rockmond-dunbar_web.jpgAt the American Black Film Festival last weekend, I got to meet a few celebrities, such as Rockmond Dunbar (Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys), Michael B. Jordan, and Wendell Pierce (both from The Wire).

I spotted Robert Townsend and Clifton Powell and sat in on a discussion with Vivica A. Fox.  I was so excited that I barely ate; and I love to eat.

So much great talent was there and so many great connections were made last weekend that I’m already planning on how to do next year’s festival better. I screened a great documentary on black comedians called Why We Laugh (produced by Robert Townsend).  I saw 4 Minutes, which I mentioned in last week’s paper; I liked it.  And, I got to see a little movie called Pastor Brown, soon to be released in theaters.

“It’s an empowering film,” Jordan said at the movie’s June 26 premiere at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach.  Miami City commissioners and selected guests also enjoyed a private screening of the film on June 28 at the historic Lyric Theater in Overtown. “It’s about no matter what trials and tribulations you go through, you eventually find your way.”

I couldn’t sum up the film’s plot any better.

Pastor Brown is the story of Pastor Brown’s (played by Keith David) two daughters, Jessica (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) and Tanya (Nicole Ari Parker).  Tanya is the daughter holding together the family; up to and including raising Jessica’s son, Tariq (Jordan).

Jessica is in New York, living a great life as a stripper. But when Pastor Brown has a heart attack, Jessica rushes home to Atlanta to be with him.  While on his death bed, Pastor Brown names Jessica as his successor for the family’s Mount Olive Church.

Richardson, who I haven’t seen on the big screen since the mid-1990s, looks pretty good at 41 years old; I’d kill for her abs.  In Pastor, she steps outside of playing the pretty girlfriend and hits upon a meaningful lead that she can actually sink her pearly whites into.  The climactic scene where she’s giving her trial sermon is so moving that I, along with the sold-out theater audience, were moved to tears and a standing ovation at the end.  For that, Richardson has earned my stamp of approval.

“I just left it all up to God,” Dunbar said of his directorial debut.  “And all of the pieces fell together.”

I accidentally let it slip to Dunbar after the premiere that I loved his film.  But I was so moved, I couldn’t help myself.  There is, yet, another talented director and actor of color in Hollywood.  He makes me proud.

Now, I have to say, I wasn’t too keen on the writing.  It was a little too predictable, with the exception of the stripper-with-theological-degree-as-pastor plot twist, I found Rhonda Baraka’s script to be in keeping with the usual.  There were no surprises for me, up to and including Jessica’s boyfriend back in New York, cheating on her with her “best friend.”

I loved Jordan’s The Wire character, Wallace’s caring nature and disposition.  How refreshing to know that Jordan is the same, good-natured individual when the cameras aren’t rolling. But when the cameras got to rolling in Pastor Brown, I saw a different, stronger side to Jordan.  I am so proud of him, and I am looking forward to seeing what he does next.

Dunbar has a laundry list of talented actors: Parker plays to type as the snobby sister. Keith David plays the ailing Pastor Brown with finesse. Ernie Hudson is a lovable Deacon Todd. Michael Beach as Avery is someone I loved to hate. Tasha Smith is type cast as the trouble maker. Tisha Campbell-Martin tones way down as sweet church member Amanda.

Dondre Whitfield (Salli’s real-life hubbie) as Jessica’s cheating boyfriend is playing type. Monica Arnold plays Jessica’s “friend” rather typically with little depth to the character. Mari Morrow (an ignored talent) is a great Adrian, whose escape from her husband has led to homelessness for her and her children. Angie Stone makes a few, thankfully, quick appearances as Rick, the strip club manager.

With all of the talent in this film, it’s such a shame that there are so many out-of-work, talented, veteran actors in Hollywood who are just as hungry for roles as new actors.

I’m glad there’s a film like Pastor Brown to give them meaningful roles that show black people in a favorable light. Pastor Brown has heart, and reiterates the goodness of man, like food for the soul.

Photo: Rockmond Dunbar