42.4 Percent: Set Visit Report
A Producer's Take: Stephanie Allain
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By Wilson Morales
While visiting LA on a Friday rainy afternoon, I visited the set of "42.4 percent", which stars Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker, Blair Underwood, and Alfre Woodward. The movie is about finding love when and where it's least expected. Kenya (played by Ms. Lathan) is a career woman who, while being a success professionally, yearns for comparable personal satisfaction. Looking for that perfect man, she even has a checklist at the ready. Much to her surprise, she sets off sparks with Brian (Mr. Baker), who's not what she'd pictured for herself. They share a mutual attraction, passion, and a deepening connection. Can Kenya retire her checklist, sweep aside preconceptions, and commit to a future with Brian? The film is being directed by Sanaa Hamri, who's making her film debut. Hamri is no stranger to some, having directed music videos for many big names such as Prince, and Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, and Beyonce. Hamri, who's Moroccan, mentioned that she's looking to add the same emotional element that she adds in her videos. The producer of the film is Stephanie Allain and her company, Homegrown Pictures. Allain has been in this business for some time but because her talents are behind the scene and screen, you probably wouldn't have noticed how much she has done so far. Having produced "Biker Boyz", and more recently, the Sundance hit film, "Hustle and Flow" with co-producer John Singleton, Allain will be heard of more often in the months to come. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Allain talked about the making of "42.4 percent" as well as being a black female producer in the film business.
How did you go about in producing this film coming from Hustle and Flow?
Stephanie Allain: Well, this is something that I've been working on for some time. As a producer you have to work on several things at once. For instance, when I was working on Biker Boys, I found this script. It was a spec script by Kriss Turner that needed some work. We worked on it for six months and then we went out with it. Focus Features picked it up and that was probably in January '03. We worked on it while I was trying to get Hustle (and Flow) going, while I was finishing Biker Boys and when we were down in Memphis shooting Hustle and Flow, Lisa Jones, who is a terrific writer came in after Chris Turner, and I remember one day I was like doing notes on 42 while we were prepping Hustle so by the end of the shooting of Hustle I had a new draft of 42 that got the studio ready to make it, and that's when we went out. Sanaa Hamri, my director, had come on board a couple of months before and she and I had worked on her vision of it and my job as a producer is to get the writer to embrace the director's vision. We had a movie ready to go so when we got home from Memphis we started casting. We went out to Sanaa (Lathan) and started to make our deals to put the movie together. It's just a multi-tiered operation basically. Right now we are shooting this, and we're finishing Hustle, and prepping Black Snake Moan, which is Craig Brewer's next movie. It just sort of happens simultaneously.
What is the selling point to 42.4 percent?
SA: Well, there's two major parts going on in the movie. The first one obviously is the love story and this is the first time you've really seen a movie with a black female protagonist at the helm of the film who falls for a white character. The film Guess Who is more of a comedy between Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mack and the battle of wills and whatever, but our movie's really a love story and it's really a 21st century love story because as opposed to - if this movie had been made 10-20 years ago it would have been about everything that keeps them apart. Our movie's about the things they have in common and how they grow to understand that they actually can be right for each other and are right for each other. I think its going to raise a lot of eyebrows. I think there will be a lot of folks talking about it. I think that what we're trying to say is that love is love and it's hard enough in 2005 to find love so you need to be open to it. You know to expand your perspective, your horizons and really, take love as it comes and though we all have grown up with certain expectations and idealized versions of who our mate will be, sometimes you've got to go outside the box to find love. That's the first thing and that is really mostly a love story, but the second thing that I'm really excited about is the notion of a working girl, especially a black working girl in corporate white America because this is something we haven't seen and I think women whatever age, whatever color - so many of us are in the workforce today, it's really a love letter to how hard it is, how intense it is out there in the working world and how we have to find a way to integrate our professional lives and our personal lives so that its not all or nothing; because a lot of us when we're out in the world, we have to wear this armor to get through the day and some of that armor's residual when you get home so it's hard to connect. It's really hard to reach out and be vulnerable and sort of turn it on and turn it off so I think a lot of women are going to relate to that aspect of being a working girl in America and finding a way to find happiness personally at the same time, without giving up the job, without giving up the partnership, without giving up standing toe to toe with men in the workforce because we're not going backwards. It's just not going to happen.
With the title tentatively called "42.4 percent", what do you think of that number and why that number?
SA: Well, this is from a few years ago there were a few articles, one was in Newsweek and that's where the title comes from. 42.4% is the percentage of black women who have never been married and that percentage is actually specially for women who make less than $50,000 a year. If you make more than $50,000 a year and you're a black woman chances are - 60% that you're not going to ever marry and that's where it came from because a lot of black women really - we feel we should be with black men. That's our father's are, that's what our inclination is and for whatever reason, the stats are there's a lot of black men in jail instead of college so as we elevate our gain in terms of our education and our work capabilities and our earning power we don't see the corresponding black male brother whose at that level, and so that's one thing. A lot of black guys are dating non-black women so it's a lot of these women chose to not marry than to marry outside of the race or not at the same station in life. Frankly, I think a lot of times it's intimidating to be around us because we do make a lot of money and we are very aggressive in the world and I think that can be intimidating.
How did you go about in choosing Sanaa Hamri as the director for this film?
SA: We were looking for someone who had a vision. This movie, although it's a black woman lead and there's such a fabulous cast, from Alfie Woodard to Blair Underwood to Mike Epps and Donald Faison and Golden Brooks and Teraji Henson, and Henry Simmons, we really were looking for someone to make it beautiful and make it stylish and gorgeous and frankly a lot of people and I thought it should be directed by a woman of color. From that perspective, it was written by black women, it just felt like that should be the voice and it was hard to find a director of that caliber. I've seen a lot of her videos and what she'd done particularly with the Prince videos, Musicology and Sting and Lenny Kravitz, they were all so stylishly beautiful and artistically rendered and then brought her in and met with her. We sent her the script and she's actually mixed. Her father is black and her mother's white, and she really responded to the message that the movie was sending out to the world which is you know, expand your mind, open your horizon, broaden your vistas and she came in and we were soul mates. She got me and I got her and the studio fell in love with her. John Ryan was flipping out and it was easy actually because the day she came in to meet with us it was a done deal.
As a Black female producer, how has the system treated you?
SA: The system's treated me great because I go out and make things happen. I came up through the ranks. I was a reader for many years at various studios and at CAA is actually where I started and once I got to Columbia and I read "Boyz N the Hood" and champion John Singleton, it's been more difficult as a producer outside the system than as a black female within the system because I was fortunate to find John and Robert Rodriguez and Darnell Martin and my tenure at Columbia was really marked by my own niche which was urban indie movies that had the blessing and the money and the studio behind it; so those filmmakers were able to elevate their game and graduate to the big times pretty effortlessly after their first movies because the studio -- Columbia was just so supportive and their work was so good that they got out into the world and I've benefited from that frankly. After I left Columbia, I really felt like I was done with being an executive and I really wanted to be closer to the process and producing seemed like the natural lead. What was offered to me at the time was to run Jim Hensen Pictures and I thought it was a good idea. I was pregnant and I felt like being motherly. I wanted to integrate my working with kids and that whole thing and so I did that for four years and produced the last Sesame Street movie and the last Muppet Movie, Muppets in Space - and the thing is I brought my urban edgy sensibility to these kids movies which turned out not to be the best mat, but it was interesting and it was an enlightening experience because I produced movies with puppets which doesn't sound hard but it is because trying to get a puppet to just move from here to here is a major, major production. Their hands aren't real and they're arms aren't real. It was a good crash course in producing and really preparing and making sure all the details of every single shot were well thought out ahead of time. Once I'm done with that I thought okay I got to get back to what I love and the kind of movies that I love to see and I want to make and so as a way back in I went to 3 Arts, which was a management company. That's where I started to develop some projects and Mike Woods was the first one to really spring out of that. So it's been great. I love my job, I love what I do, I'm proud of my accomplishments and I love to see the writers and directors that excite me excite the rest of the world.
What do you think is the key to having more blacks in the business producing, acting, and directing? What's the key for films to be successful, like "Ray" and "Hotel Rwanda"?
SA: Here's what I think. This is how I pledge my work. The theme of the movie has got to be humanistic, which means that - for instance on Hustle and Flow. Hustle and Flow is not about being black. Hustle and Flow is about finding your creative voice. The characters happen to be black and not all of them are black because two of the leads are white but that could be set anywhere, anytime, in any country of the world but it resonates because it connects with what's human and what's real and what's truth inside of us. If those are the kind of movies we're making and we're putting black actors in those movies, those movies will work because they will reach beyond the skin color and that's why people go to movies; to see on the big screen, to relate to another experience be it Memphis Pimps or Outer Space but that still strikes emotional and human cord within us. So instead of concentrating on movies that are about being black, how about just about being human, and populate it with our faces because those are the movies I think are going to work. Ray is the same way. Ray is the struggle of a man overcoming a lot of disadvantages both things he was born with and things that he created in his life to be the best he can be. Obviously Ray Charles was a huge superstar around the world, but the movie works because of that. I think people can relate to that.
Once "42.4 percent" is completed, what's next?
SA: You bet. No, after this, John (Singleton) and I are going to produce Craig's next movie. We're going to Memphis this summer. It's called Black Snake Moan and it's fabulous, it's just amazing. Where "Hustle and Flow" was really about the notion of having the courage to create, Black Snake Moan is about having the courage to reach out and connect to somebody, so I think it will find its audience. You come out of there thinking who can I love, and so that's my next one. Then we've got another one after that, another great movie. I've got another one I'm setting up with Sanaa (Hamri), I got a movie with Vondie (Curtis-Hall), with Kasi (Lemmons), and I'm talking to Reggie (Bythewood) about another movie. All of my regular directors are out there coming together, and coming to me with good stuff and me bringing them stuff as well.
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