Russ Parr. The name alone may not mean anything to you, YET. I guarantee that after seeing his movie, The Undershepherd, you won't be able to forget it. I wouldn't call this movie entertaining, but it has many elements of it that will keep you entertained. The words I would use to describe this film are dramatic, controversial, truthful, daring, and definitely a conversation piece. The folks at ABFF (American Black Film Festival) were all abuzz about this bold film.
Russ Parr is a Southern gentleman with Northern swagger. When he speaks, you can hear the passion in his voice. A lover of film from the start, he is not afraid to give you his opinion. Parr is a self-made man, committed to telling his story, and encouraging us to tell our story. Prior to seeing the movie, The Undershepherd, when he described to me the plot of the movie, I was a bit hesitant and taken aback for a moment. It is considered taboo in any community to touch upon spiritual leaders, faith, and religious beliefs. And it's even worse to air out dirty laundry in public. Naturally my first question to Parr was, "Don't you think you will get heat for presenting the church in such a bad light?" He replied, "Yes, I did get push back. I expected it. I was warned." "I made adjustments to the script after some friends screened it at my home. The ministers were upset, but their wives were applauding it," he adds. "There were some elements I had to make adjustments to, for entertainment's sake, but I wanted to tell the truth. The truth that I know to be so." Parr does not do this alone, his partner in life, his wife Darnell, is by his side in this noble endeavor.
Parr makes no apologies for telling this story. Though the subject matter is "difficult to digest", many of these stories are based on true experiences. The storyline is obviously very important to him. He is very humble. His voice almost cracks, and he is at a loss for words as he describes the reasons why he felt the need to make this movie. It was not to hurt, but to bring awareness to a topic that is close to him. Parr has witnessed the pain of those close to him -- women, family and friends broken because of their misplaced "faith".
Parr's all-star cast, featuring the indomitable Isaiah Washington, is unbelievably believable. You may think you have seen the best of Isaiah Washington, but you haven't. The man is pure genius. The last big thing I recall about Washington was the unfortunate incident with his co-star from Grey's Anatomy, T.R. Knight, regarding a homophobic slur. I will refrain from commenting further on this, because I have not yet interviewed Mr. Washington. However, I do want to point out a couple of things. Please think back to Washington's role in Spike Lee's movie Get On The Bus. What was the character that he played? I'm just asking. And Charlie Sheen gets a ninth and tenth chance. I'm just saying.
To the subject at hand, The Undershepherd is brilliantly written. The characters are extraordinary. You have not seen beauty until you have laid eyes on Vanessa Bell Calloway. Although her beauty is downplayed in her role in The Undershepherd, you can definitely see how striking this woman is. Calloway really holds her ground against the larger-than-life Washington. The fabulous Malinda Williams is so relatable in this role. You feel her pain. You want to look in the mirror to see if there is a piece of you that is equally as weak. And you pray that you are not. Lamman Rucker, the nice guy, the loving husband, is again the hero in this movie. (I am proud to say that I had the honor of meeting him when he was Eye Candy for Essence Magazine.) Robinne Lee, the beautiful, loving, supportive wife stands by her man, as he finds himself and place in the church. And if that wasn't enough, we get a bit of Louis Gossett Jr., who always delivers a tremendous performance. Legends such as Bill Cobb, Clifton Powell, John Wesley, Chasity Dotson are no small fixtures in this film. Bravo to the Casting Director: Monesha Brewer. Bravo!
Once you get over the shock and the "How dare you do a movie that shows all the good, bad, ugly of religion, faith, fall from grace?!," you really start calling "God". You will be on the edge of your seat, and you will cry. You will talk. You will ask questions. You will experience every emotion. But, you will see truth, whether you want to admit it or not; no matter what your denomination may be. Question not God, but the humans that stand before Him.
Russ Parr a storyteller, visionaire or is he the messenger some will fear the most? Judge for yourself, go see The Undershepherd.