Amazon flipped for Sylvie’s Love when the indie film played Sundance. In many ways it’s a throwback to the kind of romantic, sun-kissed movies Hollywood regularly once made, but with a twist. This one starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha has two Black leads doing the romancing, and outside of less than a handful of films in the 1950s and ’60s time period where it is set, that never happened in the Hollywood of that era.
Thompson and director-writer-producer Eugene Ashe joined Deadline’s Contenders Television awards-season event to talk about why now the time is ripe for Sylvie’s Love.
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“You know, I’m a fan, like everyone else, of the films from that time, movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and of course, you know, the Douglas Sirk movies,” Ashe said. “But I think Paris Blues was really the only one that had any Black leads at all, and if you look at the album covers from that time and you look at the music from that time, we were very much in play, but generally speaking, when we show that era with Black folks depicted in cinema, we’re primarily focusing on the civil rights movement and some sort of trauma or adversity that we were facing.
“So, you know, the idea was that my family photo albums and the records in my collection all showed a different picture of what life was life for Black people,” he added. “Sure, those things were happening, but it would be like if we only focused on … we still have Beyoncé and Jay-Z today, you know, even though we have all of the things that are going on with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and all of these things. There’s a duality to it. if we don’t show the other side, it’s almost a way of erasing us.”
Thompson talked of one particular actress of the era who was an inspiration. “I think I had about 50, maybe 47 costume changes, which is the most that I’ve had to date, and it’s truly a dream come true,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to do a period film. I didn’t think that I’d get to do one, certainly not one as romantic and sweeping as this one, and Eugene and I talked about Audrey Hepburn because he really wanted the first time that you see Sylvie on screen to feel like the first time that you see Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which, for me, in film iconography, is one of the shining moments that’s unforgettable. So the great pleasure and gift of being able to exist in a frame like that with the star treatment is something that is really a dream, and I’m very grateful to Eugene for letting me be his leading lady.”
Ashe also had great screen teams in mind. “I mean, it really was all about the chemistry. We were going for that type of classic chemistry from films like The Way We Were with Redford and Streisand. I was calling Nnamdi ‘Chocolate Redford’ and Tessa ‘Cocoa Streisand,’” he said, laughing.
Check back Monday for the panel video.
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