The Root) — Gabourey Sidibe, who scored an Oscar nomination for her starring role in Precious two years ago, was happy to take on another role portraying a troubled teen in Yelling to the Sky. But she had one big problem with writer and first-time feature-film director Victoria Mahoney’s script.
She wasn’t really keen on the scene that had the film’s star, Zoë Kravitz, kicking her butt.
“I was like, you guys gotta change this,” Sidibe told The Root during a break from shooting White Bird in a Blizzard, a Gregg Araki film also starring Angela Bassett and Christopher Meloni. “And they were like, ‘Gabby, it’s all pretend.’ And I was like, ‘Still, you need to change this.’ And then they calmed me down. We shot the scene, but I was angry, so I gave her one in the eye in the parking lot!”
Sidibe, of course, is joking, but the film’s subject matter is no laughing matter. Yelling — which opened Dec. 14 in New York for one week and is available on demand via cable and digital outlets including YouTube, iTunes and Amazon — stars Jason Clarke as the abusive patriarch of a dysfunctional mixed-race family. He beats his African-American wife (Yolanda Ross), who eventually runs off and leaves her kids, and consistently berates his two daughters: Sweetness (Kravitz), who has taken up residence on Wrong-Turn Boulevard, and her older sister, Ola (Antonique Smith), a teen mother.
The film opens with Sweetness and a friend being bullied by a gang of kids that includes Sidibe’s character, Latonya. Sidibe, who made this film right after Precious, doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but she’s on long enough for us to notice that Latonya isn’t exactly how she appears.
“Latonya is the biggest and the loudest and the fanciest and the funniest and all these things,” Sidibe said. “She’s the cool [kid] in the school, but she is vulnerable. She is broken inside. I don’t know any teenagers that have it all together. She’s aggressive because she’s actually really sensitive.”
Conversely, Sweetness is just a girl who gets caught up because of her issues at home and problems fitting in at school. Sidibe can identify with that, too.
“I was an awkward teen, and now I’m an awkward adult playing awkward teens,” she said with a chuckle. “I’ve just been awkward my entire life. I was, like, really cute from, like, age 3 months to, like, 11 months. Since then it’s been full-on awkwardness!”
One of the coolest things about working on Yelling, however, was getting to know the Kravitzes. Sidibe had worked with Zoë’s father, rocker-actor Lenny, on Precious. She described her co-star as “fun and cool” and said that her pop did stop by the set one day to check on his baby girl.
“I thought it was very sweet in a family way — that Zoë’s dad came to check her out,” she said. “It wasn’t like, ‘I’m a rock star!’ He came to see his baby in her first starring role in a movie. It was sweet.”
Yelling and Precious are similar in that they both focus on the complexities of being a troubled teen in the African-American community. Sidibe, however, thinks that there would be no reason to compare the films if there were more like them.