Miami Dade College Entrepreneurship Professor Yanatha Desouvre believes that when it comes to African-American cinema in general, and Haitian-American films in particular, there is something missing.
“People are hungry for authentic stories about colored people, black people specifically in Miami, and authentic Haitian stories that have never been told before or have been told in any other way,” Desouvre says.
His answer to that: the short film The cutest girl, which explores a forbidden love affair, a crumbling marriage and the dynamics that come into play from both. It deliberately stays away from tropics that are often reserved for colored people, he says, presenting the dynamics of an everyday family that is often taken for granted in mainstream movies.
The cutest girl was screened at the South Florida International Film Festival 2021, where it won “Best Picture” in the black and African category. Among the awards in the festival circuit, it also won “Best Original Story” at the New York International Film Awards and “Best Short Film” at the New Jersey Film Awards. Next, Desouvre is working on yet another screening in Miami during Haitian Heritage Month in May.
“You get a chance to see a Haitian family,” says the film’s producer and co-screenwriter. “You’re going to see a man who happens to be a father, who’s a professional cop, and who’s not corrupt. You’re going to see a wife who’s a mother, who’s a professional journalist, who not only wants to find out about the truth about her marriage, but also the truth about politics in Haiti.
“You’re going to see this complex family, a Haitian family that I thought I would never see on television or anywhere in movies.”
Genji Jacques, known as “Haitian Denzel Washington”, plays her husband and father Lucias Goodman. He says he drew inspiration from his favorite actor to help him play a role that gives the following points: “Loyalty, honesty and being able to be upfront and accommodating with the issues you are dealing with in your marriage …
“I think the message is exciting and it’s necessary … Not only that, but there are a lot of symbolic messages in this film that people can choose from.”
In addition to addressing heart issues, “The Sweetest Girl” addresses systemic issues in Desouvre’s home country of Haiti. The existence of restaveks (children sold to a modern slavery system) and the spread of gun violence resounds throughout the film in 23 minutes.
“I am very proud to be a part of something like this that raises awareness of an issue that Haiti is struggling with to this day,” said Ayomi Russell, who plays the role of a restavek.
Russell is African American, not of Haitian descent, and says she learned a lot during the filmmaking process.
“I did not know much about it before I participated in this project, but when I first got to it, I was a little bit more educated about something I was unaware of,” she says.
Her role is also used to highlight other ongoing issues.
“We were dealing with colorism, sexism, all kinds of ‘isms’ in this story,” says Desouvre, pointing to prevailing perceptions of prosperity or education based on the lightness of one’s skin. “Colorism is something we do in the black society all the time.”
Russell can certainly relate. Once mocked for her ebony shade, she is now comfortable in her own skin.
“I grew up as a victim of bullying because of my skin color,” she says. “It took a very long time to get to where I am, to get to the confidence I have today. I started to get a little more comfortable because the whole movement happened where black women cut their permanent off and grew their afro out. “and accept the way they look in their natural beauty and break out of European beauty standards. That’s where I really started to like myself for who I am and appreciate it.”
Russell hopes others will be inspired by her presence in the film.
“One of my main goals in pursuing this career in acting is to create representation for little girls … and any woman who looks like me. I just want to change the way Hollywood thinks and how Hollywood plays,” she says. .
Desouvre agrees that representation on screen, and even behind the scenes, matters.
He points out that many of his crew, which includes a large Miami-based crew, are of African-American or Haitian descent. This includes award-winning composer Janice Muller, actress Reanna Ameline and costume designer Prisca Milliance, who is a fashion instructor at Miami Dade College.
Together with co-screenwriter Harry Jeudy and director Samuel Ladouceur, Desouvre has another film on the way, entitled Flat bush and takes place in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, in the 1990s. The full-length film – which is expected to begin filming this summer – will serve as an additional opportunity to discuss topics such as xenophobia and the effects of crime.
“I was born in Haiti but grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and as a kid, I experienced xenophobia like, ‘Haitis, Haitians, go back to your nation,'” Desouvre says.
“Representation is so important for mental health because you get to see yourself, especially being black and brown, in a non-stereotypical role and in a positive role. So it’s really for the next generation to inspire them to see the light and the value inside. itself, “he adds. “I think [the films] will also challenge other directors and producers to say, ‘Hey, you know what? We need to start bringing some positive messages and some symbols into our film. So we want to reflect not only our people, but Haiti as a whole in a positive light. “
And to those who have already seen The cutest girlDesouvre has a message: He plans to tackle the film’s final cliffhanger with a prequel currently in production.
“We do not know if it will be a series or a movie,” he says. “But yes, there will be part two. I’m on the 25th page.”
– Sergy Odiduro, ArtburstMiami.com
For more information on The Sweetest Girl, visit yanatha.com.