The coming-of-age drama "Blackbird" may raise eyebrows with its intimate same-sex encounters and Christian themes. But Mo'nique, who headlines the film as the mentally ill mother of a teenager struggling with his sexuality, says it will also spark dialogue.
"It's gonna save a lot of lives," the Oscar-winning actress told TheWrap. "I've hung around in the gay community since I was 16 years old, so I got a chance to really hear their stories and most of their stories were the same -- 'my family can't accept me, or my mom's really religious.'"
"Blackbird" centers on a deeply religious high school student in a small Mississippi town who struggles with the possibility that he may be gay. It co-stars newcomer Julian Walker as conflicted teen Randy Rousseau and "The 100" actor Isaiah Washington as his father.
"When I got to page 13 [of the script], I wanted to be a part of this journey," Washington explained to TheWrap. "I wasn't afraid to tell the truth."
Washington produced the film and helped select the cast with director Patrik-Ian Polk. They found their young male lead in Mississippi college student Walker, because no top African-American talent in Hollywood would sign on for the project. According to Polk, the actors who were reluctant to take the part cited anti-gay religious convictions and the movie's love scenes involving two men.
In the film, Randy is a church singer who lives a straight-laced life. But he is guilty of one "sin" -- erotic dreams about a handsome male classmate. Despite his prayers, Jesus won't make the dreams go away.
Walker, who is openly gay, said he welcomed the role because it mirrored his life. "There were a lot of things that I could relate to with Randy," Walker told TheWrap. "Coming out to my family and religious issues that I dealt with when I was a child ... I thought I was over it. I thought I wasn't still holding on to memories or feelings of how I felt. But doing the film, it was like therapy getting over it."
Terrell Tilford, Kevin Allesee and D. Woods round out the cast of the film, which is based on Larry Duplechan's novel by the same name. With its storyline about mental illness, homophobia and Christians who try to "pray the gay away," the film tackles several hot button issues.
"We just felt like it's time to let people know it's OK to live in your truth with no apologies."
"Blackbird," an RLJ Entertainment release, is now playing in theaters in select cities. It will be shown on Robert L. Johnson's Urban Movie Channel this summer.