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In his new film, Nate Parker stars as a regular guy who falls for a singing superstar played by Belle star Gugu Mbatu-Raw. It’s the first film for director Gina Prince Bythewood since her classic Love and Basketball. So expecations are high but so is the anticipation given the array of talent involved. Parker says that the love story seems as though it could be something ripped from the headlines.

“It deals with so many issues that a lot of our celebrities are dealing with whether it be the sexualization of women or the identity crisis so many of us go through ,” Parker says. “I didn’t think of a particular person in reading the script. The film is dealing with mental illness and suicide. I really thought about myself. I thought about when you’re in college and trying to find your way or whatever profession you go into and you think about who am I and what’s my purpose and who do I owe? Both [characters] are living lives that someone else organized for them and they saw that in each other and started to want to live for themselves.”

Aside from his work in Beyond the Lights, Parker is a filmmaker as well. Check out his short film on how violence has impacted Black men in America. It’s called AmeriCAN and was written James Lopez and directed by Parker. Parker went to Ferguson and was inspired by what he saw with the protests down there that are still ongoing. He says that he learned a lot about filmmaking while doing The Great Debaters, directed by Denzel Washington.

“I received a lot of advice from him,” says Parker. “When he speaks you listen and you write it down and you meditate on it and you try to apply it to your life. When I wasn’t working, I just stood behind his chair and watched him,” Parker says

Here are both filmmakers on AmeriCAN:

“As I sat in my home and watched the Ferguson protests I felt we had to do something.  We had to make a statement so I called Nate and pitched him my idea. Nate just happened to be getting ready to travel to Ferguson to join the protests.  When he landed in Ferguson he called and told me that he had written the script.  Three weeks later we were shooting it.  With little to no resources we were determined to make this happen. We simply want those on either side of the divide to empathize.” – Producer James Lopez/@IAmJamesFLopez

“The only thing worse than the ever-growing epidemic of murdered black youth in America, is the lack of empathy expressed by many of our country’s citizens. In developing this project, our goal was to create a piece of media that would offer a relatable perspective to all who watched it. It is my hope this film promotes sustainable discourse and serves as a conduit for empathy, healing and change. – Director Nate Parker/@NateParker

Additonal reporting by 

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