Being able to portray a musical icon in a film is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, the blessing came knocking on Ledisi’s doorstep twice.
The Grammy award-winning singer first landed the role as Mahalia Jackson for Ava DuVernay’s Selma, which was released in 2014. Fast forward to eight years later, viewers will now watch her grace screens once more as the gospel legend except as the leading lady of her biopic, Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story.
As previously shared by Shadow and Act, alongside Ledisi stars the likes of Keith David, Columbus Short, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Vanessa Williams, Corbin Bleu and Keith Robinson.
Although she had prior experience under her belt, it was still far from smooth sailing when taking on the role.
“It was just as overwhelming as it was then, but even more so because this was a feature,” Ledisi admitted to Shadow and Act. “But I went ahead and challenged myself and I'm glad I did.”
Thankfully with the challenge ahead of her also came the encouragement of the biopic’s writer and executive producer Ericka Nicole Malone. According to Ledisi, she played a key role in not just keeping her and the rest of the cast in great spirits, but also was the mastermind behind telling Mahalia’s story in a way that was led by faith.
“I love that she saw a purpose. She knew who she wanted in it and her faith is incredible — impeccable faith. Everything goes back to spirituality and being prayerful. This is who Ericka is. It’s not just Mahalia, but she really wanted to honor Mahalia and she did it with faith because there were times when she didn’t know how she was going to get all of this done. But, she did it. She made sure we saw this woman in a different light, not just her music, but also her work ethic.”
Co-star Janet Hubert, who plays Aunt Duke, also credits Malone for being the glue that held down the fort on set. Having worked on multiple projects together, the acting veteran described the multitalent as her sister, confidant, and right hand. As they tackle the industry together, Hubert has been right on Malone’s side as she is in the hustle of getting distribution for the biopic.
“It’s more than a notion as a Black woman, especially as a Black woman, even going to Black companies. It’s really difficult when you’re an independent producer, but we are undaunted. We are absolutely undaunted. And my philosophy is, y’all gon’ see it whether you distribute it or not because the beauty of the internet is that they can’t stop you.”
Leading with authenticity to tell Mahalia Jackson's story
“I didn’t know [Mahalia’s] backstory,” Hubert shared. “I didn’t know that she was raised with Aunt Duke. I didn’t know any of that. Ericka researched all of that instead of taking a fictionalized version. Instead of trying to be sensational or making her sexualized in some way. There seems to be this whole movement of changing someone’s story when they’re gone and they don’t have the right anymore to say that didn’t happen. That’s not the way it was.
She continued: “I think too many times for too many biopic movies that’s what happens…but Ericka did not do that. She stuck to the truth. I think that’s what makes the film so special for me is truth. And I’m all about truth.”
The world premiere for Remember Me was at the opening night of the 30th annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival on April 19.