Sex sells. The entertainment industry has confirmed this age old adage time after time. Yet as a subject matter, the aftermath of sex also proves to be just as stimulating, if not more thought provoking. In filmmaker Rod Gailes OBC’ short film “Earle’s Post-Prison Playdate,” the director and writer explores the ways in which sexual activity can often reflect much more resounding personal issues that permeate our daily lives —such as self-love and responsibility. Centering on a Black man recently released from prison, the film spotlights HIV/AIDS as the looming elephant in a room full of sexual hedonism. The film’s main character Earle, played by Richard Carrol, bounces to and from —sans protection—from baby mother number one (played by Pariah’s Pernell Walker) to baby mother number two (played by Fela’s Iris Wilson) to a male lover and back again. Earle shows no hint of concern for anyone involved in his messy, dangerous lifestyle. Having created “Earle’s Post-Prison Playdate” as part of an HIV awareness campaign,” Gailes OBC released the short film online, where many bloggers, viewers and film critics alike had much to say about the film—with opinions ranging from praise to condemnation. In an exclusive interview with EBONY.com, Gailes reveals his thought process behind creating the short film, the trust he had to gain from the film’s cast, and how filmmakers can effectively advocate important social issues while maintaining artistic integrity.
EBONY: For those readers who haven’t yet watched “Earle’s Post-Prison Playdate,” how would you describe the film in a nutshell?
Rod Gailes OBC: Earle’s Post-Prison Playdate is a movie about self-esteem. It’s about how you take responsibility for yourself and your actions and your health, regardless of what the people around you are doing. It’s about a fellow who gets out of prison and brings his habits with him into his life, and how it affects the people around him, specifically the women in his life. How it impacts their health and self esteem choices that they make.
EBONY: Your film has sparked a huge amount of buzz in the Black blogosphere since it’s online premiere, with many writers deeming it controversial and explicit. What are your thoughts on that?
OBC: It’s really very difficult to tell where exactly controversy stems from because different people’s buttons are pushed by different things. There’s no nudity in the film. There are sexual situations, but I have always prided myself on being very tasteful and truthful. Those are the two “T”s that I try to represent in my work all the time. I think it’s the truthfulness about things that is often as a source of controversy for people. When you have characters who live unapologetically, as they do in live, and you’re kind of faced with the unapologetic mirror of what it is that they’re doing, a lot of people are irked by that. I think the “truth” component of it is pushing some people’s buttons.
EBONY: Would the main character Earle identify as a man on the down-low? How does his character impact the discussion around DL in the Black American community?
OBC: Earle doesn’t identify as DL. I don’t see him as a DL character. He even says it in the movie: “She knows what’s up. I just gotta change up every once in a while.” He’s not hiding, he’s pretty flagrant. He’s very unapologetic, and I think that at the time the film was actually made, that was something you weren’t really seeing [in film.] There may have been one or two characters on television, like the one on ‘The Wire’, but there were people who were in that world and unapologetically just doing what they do. That’s probably more the case now. I think there’s been a change in how it’s looked at from the outside.
There’s been a change in “DL” culture in that I don’t know if Earle adds to it or if he’s creating some other lane, because he’s not hiding. There are a lot of people who are like this, who are pretty sexually hedonistic. That’s not to say that everyone who is sexually active is hedonistic, but he has multiple partners, multiple children by multiple women, and in addition to that, he also has male partners and is not using protection. So to me, to examine that character is not an attempt to demonize anyone who is pansexual, but it is definitely meant to bring into question our responsibility to each other, our partners and to ourselves. The choices we make to protect ourselves are ultimately our responsibility.
EBONY: What was it like shooting such intimate and raw scenes with the film’s cast?
OBC:Developing trust in these situations is really what matters because you have to create an environment where your actors own the space they’re in—that they’re comfortable enough to give themselves in the way that the material calls for. Pernell and Richard together were amazing. They had an amazing rehearsal process that kind of lead up to that final scene where she asked him to get tested. We did some improvisation. I had them write letters to each other. It was an amazing process. We actually walked through the number of sexual situations in the film and it was great.
EBONY: If you could have viewers walk away with one thing in mind after watching you film, what would that be?
OBC: A fictional character gets to pay the cost for choices people are making out in the real world. They can look at that and see the lesson of Vanessa’s life and her choice and potentially make some better choices for themselves. I think that is ultimately one of the greatest things that films can offer us.
EBONY: “Earle’s Post-Prison Playdate” walks the fine line between advocacy and art. What advice would you give to other filmmakers eager to explore that type of work, yet unsure of how to navigate between the two genres?
OBC: Artists that want to be socially conscious or make political statements should know that is not mutually exclusive to entertaining people or stimulating people to discussion. There are a lot of filmmakers who have done that well. It’s not an impossible thing to do. It’s really about your commitment.
Trusting the gut is what has always given me confidence. My mother used to say “Please yourself because it’s impossible to please everybody.” I actually ultimately end up making my films for myself, because if I can watch it multiple times, or if I can get something out of it, I think I got a winner. So I would say, develop good taste and then follow the vision of that taste. You have to have a vision for yourself as a storyteller and make the movies that you want to see. If you want to see it and the people that you know want to see it that means that there’s an audience for it.
Watch "Earle's Post-Prison Playdate" now! Viewer discretion strongly advised.