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Interview: Tina Gordon Chism and Stephanie Allain Talk 'Peeples,' New Projects, and Changing the Black Image on Screen

Shadow and Act By Jai Tiggett | Shadow and Act May 10, 2013 at 11:43AM

It was an effortless conversation, as you might expect. The two witty creatives who have a string of noted films to their credit (Drumline, ATL, Hustle & Flow, Something New, Hurricane Season, and others) could always be counted on to steer the conversation where it needed to go, and had lots to share about their experience making this film, and what they'll be tackling next.
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Jai: Did you have a personal connection to the story?

Tina: Yes, the movie is really about a family accepting each other for their flaws, their secrets, their challenges. In my family, we have Saturday breakfast wrap-up and we talk about literally everything. It makes some of my friends cringe because it's like you're on a therapist couch. So at the time I had this boyfriend that had a perfect, beautiful family on the outside, but once I got to know them I realized there were all these family secrets.

I'm very much like Wade Walker in the movie, who just talks about whatever's going on. If it's between you and me we’re going to hash it out and anybody in the family can hear about it. We profess our love, our dislike, whatever. So I'm Wade Walker for sure. I come into this family where nobody talks about what's really, really going on. And as I was doing an autopsy on my relationship I realized that was funny to me, that a family can exist that's like blindingly gorgeous, super successful, but they’re a family in denial.

Jai: What else can we expect from the film? Highlights?

Tina: With this movie, the jokes are there, but you also just get a very literate family. They celebrate something called Moby Dick Day. And you buy into the fact that this is a well-read family where the father is super passionate about Herman Melville and they really passionately engage in a celebration of this American holiday.

Stephanie: This is why I love Tina's writing. Because she does all this research, she finds out that the town that we've set the thing in, Sag Harbor, was featured in Moby Dick. It's another fresh idea. Oftentimes our movies are set around Christmas, or this holiday or that. This is a new holiday - Moby Dick Day. And it's so funny!

Tina: One man fighting for his place with another man's daughter. And they have a square-off moment in a celebration called Moby Dick Day.

Stephanie: There’s also the music. That’s another difference between our film and a lot of others.

Tina: What happened was, I was obsessed with Diana Ross, and obsessed with what it would be like to be Diana Ross' child. I thought it would be interesting if [Grace’s] mom was like a former Supreme or like Donna Summer. So I came up with the character Daphne Peeples. But then I realized that all this music had to be in the movie. There had to be a classic hit that sounded real, that people would like now.

And then I saw Craig do this YouTube video called Let's Get Sexy. He's playing the piano and he's so funny. So then I was like, maybe Craig's character should have something to do with music. Now there's two characters that sing and dance. Then also, in my family and I'm sure in a lot of African-American families, every teenager wants to be a rapper. They have an aptitude for science or math or whatever, but what do they want to do? Rap. Drove me crazy. And I got so tired of meeting this character in my own family - the kid that has so many smarts but wants to be a rapper – that there was the third character, Simon Peeples, who's a robotics expert but raps in his bedroom.

Stephanie: So then we realize we have to prerecord these songs for the movie before we start shooting. And I happen to be married to an amazing guy who is an amazing songwriter [Stephen Bray].

Tina: So when I would come over to talk about the story and characters, Stephen would chime in – “You should listen to this song,” or “It will probably sound like that,” or "Maybe with Tyler Williams it would be rap but with a little rock influence because he's a little more street punk."

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