Tony-winning actress to debut horror film at Hamilton festival
Tonya Pinkins knew she wanted to make a movie, and she knew she wanted it to address the terrors presented by our modern political climate. She knew she wanted it to be a horror movie, and she knew it should be a horror movie that centred the experiences of Black people in the United States.
But Pinkins quickly learned that many production companies weren’t willing to take a chance on a political horror film directed, written and produced by a Black woman. So Pinkins, a Tony-award winning actress with an impressive list of credits (including “All My Children,” “Fear the Walking Dead,” and the title role in the original Broadway production of “Caroline, Or Change”) decided to do it herself.
And, she’s reaping the rewards for it. “Red Pill,” her first feature film as a writer/director, just won Outstanding Direction of a Feature at the 2021 Micheaux Film Festival in Los Angeles and that was just one of 15 awards at 10 film festivals “Red Pill” has received.
The film will be screened at the Hamilton Black Film Festival in May.
“Red Pill,” is a gory horror film written, casted, directed, produced and edited by Pinkins, who also plays the lead role. “Red Pill” follows a group of Democratic Party canvassers who have travelled to America’s Deep South on the eve of the 2020 United States election (the movie was written and produced in 2019). Strange, eerie things begin to happen in the group’s Airbnb, and the people of colour in the group begin to go missing. The mystery and horror unfold from there as the gang soon realizes that they have found themselves in the middle of a dark conspiracy fuelled by far-right-wing ideology and white supremacy.
Pinkins, 58, also did the production design and provided food on set. In an interview with The Spectator, Pinkins said the idea for the movie came from her ability to intuit future events; specifically, her sense of foresight about how the 2020 United States election would play out.
“Before the 2016 election, I was just very clear on how that was going to go,” said Pinkins, who said she accurately predicted Donald Trump’s stunning win. “And people treated me with contempt.”
This “clairvoyance,” as Pinkins calls it, and the ensuing rebukes she’s often afforded as a result of her predictions led her to name the protagonist of “Red Pill” Cassandra, after the mythological Greek woman who is blessed with the power to see the future but cursed with the burden of never being believed by others.
Pinkins plays the role of Cassandra in the film, and is joined by a cast that includes Catherine Curtin (“Stranger Things,” “Insecure”), Kathryn Erbe (“Law and Order: Criminal Intent”), and Ruben Blades (“Fear the Walking Dead.”)
Inspired by filmmakers Ava Duvernay (who directed “Selma” and “13th”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out,” “Us”), Pinkins hoped to create a film that discussed Black history and touched on the ongoing violence wrought by white supremacy in America and, like the films of Duvernay and Peele, she wanted her film to be a creation unique to her.
“It’s incredibly empowering to get to express something that is so fully my vision,” said Pinkins. “And now I’m in that space that all Black female filmmakers before me have faced, which is trying to get it into the world.”
Getting the film into festivals like the Hamilton Black Film Festival will be key to that goal. As The Spectator has previously reported, the festival was created local Black filmmakers in an effort to platform and display films made by Black people that may not be platformed elsewhere. Pinkins found the festival online, applied to have “Red Pill” join the roster, and was accepted. She said the film has gotten into 17 festivals so far, which she said is “about six per cent” of what she has applied for in total.
“Horror has always been a place where we can talk about the taboo thing that the world doesn’t want to deal with,” she said. “There’s a little distancing in a horror movie where the violence is not so real. But the world that I live in is really violent.”
The Hamilton Black Film Festival’s inaugural series runs from May 28-30 at The Westdale theatre, 1014 King St. W. Vist hbff.ca for more information.
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Tonya Pinkins in the director’s chair for this face-off between political opponents in which rhetoric is the least of the weapons
Over twenty festival awards
Five Best Feature Film Awards
Two Best director Awards