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The ‘Under Shepherd’: A controversial look at the ‘Black Church’

The latest foray into movie making by nationally syndicated morning DJ Russ Parr is astounding. He wrote and directed his fifth movie entitled, ‘The Under Shepherd.’

by Tene’ Croom
NNPA News Service

The latest foray into movie making by nationally syndicated morning DJ Russ Parr is astounding. He wrote and directed his fifth movie entitled, ‘The Under Shepherd.’ It’s sure to have people, particularly those deep in the Black church, saying a lot more than amen. For example, this one scene from the movie illustrates what I mean.

“You’re a fraud and an insult to this church (First Baptist Church) and God,” Deaconess Carter, with controlled anger, deftly portrayed by Vanessa Bell Calloway, said to the Rev. Lawrence “LC” Case. He’s played by Isaiah Washington, whose character was a doctor in the ABC network drama, “Grey’s Anatomy.”  Looking at her straight in the eye, with an air of self-righteousness, Rev. Case replied, “I am God.”

 Isaiah Washington

It seems Parr was destined to write this story. His mother took him to church as a young child. However, it was not a good experience, he said.

“I was really invested into the church and the church I was going to. Then I started seeing things that didn’t make sense. My mom, who was a very religious woman, pulled me out of the church. She thought I was losing myself.”

Politics also had something to do with why he felt the need to make this movie.

“It was the 2004 election and I had a Republican friend of mine say, ‘Hey, I’ll tell you a little secret when the election is over. We’re going into a lot of swing states and buying off the black ministers and giving them talking points.’”

Parr said he did research and found something out six months after George Bush won the presidential election.

“I saw evidence of what he said. A lot of these pastors would donate money to their church. A lot of these pastors would put it in their pockets.” Then he started to see a lot of the pastors were under federal indictment.

Parr was quick to point out the pastors were not all black. There were white pastors involved in corruption too. He concluded that, “There’s a story here.”

Still, he says he held back when he wrote the script.

“I didn’t want to go too far with it. I didn’t want to get into the Bishop Eddie Long stuff. (Long was accused of sexually abusing several teenaged male members of his church.) I wanted just enough on this man’s plate that it was real and honest and very believable.”

For Washington, portraying the Rev. Case wasn’t easy, especially when he was extremely verbally abusive to his wife, Cassandra, played by Malinda Williams. After one intense scene, Washington said he had to take a break from filming.

 Malinda Williams

“I stormed out after every take. I think I maybe did two takes. I almost walked back to my trailer. I think the wardrobe person asked me where was I going. I said I hate Russ Parr. (laughing) I told them I’m not being difficult. But, if you don’t get it in this take, I’m not doing this again.”

Williams, perhaps best known as the hair stylist Tracy “Bird” Van Adams in the Showtime acclaimed drama series, “Soul Food,” heaped much praise on her co-star husband.

“Isaiah was so incredibly powerful in this role, as he is in all of his roles. For me it really was somewhat of a dream come true when Russ told me that Isaiah would be playing LC. Because once he said that I said, ‘of course, there is no one else who can do that,’” said Williams.

“I don’t think there’s anyone else who could have brought the emotion (out) from that type of pain that was to be in the film….And I tell you every time I went back to my trailer, I had to say to myself quietly, ‘I forgive you Isaiah.’”

Williams said she wanted to show the face of abuse for personal reasons.

“I’ve lived it. I’ve had friends who have lived it. I’ve had family members who have lived it, various levels of abuse,” she said.

However, “The Under Shepherd” is not a single-issue movie about a pastor abusing his wife. Here’s Williams’ description of it:

“The character is representative of many ills that we have to address, particularly in our community when it comes to power and how one abuses it, misuses it or under uses it or undervalues it,” she said.

“There have been many of our leaders that have been put in situations of power and for some reason it’s been corrupted. Probably, historically for very simple reasons, maybe it’s just different philosophy, ideology, maybe money. I think what Russ was able to do or trying to do is create a character that would put a face on how one has to be accountable for every action that they do.”

The film also features Lou Gossett Jr., Lamman Rucker and Keith David.

Net proceeds from “The Under Shepherd” will go to The Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

(Special to the NNPA from Tene’ Croom Communications.)



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