By Jacob Sahms
A year ago, Christian Cinema interviewed budding screenwriter, director, and actor Anthony Hackett about his film Catastasis, a thriller that pushed a pastor pushed to the edge of his faith. Now, the head of SONset Friday Entertainment returns with a completely different kind of film, Love Different, that pushes the audience to consider race, social status, economics, and faith in ways that they never have before. From his home right outside of Baltimore, Hackett shared his thoughts on the different genres, race relations, and what happens when we expect church to love differently.
So, how did the mind that brought us the dark, thrilling story of home imprisonment also generate a comedy intent on making us laugh outloud?
Hackett chuckled, responding, “Comedy is my main thing - it’s what I do often. With Catastasis, that was an area of what I do in regards to being more suspenseful and dramatic, but I wanted to do the opposite of what people expected of me for my next film. I want SONset Friday entertainment to be the rare company that can do any genre of film, so that it doesn’t close any doors to what we’re doing.”
Hackett explained that the initial spark for the story was his experience of church, and being ostracized or marginalized for not fitting others’ expectations. “If you have a different gift or talent, the church doesn’t always accept it,” he said. “The film is about understanding that the church is made up of different kinds of people. Even if a church is all white, all black, or all conservative, there are still a lot of different kinds of people in it. You can’t let individuals in your church deny you an opportunity for a relationship with God.”
The writer/director/star clarified, “When I say different, I’m not talking about people who are living a life that is sinful and they’re okay with it, but when you’re different by how you serve God, or worship God, or praise God, that’s okay. Hopefully, we can get people to understand how different people are in your church and embrace them, rather than pushing them away. Some churches will push those people away and that’s horrible because it takes people from God.”
Expanding the storyline, Hackett found that the parallel everyone could relate to, regardless of their church affiliation, was race. “This is my lifelong experience, so each situation in the film is real to my friends or me,” he admitted. “It was my opportunity to let white people into the black culture, to see a black world from a white person’s perspective. Lindsay, Jenn Gotzon’s character, allowed me to discuss situations I’d experienced of racism or discrimination.”
“How does a black person feel when a white person says something that’s uncomfortable? Comedy is the safeguard of being able to address race especially in a time when it is becoming sensitive again. As of the last year or two, with things like Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Trayvon Martin, these issues are even more important. To address it with a comedy - you’re not going to feel too tense.”
Love Different tackles more than just racial issues, delving into financial situations, marital discord, and parenting crises. Yes, the film is absolutely hysterical at times, but it has a heart invested in helping people face the realities that others’ experience.
“When you’re on welfare, it hits your pride,” Hackett said. “You don’t want other people to know or experience the embarrassment of going to some grocery store when someone disrespects you or disregards what you’re going through. You’re embarrassed to have them yell across the store. So in the film you'll get to see how a person should not (and could better) handle, dealing with someone who may be on government assistance.
While different situations will feel familiar or foreign in the film, Hackett’s writing has a solid feel of the problems pulsing below the surface. So what does he think are some of the solutions to these problems? Well, it’s all in the title.
“When you love different, you have to acknowledge what they need,” Hackett explained. “Lindsay’s son needed a specific kind of love that was more disciplined and more hands on. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him but that he needed someone who could stand up to him and demand respect. People have to be loved differently - not everyone needs the same kind of love, not every child needs tough love. Neque helped Lindsay know how to love his son; in return, Lindsay helped Neque love his wife the way she really needed.”
Hackett had already written the film when he took on the role of Neque, but equally important was the role of his white, female counterpart. Hackett sent out the script to several actresses he thought might fill the role but said that Gotzon’s response sold him on her natural presentation.
“I’ve known Jenn from her films,” he said, “so I reached out to her through a friend and let her know that I had a part I’d like her to check out. She’s the only one who got back to me with so much excitement about the role because, as she was reading it, it sounded so much like her. She genuinely felt a connection. That sold it for me because I knew what I would be getting from her was genuine. She’s a Godly, Godly soul, who brought energy, professionalism, and the spirit of God with her on the set every day.”
In the end, Hackett is aware that comedy can only get people so far, citing the hateful comments he receives on his Youtube posts about proactive service and other benevolent topics.
“Some people don’t get it. You see things on TV and may talk amongst your friends, but to really to experience hate every day because of the color of your skin, you can’t comprehend it unless you’ve experienced it. You hear it so much that you become immune to it, which is sad.”
“When I walk into a store on a rainy day, I am so conscious of making myself look less intimidating simply because I’m black. Other people might walk into a store, pay for milk and leave. I’m thinking about keeping my hands out of my pockets, take my hood off, and stay in the sight lines of people. It’s not just about Baltimore but a life that every black man is living in America. It’s sad that I literally think about those things when I go into the store. I have to be conscious of how I’m talking, and walking.”
“When Neque tells Lindsay that she’ll never understand it from his perspective - so much of my experience came out in that one line.”
Love Different will make you laugh - and maybe even make you angry at some of the injustices that occur. But unless it makes you change, then Hackett’s clever script and Gotzon’s cheerful delivery won’t have made the difference they’re aiming for with the film. In the end, it will only matter if the audience is moved, in worship, in love, and in action, to love God fully and to love people… different.
Stay tuned for more about the film at the film's website.