A Father's Love, the debut film of Mansa Productions, was introduced to the world during the 2018 American Black Film Festival (ABFF) in Miami Saturday, June 16.
The film, written by Jessie T. Usher (Survivor's Remorse, Independence Day: Resurgence, Shaft) and Allen Maldonado (Survivor's Remorse, black-ish, The Last O.G.) and directed by RonReaco Lee (Sister, Sister and Survivor's Remorse), focuses on a young man named Andrew (Terayle Hill) who is hesitant to accompany his girlfriend, Tiffany (Adriyan Rae), to the abortion clinic, believing she is killing his child. However, he doesn't know the devastating role her father has played in her decision.
The film, which also features fellow Survivor's Remorse alum Tichina Arnold, explores the meaning of fatherhood and how all fathers, both bad and good, affect their children's lives for better or worse. Shadow and Act spoke with Usher and Mansa Productions founder, president and CEO Kellon Akeem during ABFF to ask them how it felt to finally debut the film and the process they went through to bring the film to the ABFF.
Monique Jones: I just finished watching A Father's Love, which was entertaining and shocking since I didn't realize the twist until the very end, and it was very deep. How does it feel to have the film premiering at the ABFF?
Jessie T. Usher: To touch on what you said, thank you. That's actually what we were going for, so I'm glad to hear that. This has been such a crazy ride and such a long, difficult process, but it's made it very rewarding. With the intention of screening at the ABFF — before the script was even written, to be honest — to see things come together the way they have is one of the most rewarding moments of my career. This is our first project that we've actually gotten together and produced and for it to be on a huge platform, it's humbling it's uplifting. It's a lot of emotions at one time.
Kellon Akeem: It's amazing.
JTU: It's amazing. We're so relieved we're here now, and the process is just coming to an end, but it's a new beginning at the same time. It's amazing.
MJ: What was it like working on this short film?
KA: Me and Jessie have become really, really good friends, and I would even say family. Being able to do a project with your family is very fun. Then we brought in other friends (like) Allen Maldonado and RonReaco Lee. It became really family-oriented even with the cast. It's friends and family that we've become, and it's a blast. Any time you can have a family reunion, it's a good time.
MJ: The film delves into both the positive and horrific sides of fatherhood. Why was fatherhood something you wanted to tackle?
JTU: That's an interesting question. It kind of just came together that way. We sat down with myself, Kellon and Allen and just started brainstorming on what kind of story we wanted to tell. I guess it came together based off the lives we live. I'm a new father, Kellon is a new father, Allen has raised so many people in his neighborhood. He's like a dad to six or seven kids, and even to this day he's still taking care of them. I guess fatherhood was on our minds at the time. Allen will tell you he's been through some things very similar to what takes place in this movie. It's just a story we feel like isn't being talked about enough or in the way we did. So that's how it came together.
KA: And just to piggyback on that, there's not always a father that it's happening (with), but there are so many households where a family member, a cousin or uncle, is taking advantage of their kids. Like (Rae) said (in the film), she didn't even know what was happening. We just wanted to bring awareness to the fact that this type of thing can happen, and you just have to always be aware, especially with the mental health things we're going through and all the suicides and everything. We just wanted to do our part and bring some awareness to the situation.
MJ: As you mentioned Jessie, there's also Allen Maldonado and RonReaco Lee who worked either in a writing or directing capacity. What was it like working with Maldonado and Lee?
JTU: It was great. We all came together from Survivor's Remorse. That's when I met RonReaco and Allen, and just knowing them from that and where we've gone since we met, I always knew I wanted to work with them on other projects, on our own projects especially. To be able to facilitate something and have everyone be available and ready and willing is a great feeling. We always talked about doing work together outside of Survivor's Remorse, and this is a great start, and it feels good. As Kellon said, these are people that we're close to. It's one thing to do a project and see it come together, but to do a project with your friends and your family is so much more rewarding.
MJ: What was it like working with the actors on set, including Tichina Arnold who makes a cameo appearance, and developing the characters with them?
JTU: That was a very interesting process. We knew we wanted people who would make strong enough choices to make impactful performances for such a powerful story. Having Tichina on set was a blessing. Having a personal relationship with her brought that together, myself having one, (and) Kellon knows Tichina. We're all close to her. We just reached out and asked her for this huge favor, and she was more than happy to do it for us, which was amazing.
We wanted actors we could trust so we could step back and let them do their thing and feel whatever it is they feel and trust their own process. It was a decently long process to put the actors together, and I'm very happy with the ones we selected. I think they all knocked it out of the part. Everybody embodied their roles beautifully. As an actor myself, it was nice to sit back and watch words we put on the page come to life from these people. It's a huge trust thing when you write something and you hand it to somebody else; all you can do is hope and pray that they have a similar vision to the one you have and, fortunately, they did.
MJ: What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
JTU: There are a lot of underlying messages in this movie. When it comes to anything I do in this industry, I want people to feel, to feel something. This is art, and if art is received the correct way, you get emotional about it. Sitting in the theater and hearing people's responses — they would laugh when we were hoping they would laugh; they were shocked when we were hoping they'd be shocked; some people cried at times when we were hoping we'd see a tear. It was beautiful. I'm hoping people take away the strength that fathers have. That's the message of Terayle, our lead. He's strong enough to overcome (issues), and he's not even a father yet. The idea, the power that comes with that title, we just want people to realize that there are different types of fathers out there.
KA: Good and bad.
JTU: Good and bad. But the love that a father has can overcome anything.
Mansa Productions includes investments by Atlanta businessman Mack Wilbourne and NBA All-Star Dwight Howard. The company's upcoming projects include its first feature-length film, Cross of Redemption, written and co-produced by Omar Epps and starring T.I. (credited as Tip "T.I." Harris); a television project about the true life story of one of the biggest kingpins in the U.S. also starring Harris and an unscripted daytime talk show co-produced by Usher.