Native Son Returns to Gun Hill Road
By Osaliki Sepúlveda
Bronx native director and writer Ernesto Rashaad Green uses the experience of a relative’s transgender transformation in his movie titled “Gun Hill Road.” Green recently spoke with The Bronx Journal at the Bronx Documentary Center. Last month, he screened the movie in front of a multitude of people mostly from the Bronx. Afterwards, he received an outstanding ovation. He took some questions from an intrigued audience after the screening.
“Educate yourself as much as possible,” Green said. He received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a Master of Fine Arts from New York University’s graduate acting program. He also graduated from New York University’s graduate film school.
“Pick up a book if you can’t afford a degree and study,” he said. Green advised all aspiring filmmakers to read how great filmmakers did it, such as Robert Rodriguez who has produced movies such as “Sin City,” “Spy Kids,” and his groundbreaking film “Mariachi.” Green said he was influenced by Spike Lee who created his legendary career with his iconic first movie “Do The Right Thing.”
Green attributed his ability to do Gun Hill Road to a good education and to his family, which was his inspiration for the story. As he explained, he had someone in his family that went through the struggles reflected in this film — a male that went through the transgender process, causing conflicts and controversy. He wanted to make a piece of art that spoke to “how we can begin to explore the healing process for our families.”
In the film, he depicts a true story about a father trying to love his child but lacking the necessary tools to be able to cope with his son’s transition into a woman. Green said he wanted to make a point that drives parents, particularly fathers, in the right direction. “In my mind it’s love. When you put family and love first, the rest can be figured out later,” the director said.
Green said he believes filmmaking is a difficult thing, no matter who you are in society. He said he feels very blessed for the opportunity to do Gun Hill Road and for being able to tell stories that are close to his heart.
Since he wrote the first draft of ”Gun Hill Road,” Green always had in mind a strong yet vulnerable actor who could play the character Enrique, Michael’s father. When it came time to cast the main roles, his first pick was Esai Morales. They had established a relationship through a foundation Morales co-founded, along with Puerto Rican actor Jimmy Smits called The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. The foundation awards students pursuing a career in these fields.
“I sent him (Morales) the script and he actually remembered me from the previous few times we spoke,” Green said.
Actress Judy Reyes was coming off from her TV show “Scrubs” where she had great success. “Since her resume wasn’t necessarily as extensive in film, we thought we could offer her this role. We went after her and she also said yes,” Green said.
“Casting Harmony (who used to be Michael) was a bit harder,” according to the director. Green went to several gay bars, clubs and many educational centers in New York City searching for the right actor. He needed someone who was not out there yet, someone just starting to come out, who frequented gay clubs and had just started identifying himself with the gay community. He was introduced to Harmony, a young boy who had just started his transition. Green asked him to try the part and it fit perfectly. In fact, they chose to keep Harmony’s real name in the movie.
“We saw Harmony transform while shooting the movie,” said Green. “Sometimes he came dressed as a woman, sometimes as a boy. It was confusing at first for everybody on the set.”
Directing Puerto Rican actor Morales and Dominican actress Reyes was an honor for Green. Professionalism and dedication between the two made the shooting of “Gun Hill Road” easier, said Green. The Caribbean duo was the essence of the movie. Reyes plays Angela, Harmony’s mother.
In fact, Green chose to cast Reyes’ role as Dominican and Morales’ role as Puerto Rican – their backgrounds in real life.
In Hollywood, Green, who is Black and Puerto Rican, said it might be more difficult for people to present content that has to do with people of color because Hollywood is very much segregated based on demographics.
“Anybody who is attempting to do this, anyone of color or anyone at all should never worry about what it is that the industry or Hollywood wants,” Green said. “Always write and tell stories that are from your heart.”
Green is currently writing a concept for a television show with his mother. He told The Bronx Journal the concept was called “Showtime” and it was about two young boys who are schoolmates and like to dance in the subway. One of them likes a girl in school, a situation that creates a rift in their friendship. Green’s latest project is scheduled to air in December of this year by the Black Entertainment Television Network.