What happens when you lose the person you care about the most? How do you deal with that grief? How does it express itself? How does it change you, and how does it keep you the same? How do the bonds of sisterhood hold us together?
These are the questions the film Charlie answers and more.
We catch up with the title character just after she has lost her beloved sister, Brandy. She is treading water and drowning at the same time as she works to process her loss and stay afloat.
Everyone around her notices the changes she is going through, and as much as her friends want to help her and keep her on the right track, they understand that they have to just be there for her and let her go through it.
“When you love yourself, you love me, too, because the best of me is inside of you.” These words from Charlie’s nana, Liza, are the mantra that pushes the movie forward and keeps the fabric of Charlie’s relationships with her friends Kayla and Keturah (aka Pandakitty) woven together.
Every woman in this film has a relatable quality that we will recognize in the women we know and even ourselves. From the straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is attitude of Kayla to the sexually liberated, unapologetic personality of Keturah, there is something there for all of us.
Co-writer, producer and director Bobby Huntley II told The Root that when he conceived of this film, he wanted to show black women going through something that is real life without being heavy with trauma and drama, and without beating the audience over the head.
“Why don’t we deal with something everyone deals with—the death and grieving process—and treat it in a way that people are able to walk away from it still feeling good in the end?” Huntley said.
Co-writer and producer Nikki Wade agreed. “We don’t see a lot of movies that celebrate the camaraderie of black women,” she said.
Wade and Huntley came together after having previously worked together on a fan-made trailer that went viral two years before the New Edition movie on BET. Huntley approached Wade when he decided he wanted to make a movie that celebrated black women. They brainstormed about what they wanted to put together, drawing inspiration from stories Wade had already told, as well as what both of them wanted to see from black and millennial women.
The film was beautifully shot by cinematographer Lakisha Hughes, a black woman. The main cast consists of black women. Huntley felt it was important to have black women both in front of and behind the camera.
“It’s just about representation. You want to make sure everyone is represented, especially if you are telling a story about a particular group of people, [to] make sure the people who are telling the story are heavily involved and invested from top to bottom,” he said.
Wade added, “Sometimes filmmakers will try and do everything and won’t stay in their own lane, and Bobby is really good about consulting. He’s not a woman, so he did a good job of making sure he got the opinions and outlook from women and women’s perspectives. It’s very easy for someone to try and write from our perspective and make it sound good, but he didn’t want to do that.”
That vision is reflected in the casting as well.
Kortnee Price, Nikki Lashae, Ashley S. Evans and Lailaa Brookings portray Charlie, Keturah, Brandy and Kayla respectively. Each of them brought something of herself to the character she played.
Price told The Root, “It was really interesting and almost eerie how much I related to her.”
Price lost her father a few years ago and was able to connect to the loss aspect of Charlie’s character. She coped with her father’s death in an unorthodox way that made her family worry—much like Charlie’s friends worried about her.
“Every situation you see Charlie go through, you will see her always looking for a distraction. In her intellectual life, in her art—she’s still the type of person who does have to find that distraction,” Price said. “It’s hard for her to completely and 100 percent acknowledge her truth.”
Price said that all of Charlie’s qualities represented her. “She was made for me,” she said.
Lashae wasn’t immediately sure she was the right one to play Keturah. She told The Root, “I said, ‘I don’t know if I can pull this off.’”
For her, playing the role was a moment of discovery. Playing Keturah highlighted parts of herself that were already there.
“How people see you on the outside is different than how you see yourselves,” Lashae said.
In playing Keturah, she found full liberation. She was fully unapologetic. She found herself being totally comfortable as a woman. She found the character to be pro-woman.
“I can be who I want to be. Actually existing and living fully and in myself, unapologetically, without any fear of judgment,” she said.
Brookings said that she is not like the outspoken Kayla, but in her she found characteristics to relate to just the same.
“When I see a friend that’s in trouble or headed for trouble, I’m going to speak up. More women need friends like that,” Brookings said. “There are so many women who will sit back and watch you fall and won’t say anything about it. They may even condone it. We need more women that put sisterhood first.”
The characters bring to the story a fullness and an understanding of the importance of sisterhood.
“This is definitely a movie about self-discovery and self-appreciation, but also when we as black women look at each other, we see a reflection of ourselves,” Wade said. “There’s no confusion; when I look at you, I see myself—we are a reflection of each other.”
This movie expresses that effortlessly.
According to Huntley, the film didn’t have a budget—its makers simply had a goal. They sacrificed a lot to get the film made.
Lashae said that working on the project showed her the power and the magic of working together, and the fruit that can be yielded when people come together in the spirit of greatness.
“People were pulling together and fighting through everything to make this happen,” she said. “People say black people can’t work together, but we can. The black women didn’t fight at all on set; we loved each other. We had each other’s back.”
And that is the lesson from both inside and outside the movie.
Denton, Texas: dentonbff.com/
Los Angeles: indienightfilmfestival.com/event/6-4/
Los Angeles: paff.org/
Hampton, Va., at Hampton University