Entering a room where six young reporters anxiously fidget, there is little wonder why Kevin Rodney Sullivan, director of Guess Who sat down at a college roundtable at the Four Seasons Hotel in Center City this month with a confident smile and a relaxed attitude.
Sullivan has 17 films under his belt, including How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) and Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004), so this was familiar territory.
The interview began with the obvious, why direct the 2005 rendition of the 1967 flick Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Sullivan observed that although in the last four decades race relations in America have improved, the issue of interracial dating is a pertinent social dynamic in 2005. Sullivan made clear that he was less interested in the larger social dynamic than he was in the family. The family dynamic was his inspiration.
His film is different from the original.
“There is the obvious twist,” he said with a smirk. Sullivan asserts that like other films, he chose this project based on what is underneath the surface. The original film focused more on the racial aspect. “I expanded the language in the end, it’s about love, commitment, family and is much more comedic than the original,” said Sullivan.
What he called the big thrust of the film and a common theme is the quest to find love. He posed the question, “once you do, can you keep it?” Another theme that he said is personal to him is the nature of making a commitment. “First, the 25-year marriage, how do you remember what love was? Second, for the youth, making a commitment is daunting.”
The film also had significance in his life. “It’s got to be personal,” Sullivan said, referring to what he coined the “fire in his belly,” to continue on a film day to day. Discussing interracial dynamics in his own life he said, “I know what that world is like.”
When asked how he felt about his film being labeled a “black film,” he commented, “It’s frustrating when they want to niche your movie in a small box.” He noted that change comes painfully, “especially in Hollywood.”
Sullivan also said he feels that Hollywood often underestimates black film and the power of the African-American consumer market, referring to how critics were shocked that Diary of a Mad Black Woman debuted at number one. Where would Sullivan like to see black film go?
“I’d like to see movies of different genres that take place in the African-American world,” he said. He remarked that there is not exclusive domain of white Americans and black cinema tends to follow trends. “There are lots of genres we do not touch. …
“Black folks can get scared too,” he said chuckling. He asked, “Why can’t someone make a horror film that takes place in the black world?”
Maybe Sullivan is just the director to do it.
Denae M. Patterson can be reached at email@example.com.