Directed By: Andrew P. Jones
Starring: Lynn Whitfield, Glynn Turman, Linara Washington, Reginald T. Dorsey, Bruce McGill, Tyson Beckford
Studio: Picture Palace Films
As art imitates life, the fledgling U. S. economy reminds me of a great independent film I saw at the Arizona Black Film Showcase called Kings of the Evening. Part fictional drama, part historical reenactment, Kings of the Evening explores hard economic times, and how one community, survived and struggled through an era with no money, a few shreds of hope and a Sunday evening ritual.
In this small impoverished town, Sunday nights were special because African American men would dress up in the most fantastic outfits they could find and then compete in a contest to be named King of the Evening. By showing off how grand they looked to one judge, a town elder, who seemed to have little to no fashion sense himself. It was a mini-beauty pageant for men, but the focus was on how they preened and displayed their clothes. Townsfolk gathered to watch the show, it was a time, once a week, where minds and spirits could focus on something other than poverty. The ritual brought joy and hope to a depressed population, and the winner received gifts that were truly valuable during this epoch of struggle; a live chicken, five dollars, a giant can of peaches. It is sad and encouraging that in the midst of really tough times people prove themselves amazingly, creatively resilient in spite of all that is going poorly around them.
The pageant was only one night, the rest of the film explores the struggles of the town folk, the predators among them, and the treachery that hard times brings about. There is plenty of action and reaction in Kings of the Evening.
An all star cast surfaced for this film, Lynn Whitfield starred as Gracie, the house mother to a motley crew of folks who had fallen on hard luck because of the economy in the 1900’S Great Depression Era. Notable performances abound from Glynn Turman as Clarence Brown, Bruce McGill as Wilfred Cheedle, a miserly, cruel and heartless factory owner and Reginald T. Dorsey made “bad look good” as Benny the finest, coolest, smoothest con man aka “survivor” to grace the screen. But the star that shone the brightest is the extremely talented Linara Washington as Lucy Waters. Waters was a boarder in Gracie’s house who was desired by the men, but had a mysterious past that caught up to her. I have seen Washington in a host of television guest appearances and most recently as a supporting cast member in the Ernie Davis story, The Express. But “Kings” provided avenue which enables Williams to showcase her full range of talent.
Washington reminds us that there are so many truly talented actors and actresses who aren’t household names and really need to be. Half Brazilian, half American, the camera loves Washington who is as talented as she is beautiful, while she carries the burdens of her character, Lucy Waters with conviction and grace.
Waters's love interest and housemate, is ex-convict Homer Hobbs (Tyson Beckford), a man who left the chain gang only to be freed into the throes of the great depression. Usually when you see Beckford’s name on a film it is a warning sign to head in the other direction. Beckford is still an actor in need of lots more training, though he is without question, handsome, and rich, but then so is most of Hollywood. It is an assumption that writer director Andrew P. Jones cast Beckford because of his television show “Make Me A Supermodel.“ And who can blame Jones for trying? Always easy on the eyes, Beckford seems to have slightly, improved upon his “barely there” acting abilities. But an all star cast more than compensates for what Beckford could scarcely bring to the acting table.
One of the bittersweet aspects of film festivals, or in this case a film showcase, is that you are exposed to great talent, and sincere, heart-felt film making that will often never see the light of day without a distribution deal of some sort. Such is the case with this movie, either watch for the film at film festivals or ask your local theatres or DVD stores to carry copy of Kings of the Evening.
Not yet rated, I would give "Kings" a rating that is safe for teenagers and above. When you are able to watch Kings of the Evening, prepare for a really entertaining historical treat.