We’re taught to lean into to love — to let dreams and possibilities consume us. The paralyzing fear the comes with jumping in head first is rarely explored. However, Qasim Basir strips down the fairytale with his gorgeously shot A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. Omari Hardwick and Meagan Good stand at the center of the film as Cass and Frida, two strangers spiraling toward one another in the midst of an election night that would jolt the world awake. For producer Datari Turner who has worked in the entertainment industry for two decades, it was a story that he needed to be a part of. A day after the film premiered at Sundance Film Festival, I sat with Tuner on a hotel balcony overlooking the snowy mountains of Park City to chat about the film.
For the Oakland native, returning to Sundance was like coming home. “I've had six films in the festival in the last seven years, and my company has produced 30 films,” he explained. “Q and I met here six years ago at a dinner that Ava DuVernay put together. I was here at the time with a film called LUV. Ava was here with a film called Middle of Nowhere. Omari was in Ava's film, and Meagan was in LUV. Q and I met, and we stayed in contact over the years, and always talked about projects. As a man of faith. I always feel like everything happens when it's supposed to happen. A year and a half ago, Q called, and he was like, ‘I’ve got a love story, and it's sort of in the vein of a Love Jones meets The Notebook.’ I read it and what drew me to the project was that it was about two people who had given up on their dreams. I read an article that said 8% of the people in our country are actually doing things that they love, and that really struck a chord with me. So many people move to LA and New York and Atlanta to pursue a dream, and then real life sets in.”
Love also drew Turner to the words on Basir’s page. “Obviously love makes everything work,” he reflected. "It doesn't matter what color you are, race, or class, you're either chasing love, in love, falling out of love, or wanting to be loved more. Love is the thing that we all deal with every day in some way. Those were the things that really drew me to it, and then the election happened.”
The election of Donald Trump was paralyzing, his victory ringing out like an atomic bomb that no one saw coming. “We had already been developing A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. and moving forward with the project before the election happened," Turner explained. “I would say, I couldn't really remember any time in my lifetime where the country had been more divided, it was just a really polarizing night. I would say in modern day history, it's probably the most polarizing night. Everybody had an opinion about it. Qasim, he was calling me during the night. He's like, ‘I can't believe this is really happening.’”
It felt important at that moment to include the volatility of Nov. 8, 2016, in the background of Frida and Cass’ story. Getting Hardwick and Good to bring this characters to life was also vital to the story. “Meagan is my business partner," Turner said. “We've made five movies together, Video Girl, Dysfunctional Friends, LUV. We did a film about teen bullying, A Girl Like Grace. We've done a lot of films. Omari and I did a film prior. These are longtime friends of mine, people that I admire and respect a great deal. I think Omari is underrated. I think he's one of the best actors of his generation. I think Meagan is underrated too because people see a beautiful face. She's been acting since she was a kid. She's had to fight just to be taken seriously and get roles that have a lot of depth. For me, I'm always thinking about Meagan first, to be honest. Like, ‘Is this is something that she can do?’ because I know how seriously talented she is.”
The rest of the cast came together through Basir and Turner’s friend groups. “Last year we were all at American Black Film Festival (ABFF), “ Turner remembered. “Q won the Best Director Award for Destined, and Omari presented the award to him. Q reached out to him, and then when Omari called me about it, he's like, 'Are you gonna produce this thing?' That was pretty much how it came together. Then I called Meagan, and I picked up the phone and called Jay Ellis and pretty much everybody in the movie, I called out of my personal Rolodex.”
For Turner, the beauty of the project was being able to craft the film exactly how he and Basir envisioned it. “It took about three months because when you're making a one-take film, it's almost like a play," Turner explained. “If you mess up, you've gotta start all the way over from the very beginning. We rehearsed intensely over the course of some months; Omari was shooting Power. Meagan was working. So we would have to buy time to kind of go through it and rehearse it. We shot the film in its entirety 14 times, and we ended up using the best cut.”
As an artist of color, it was important to Turner that A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. debut at Sundance. It was about getting the film on a larger platform and in front of people who might not see it otherwise. "At its core, it's really a faith-based film," Turner revealed. “It's not in a traditional sense of a faith-based film, but it's about faith, and it's about love, and it's about dreams and people getting back on track and meeting each other. Had the election not happened, maybe those two people don't meet that night. It’s also a look into what it is like to be a Black man and a Black woman in America today. That's really what you're getting. "
Turner continued, "You see this character in Cass who starts out with the ego; he's got the swag, then they test his manhood. When you get your manhood tested like that, you're wounded a little bit. As Black men, we have to put this armor on. You have to put so many different shields on every single day. In watching this film, one thing you realize is that life is really, really short. You wake up and you're 30, and then you're 40, and then you're 50. At the end of the day, we've only got one shot at this thing. Let's figure out the thing that we truly love and that we really wanna do with our lives, and let's go after it with everything we have because that's what life is about. It's about dreams. If we're not dreaming, then we're dying."
A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. debuted Mon. Jan. 22 at Sundance Film Festival.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami