Talk to Me Kasi Lemmons

When, 15 years after Ralph Waldo Petey Greene had died, Pelagius Films Erectile Dysfunction No More- Amazing Plan Of Sex Boosting Exercises producer Joe Fries heard Peteys story from his friend Dewey Hughes, who was Peteys creative partner, Fries saw it as a dream project. The idea did not sell,but the project moved forward as a movie just the same. As Fries explains, I felt so passionately about this story that I contacted screenwriter Michael Genet, who is Dewey Hughes son–with no guarantee of a home for the project.

Genet remembers, Joe Fries and executive producer Joey Rappa called and told me they wanted to do a movie about Petey and Dewey. As Joe started talking through the story with me, it all came rushing back like a raging river because I had lived it; my father and his best friend were two powerful brothers and the talk of our town, D.C.

A few years later, the script struck a chord with producer Josh McLaughlin, who had since joined the Mark Gordon Company. He notes, Joe Fries is from D.C., and so am I. In the late 60s and early 70s, when Petey Greene had hit his stride, that city was one of the coolest places in the world to be. Hearing Peteys name, I remembered that there was a community center office dedicated to him.

I found it was very difficult, though, to remember a non-blaxploitation movie about an urban city in the late 60s/early 70s. The three Sidney Poitier/Bill Cosby movies, beginning with Uptown Saturday Night, did depict that period, and of course there was that great documentary/concert film Wattstax. There were also several civil rights pictures, but those were Southern-oriented. Those are all good films, but the black is beautiful era in a world of change has largely gone unexplored. Peteys story, about speaking your mind, was a window into there.

Genet remarks, When I was writing the script, I knew I had to stay true to the voices of these two men. Not to have done so would have been to dishonor them both. Theres cool that you either have or you dont, and Dewey had it. The same work ethic he instilled in Petey, he instilled in me; paying ones dues not only in this business but in life.

Petey was a sharp dresser and his Afro was always perfect, with never a strand out of place. But he was stone cold street, with a voice to match. Whenever he opened his mouth and spoke, I would jump. As funny as he was, even as a boy I could hear the pain in his voice. Listening to him on the radio, I didnt always understand what he was speaking about. But I couldnt change that dial; he had me and an entire city mesmerized and hypnotized.

At the core of the film is the real-life relationship between Petey Greene and Dewey Hughes. McLaughlin says, Their friendship is the foundation of “Talk to Me.” What eventually caused a rift between these two who were like brothers during turbulent times for this country is that Dewey assumed Petey wanted what he wanted for him.

Genet reflects, What I found in telling their story was that there is a love shared between black men that we almost never hear tell of. You wont find it defined in any text books or dictionaries, yet it exists. McLaughlin adds, The film is a drama, but with a lot of humor, and thats also their relationship; with two completely different people relating, youre going to have conflict but youre also going to find humor.

Screenwriter Rick Famuyiwa did as well, albeit initially from a different perspective. He reports, What drew me in first was Petey. He was an iconoclast, and a torchbearer of the oral tradition that is an integral part of African-American culture. To me, he represented a bridge between the orators of the civil rights movement and the orators of today, hip-hop musicians. Like a rapper, he was the voice of people who didnt have a say. What he had to say wasnt always what people wanted to hear both inside the community and out but it represented a truth he felt had to be expressed. I felt he could be contemporary and relatable to todays hip-hop-reared generation.

If Petey was the spark that piqued my interest, then Dewey was the fire that kept me warm. He could see the best in Petey and, in a larger sense, the best in all of us. Each of these men needed what the other had in order to succeed, and I wanted to focus not only on that part of their relationship but also on how they embodied an ongoing conversation in the African-American community–about what is considered keeping it real. Dewey, who came from the same streets and neighborhoods as Petey did was as real as Petey, but chose to fight inside the system, so that artists like Petey could find success in the mainstream.

Another notable independent film producer, Sidney Kimmel, also saw the projects potential. To me, he says, Peteys story was moving and original. Sidney Kimmel Entertainment came on board to join the Mark Gordon Company and Pelagius Films in backing the films development through studio turnaround as well as a key casting issue.

One actor who remained interested through the years of development was Don Cheadle, who would ultimately be an executive producer on the film in addition to starring in it. Cheadle had sparked to the project because, he explains, You sweat it out for the ones that are close to your heart. This just seemed to me to be an honest depiction of a man who was a real live wire and was definitely his own person. Petey wasnt afraid to court controversy, or to be on the front lines of the issues; civil rights, free speech, national government, local government, riots. His story is relevant today because very few people are willing to stand up and point out what, in my estimation, are clear inadequacies. Our government is not necessarily behaving in a way thats for most of the people. We just dont have someone who stood out the way Petey did on WOL and on television.

Talk to Me” went through many, many different permutations. With our budget, nobody was going to get rich; everyone did this movie because they loved the story and wanted to be part of telling it. I first heard about it through a friend of mine, the late filmmaker Ted Demme. Finally, Kasi Lemmons got the material, and spent so much time with it so that her vision became really clear.

Kasi Lemmons says, You dont have to be a Washingtonian, or black, to appreciate someone who was this dynamic. Here was a man who was the voice of his community, and who said things so many of us would like to say. Petey wasnt always right, but he meant what he said. What I also saw was the potential for this biopic to evolve into something enormously entertaining and accessible.

Petey was a real person, but as a filmmaker coming to him fresh I didnt want to feel constrained by what-happened-when. What I did want was to stay true to the emotional authenticity of the characters.

Lemmons met with Dewey Hughes, who signed on as consultant to the now-coalescing project, which Focus Features joined.

McLaughlin notes. Dewey was a resource we constantly called upon. We would go to him and ask, What happened then What was it like He was there, and he would tell us all about it.

Lemmons remembers, The material began to talk to me, and really loudly, too. I fell in love with the story and the characters, especially the contrast between these two friends. As a story about friendship, its universal. Petey and Dewey, like many men, shy away from revealing their vulnerabilities. It didnt mean that they werent close; it meant that they had trouble expressing themselves to each other. Vernell was also very special to me, because she embodies strong women from our history that we dont see depicted often enough.

McLaughlin notes that, during script meetings, Kasi didnt talk about why it was an important movie to do; she wanted to talk about what it was going to feel like–hip and relevant. We all recommended that “Talk to Me” needed to be a really cool place to spend a couple of hours, and Kasi already had gotten that. It just seemed like the logical next step; she finally said, Would you sit down with me about it, as a director And it was like, lets go!

Lemmons reflects, In seeking to direct “Talk to Me,” I was thinking about how to realize that time period with all the color and the activism. Right now, we are living in an age where people are afraid to speak for fear of being labeled unpatriotic, anti-American, racist, sexist, whateverIt was bracing to be going back to a place where someone like Petey said what people were feeling and gave them a voice.

I wanted to make it as an uplifting but funky and unconventional film. If I made it into a slick comedy, that would be doing Petey and the material a disservice. It needed to be gritty, musical, and authentic to the period. Lemmons adds, Petey Greene is a very different kind of role for Don Cheadle, and hes wonderful as Petey.

To play the flamboyant old-school deejay Nighthawk (takin you into the night grooves on the big O-L), the project needed an actor who could credibly wear his coat as a cape; have wine and candles in the studio; have two Dalmatians as regular companions; and speak in a deep, sensuous voice that would lead female listeners to send him ladies wear along with their photos. Lemmons laughs, Well, that could only be Cedric The Entertainer, right He had the presence and the perfect tonal quality we needed.

Vondie Curtis Hall was asked by Lemmons, who is his real-life wife, to read the script, and signed on to play WOL deejay Sunny Jim. He offers, Its something different for Kasi to bring her sensibility to; a period piece with a lot of testosterone. I thought it was an incredible script that showed the fascinating journey of a guy who got a second chance, and became inspirational. Those stories appeal to me as an actor.

Dewey Hughes gave me the rundown on Sunny Jim Kelsey, the man with the plan who came up through the ranks and later became the first black program manager at a major radio station. He was one of the biggest deejays in New York and theneven more so in D.C. He was very conservative and religious, and in many ways felt that Petey was not a respectable person to be representing black people on the radio. But ultimately, Sunny Jim became one of Peteys ardent fans and supporters, and a close friend.

The entire crew of “Talk to Me” concentrated on capturing an era though not always one that was documented in the history books. Lemmons says, A lot of the story takes place in parts of Washington that are not monument-heavy, so we chose locations that had a community feel.

Cinematographer Stphane Fontaine and I wanted a lush look for the 70s sequences. In general, though, we all watched a great deal of documentary footage and tried to rise to the challenge of matching it.

Production designer Warren Alan Young felt the full weight of the past in his efforts to recreate Washington where he resides part-time from the late 1960s through to the early 1980s. He offers, The idea was to recreate what existed as best as we possibly could, so that Kasi could tell this story. A lot of time and energy went into researching exactly what things looked like building faades, the front of the newspapers, the label on a 7-Up can. Our graphic artists had to make a lot of signage, because things we found are 30-40 years old and we needed things to look fresh in the scenes in the movie. We hope audience members who were will look at the film and say, Yes, that was it.

Washington is one of the most heavily documented cities on the planet, particularly during the 60s and 70s. Yet there are very few images from there or anywhere in the Unites States of black people outside of protests and crime, and in day-to-day life. I did find one man, on the Internet, who was uploading his family snapshots dating back to the 1950s, so that was helpful.