|Hollywood Takes On The Gospel|
In "The Gospel," a Sony/Screen Gem/Rainforest Films picture opening nation-wide October 7, Boris Kodjoe ("Soul Food," "Love & Basketball") stars as a young man blessed with a gifted voice who decides to leave his father's congregation after a heated dispute to find his niche in secular music. He becomes wildly successful, but a series of personal and family tragedies brings him back into the fold, where he finds his childhood best friend plans to take over the congregation from the ailing father. The congregation is in disarray and the son attempts to right the ship, but his friend is scornful and mistrusting of Kodjoe's return, thus giving "The Gospel" a new, yet effective storyline twist of the Old Testament that bulges with drama and music.
Written and directed by Rob Hardy, produced by Will Packer and Executive-Produced by Holly Davis-Carter, and Fred Hammond, "The Gospel" adds yet another plot twist. In the biblical version, the son returns to a stable house, while the movie version, the congregation is in utter confusion. Mix in today's most compelling gospel stars-Donnie McClurkin, Hezekiah Walker (both in strictly acting roles), Yolanda Adams, Martha Munizzi, Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, and, and an arresting cast of stars include Idris Elba, Nona Gaye, Keisha Knight-Pulliam, Clifton Powell, Omar Gooding, Tamyra Gray, and Delores "Moms" Winans in prominent roles-and "The Gospel" is a prescription for success in music, movie and message.
Hardy, Packer, Davis-Carter and several of "The Gospel's" stars sat down recently to discuss their participation in this groundbreaking movie. Hardy, a veteran writer-director of such movies as "Trois," "Motive," "Pandora's Box" and "Chocolate City," says of the gospel superstar lineup, "We were able to assemble this amazing cast because our actors and heavyweights in the gospel industry such as Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams read the story and said it felt genuine to them, that it was a drama about faith that they could relate to. Basically, after doing those movies, I wanted to tell a story that looked into the inner workings of a church, dealing with real people, dealing with faith issues and things like that."
Hardy and Packer had several false starts with "The Gospel," but "nothing seemed organic," Hardy said. "But then, Holly Davis-Carter put me and Fred Hammond in a room. We wound up just talking and kicking around ideas. As a result of that conversation, I was re-inspired to pick t he project back up."
Speaking of inspiration, the Bible has long been a source of rich stories that emphasize the importance of faith. The Prodigal Son has been one of the most trusted parables in the Good Book, used extensively in Westerns and war, but not from the perspective of a church background, with a plot tweak that pits former best friends against each other in so dramatic a way. Packer recognized this early as the storyline unfolded: "It's about really having the inner fortitude to overcome anything that's in front of you, and doing that with the help of God. It's a faith-based, inspiration-themed film, one we've wanted to do for some time." Davis-Carter added, "You see the character Boris plays of David, who's raised in the church, goes away, gets into a life of fame, money, women, wealth, drugs and sex. As he journeys back, it's the redemption that he finds, it's the hope that he finds, it's the salvation that he finds."
Hardy relates how he was drawn to the story of the Prodigal Son: "So many of us, as people, have a religious background, whether you grew up in a church or are vaguely familiar with the church. Most of us have a reverence toward God, but in our adult lives and teenage years, we tend to try different things and explore different options; we try to define the world on our own terms. A lot of the lessons that we ultimately learn, experiences that we go through, ultimately bring us back, closer to God. So this is a story of one such individual." Although he did not wish to elaborate, Hardy also added elements of his own life into "The Gospel."
Rob Hardy came to prominence with the independent film, "Chocolate City." It was followed by "Trois" at the beginning of the Millennium. In 2002, Hardy directed "Pandora's Box," which garnered a Best Actress award for its star Monica Calhoun at the American Black Film Festival. In 2003, he produced "Motive," which starred popular actors Vivica J. Fox and Shemar Moore. That led to "Trois: The Escort" in 2004, and an untitled Usher movie project. Alongside "The Gospel," Hardy is executive-producing actor Mekhi Phifer's directorial debut, "An Easier Softer Way," which is scheduled for a 2006 release.
Undoubtedly, one of the most compelling elements of "The Gospel" is its stellar lineup of gospel music superstars. Holly Davis-Cater revealed that there was a specific and important reason for attracting gospel stars to the project: "People will not listen to the gospel spoken; they are captured by the gospel song." Yolanda Adams commented about her participation: "I heard about the project about a year and a half ago. They said they needed some gospel stars to play themselves in this particular film, and I was happy to participate because it seemed so real. It was a story of faith and believing." Kirk Franklin, who composed the majority of the music in the movie, says "The Gospel" allowed him to do something he had not done in a long time: "It gave us a chance to do traditional music that we don't get a chance to do a lot of." Martha Munizzi, affectionately known as the Teena Marie of gospel, adds electric energy in her performance and comments, "Rob Hardy listened to my music and asked me to become a part of it, which I was very glad to do." And Donnie McClurkin adds, "I'm particularly drawn to the music in this film because the music helps to tell the story, because traditional music represents what the church used to be (in the storyline)." However, McClurkin purposely does not sing in the movie because he wanted audiences to see another side of him, but he and Franklin are planning a soundtrack music video to the classic song "Ooh Child," made famous by the 5 Stair Steps. The soundtrack will be released on Verity Records on September 6. The first single will be "Victory," by Yolanda Adams. Hardy says this is a very special song because "(rapper-actor) Snoop Dogg and Pharrell wanted the beat, but the producer owed Yolanda a favor, and so she got it."
Screenings of "The Gospel" were held in key cities across the United States for taste-makers, who commented on the movie's impact on them. Les Brown, popular motivational speaker, said, "I thought it was an awesome film," while Ebony Magazine's Shirley Henderson commented, "I thought the movie had a good storyline, and it was good to see actors like Clifton Powell play a positive, major role. I think Boris Kodjoe's character was well-developed."
With the runaway success of Tyler Perry's recent "Diary of a Black Woman," Hardy paid attention to how Perry tapped into the core church audience, which resulted in $21 million first-week sales for the movie. An innovative concept to the marketing of "The Gospel" is an ambitious "Adopt a Theater" campaign that Hardy and producer Will Packer are launching to heighten the movie's visibility among their core demographic. "We asked churches around the country to adopt a theater where they can send their congregations to. We'd like people to visit our website, www.gospelmovie.com, starting August 17. We will have a listing of all the movie theaters that are going to carry 'The Gospel.' That way, you will be able to log onto the website and sign your church up for a specific movie theater. We'll be creating a church night out at the movies. It's a PG-rated movie, so congregations can go out and enjoy something for the entire family" It is similar to a campaign that actor-director Mel Gibson used for his highly successful "The Passion of The Christ."
"The Gospel" is a marriage of mainstream Hollywood actors with the biggest names in gospel music. Hardy is pleased with the arrangement, summing up: "If the movie featured all gospel stars, the question could be asked, 'Are they really acting, and is it really gonna be a good movie? And, if it was a movie with just Hollywood stars, would it be authentic?' I think we have a really good hybrid between the two, and the musical element adds something different. And, this movie comes from a dramatic standpoint that audiences can really sink their teeth into."
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