âNewlyweedsâ Director Shaka King Explores Modern Love and Mary Jane

In his first feature length film, Newlyweeds, director Shaka King explores a love triangle between a repo man, his psychedelic girlfriend and marijuana. Amari Cheatom (Django Unchained, The NIght Catches Us) and newcomer Trae Harris lead an impressive cast that include more than a few faces from The Wire. The director’s culturally-rich hometown of Brooklyn serves as the setting for the film, which critics have pegged as a dark comedy, a stoner-comedy, and a romantic comedy. King and the Newlyweeds crew held the premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where friends and family joined to celebrate their achievements.

“We had an amazing time,” King told EBONY.com “It confirmed for me that what makes our movie so special is the individuals who were involved in its creation.” With the North American distribution rights sold to Phase 4 Films, audiences can expect a day-and-date theatrical and VOD release this summer. We spoke with King on the amazing cast, the ideal audience for Newlyweeds, and the current state of Black films.

EBONY: What inspired you to make Newlyweeds?

Shaka King: It was a combination of past experiences I'd had with lovers in my 20's, imagination and my environment. The film is set in Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and those neighborhoods were a major influence on the texture and tone of the film.

EBONY: You have such an amazing, well rounded cast for this film. How did you go about casting veterans, like Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Hassan Johnson, and newcomers, like the lovely Trae Harris?

SK: Barden/Schnee served as our casting directors and did an incredible job of creating this ensemble. In addition, one of our producers, Gbenga Akinnagbe, starred on the Wire and had relationships with his former cast members. They connected to the material and hopped on board. Trae was introduced to me through a friend helping me cast extras. I saw a video of her on Facebook talking about her personal style and knew she was Nina seven years in the future.

EBONY: Marijuana obviously plays a central role in Newlyweeds, so the film's debut could not have come at a better time given the recent legalization laws in Colorado and Washington. Will this movie resonate with non-smokers and anti-marijuana advocates (or is this not the movie for them)?

SK: This movie is for anyone who enjoys a compelling story, rich performances and laugh out loud set pieces. What's been most gratifying about screening the film in Park City is seeing it appeal to young and old, Black and White, pro and anti Marijuana audience members alike.

The rap is that besides Denzel and Will Smith, Black actors and actresses don't sell tickets overseas, so the studios are hesitant to let them carry tent pole pictures. But I would argue that movie stars are created.

EBONY: Arguments about the current state of Black film, actors, and actress and whether they receive adequate opportunities and accolades have been debated about for decades now. What is your view of the current state of Black films and Black talent in the film industry and what do you hope to personally contribute?

SK: It's a very exciting time for independent Black cinema on both the documentary and narrative side. At Sundance I've had the pleasure of meeting Ryan Coogler, Dawn Porter, Roger Ross Williams and several other Black directors whose careers I'm following closely and I intend to support however possible. As far as studio films are concerned, from what I observe as an industry outsider, most of our up and coming movie stars are relegated to playing sidekicks. The rap is that besides Denzel and Will Smith, Black actors and actresses don't sell tickets overseas, so the studios are hesitant to let them carry tent pole pictures. But I would argue that movie stars are created.

Magazine covers are shoving square jawed Australian hunks down our throats like Gobbers. Why can't they do that with the Idris Elbas of the world? As a director, I think it's important to introduce new Black talent to the cinema landscape. And yet as an artist, I have to remain open to inspiration, whatever form it takes. One script I'm writing features a White protagonist. This is how the character manifested in my imagination. To alter his race would be to alter his culture and ultimately the narrative I intend to weave. I'd never play myself like that.

Patrice Peck explores the complex intersection of culture, entertainment, race and gender as a multimedia journalist. Follow her musings at Twitter and Facebook, and visit her at www.speakpatrice.tumblr.com for more writing and video.