wonderful and tragic true things to make a hit movie. You don’t have to embellish her story. I really tried to impress on her how vital it was do a project from a place of truth. If you write something that my mother might’ve said or done that I find embarrassing, I may not like it, but I’d never try to get in the way of truth.
Q: So you’re not a gatekeeper. For instance, there are longstanding rumors that Jimi Hendrix’s family, who holds the rights to almost all of his music, won’t allow his music to be in a film that shows him using drugs. So you’re not someone who’s trying to whitewash your mother’s legacy is what you’re saying?
S: No, not at all. Her life is educational, inspirational, entertaining, and downright shocking at times. My mother was good at shocking people. She enjoyed it and she did it well. So why do we need to embellish, to build a tall tale? That is what Cynthia Mort has done. She has taken my mother’s name and then bought the life rights to her male nurse turned manager, Clifton Henderson’s life. In my opinion, she came in through the back door. I was saying, come in the front door, let’s have a cup of tea, let’s talk about it. Let’s work together. I asked her ‘How did you get in contact with Clifton?’ She said she googled him. I asked her ‘If you googled him, I was starring on Broadway at the time. I’m her only child. I’m not hard to find. Why didn’t you contact me?’ It’s interesting because it took a little while, but the truth finally came out. She told me she was told not to contact me. My mother and I had our ups and downs, like any family, but we loved each other until the end, and I wouldn’t try to edit our troubles out of any project. When Cynthia and I ended the call, we agreed to talk again the next day. I felt like we’d broken some really good ground that we’d created a place from which we could continue to communicate. But when I called into the conference call the next day, I was the only one on the line.
Q: That’s so common and so sad. I’d like to circle back to casting, a final question, also based on something you said about your mother’s childhood. How important was colorism to your mother? You wrote that as a young girl she’d been told that she was "too Black" and her nose was "too wide." Was that an issue throughout her life?
S: I don’t think people told her that throughout her life, but I can guarantee that the sense of insecurity and the questioning of one’s beauty that results from a grownup telling you that as a child you’re too black and your nose is too wide, remained with her for the rest of her life.