand on their own merits and not solely as a mere segment of a whole. I asked Neil whether this quality was intentional.
“I think that, though the scenes in the movie were intentional, I feel that they were more of a natural by-product of the story and the characters. The fact that you feel that way makes me feel pretty good. It’s nice to know that it feels representative of people, though that wasn’t always my intention. I created the story in a personal way and what I used was my own life and the lives of some of the people I know. People who told me their stories and who have similar feelings about their lives. I felt really confident that it would be universal but it’s nice to hear it.”
Actress Yaya Alafia plays Annie, a stripper who is actually far more than the viewer could have known upon her initial introduction in the film. Yet, she stands as one of the few characters with any sense of optimism.
“Her being a stripper was intentional. It was something that I had debated with early on in the development of the film. But I wanted to make her a stripper because I felt like people go into the movie, they find out she’s a stripper and they immediately have these preconceived notions of her and they bring to the table their own baggage and feelings about that. Then they discover who she is and they have to rethink all of those notions. I think, in the end, the audience sort of falls in love with her. But, more important than falling in love with her, they start to see her as she sees herself and that’s as a singer. I think there is a point where the audience put away their preconceived notions of someone based their job. That kind of excited me because I’ve met strippers and I’ve known strippers and I don’t prejudge anybody at this point in my life. Everybody does things. I felt that the judgement people brought to the theater worked in my favor as far as making the story more dramatic.”
The role of James is played by Gbenga Akinnagbe. The character is a former hip-hop artist who is living as an openly gay male at the opening of the film. This was unique for me for several reasons, the least of which was the character being gay.
“I definitely didn’t have any interest in telling a down low story. In the African American community there has been a lot of over use of the notion or the troupe of the down low male. I just wasn’t interested. I was far more interested in telling the story of an African American male who is living a gay life style and how he reconciles that with the culture he grew up in which is very homophobic,” he explained.
“He grew up loving rap music. He was a rapper and he went along with all the ideas that went hand and hand with that. As he grew older he came to grips with his own sexuality and that didn’t go along with what he was then. That’s really not a down low story. That’s reconciling your past with who you are now.”
The third member of the group is Malik, played to hilarious effect by Darien Sills-Evans. He appears to be the one who still has the ability and the desire to be in “the game”. But, for reasons revealed later in the film, he does not. All he does is complain about “beat jackers” and artists who he alleges have stolen his ideas.
“The scene where you love hip-hop so much that you hate it is very familiar to me because I feel that way a lot of times,” the director admitted. “When I was an entertainment journalist I dealt with a lot of music and I found myself, during my last days of reviewing music, just being a hater. Granted, there was a lot to complain about, but I wasn’t able to see the good in the music because it was so different from what I had grown up with. What I found was that, when I looked back on it, the things that I was saying and the feelings that I was having were just a product of my age. I started losing my ability to be discriminating. I think that’s partly where the character came from. I know people whose attitude is far worse than I am and who don’t really reflect on the good at all. I put all those people into the character.”
The character Big Words is played by veteran actor Dorian Missick. He brought a heaviness and a feeling that I can only describe as a knowledge of disappointment to the role. I asked Neil whether this was merely by coincidence or by design.
“Dorian related really well to the character. When he read the script he was like ‘This is my life’. I mean, he has been in a rap group that never got the exposure they may have deserved. He’s a working actor and he has been relatively successful at it. But he knows the ups and downs of having these types of artistic dreams and he really related to just where that character was coming from. He’s the right age for it and he understood the culture as well.”
If you haven’t seen “Big Words” yet I would recommend that you do so. Not merely because it’s a film written and directed by a black director and starring a black cast. But because it is well-written, contains delightful dialogue and hip-hop references that only a true head will relate to. But hip-hop is only the backdrop. The true story happens as these well-rounded characters continually evolve and grow from scene to scene. For more information on “Big Words” log on to www.bigwordsthemovie.com.