*Bad Dad Rehab, an original movie written by the American Black Film Festival’s 2015 TV One Screenplay Competition winner Keronda “Kiki” McKnight and directed by Carl Seaton and starring Malik Yoba (NY Undercover), Robert Ri’chard (Chocolate City, One on One, Cousin Skeeter), Rob Riley (Hit the Floor, The Bourne Legacy), Wesley Jonathan (Soul Man, Crossover, City Guys) and Kandi Burruss (The Real Housewives of Atlanta).
The television film explores the lives of four men in denial of their poor parenting skills who attend a rehab for deadbeat dads that employs unusual methods to help them become true fathers and real men. EURweb.com caught up with screenwriter Keronda “Kiki” McKnight to discuss her inspiration for Bad Dad Rehab, her personal trials in being a single mother and addresses the concerns that the movie does not bash black men.
EUR: How did you enter into the field of writing?
Keronda McKnight: I knew I wanted to write from a young age as a child, I just didn’t have television and film on my radar [because] I didn’t think of that being a viable career. I thought that realistically to make a living; I would have to be a journalist. So I went to Syracuse University, and I was accepted in into their New House School of Public Communications which is one of the top three schools in that field, but I got kicked out because my professors kept saying that I took creative license in my writing.
So I knew I wasn’t cut out for hard news journalism. I [ended] up being an English major and that’s when I stumbled on and discovered that television writing was a real career, and so I started looking in that direction. Afterward, I spent five years in New York doing production and assistant gigs working for places like H.B.O on the corporate side. [I had the chance] to interview Gina Prince-Bythewood for Vibe Magazine online for her movie Love and Basketball and spoke to her assistant, and I said: “If you know any job in television in L.A. let me know, and she told me I know of a job.” I applied for it, my first time, I was very green didn’t know anything about being a writer’s assistant or what that meant. I interviewed to be a writer’s assistant on a show called JAG; [and] I got a job, and that’s when I moved out to L.A.
EUR: And you were also a writer’s assistant on the television shows like Everyone Hates Chris and Second Time Around.
KM: Yes, I was on there briefly as a writer’s assistant for those two shows. Everyone Hates Chris is a cultural classic. I worked with Chris Rock in New York when he had an H.B.O show and then Second Time Around, which starred Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe and Executive Produced by Ralph Farquhar, who now directs Hollywood Husbands with Chris Spencer and Kevin Hart. That was my foray into understanding and learning how television works.
EUR: How did you come up with the concept of Bad Dad Rehab?
KM: I’m a single mother of a 19-year-old and I had gone through my personal battles in this area with her father. [I was] just trying to understand why there’s such a struggle or difficulty in that sort of thing. The more I dialogued with women [I realized] we [either] come from or we know someone who had an absentee father in their life.
Just understanding the pathology of what keeps making these men not [being] there, whether it’s the mom and friction in a relationship or whether it’s just something going on internally with the father. I just wanted to examine it and have a discussion about what is the mentality behind this, what is the justification in their minds for this behavior. Bad Dad Rehab was a great way to explore that.
EUR: Did you reconcile with your child’s father?
KM: We have a respectable relationship because there has to be a willingness on somebody’s part to make peace, there has to be. Someone has to be mature enough to say well this is not about what I think of you or what you think of me; it is about the child we created. When you have that in that kind of configuration, two people will have to talk, they won’t always agree, but they definitely will be talking and that what you want first and foremost.
EUR: African-American fathers tend to get a bad rap especially in the black community, and it is interesting when we are first introduced to each father and we see their flaws and what causes those flaws. Viewers will see that these men are not necessarily bad but broken.
KM: Yes, yes, it’s an epidemic, and it needs to [treatment] in the same way you need a psychologist. You need to discuss these things so you can get to the root because the behavior is not arbitrary. It comes from a place whether that man understands it or can articulate it or not. Nine times out of ten it comes from a place in their childhood. It comes from them being informed in one way or another of what a man is or isn’t or what a father is or isn’t. [Then they take] that along with the other things going on in their environment, in a marriage occasion, and a family setting all of these things inform these men. That’s why it was so important for Bad Dad Rehab [to not] male bashing because you can’t heal people if you are beating them up, no one is going to heal from that.
EUR: On TV One’s website and just looking at the promotion for the film there was a comment made by a poster who felt that this was going to be a male bashing movie. Have you encountered people responding to the movie with that perception in mind?
KM: I mean I can understand why they think it’s a male bashing because of the provocative title, but I wanted to spark curiosity. I’m not surprised that some men and women think that it is about that, but I wanted to open the door and reply to these responses because I want to comfort them. Black men deal with a lot, with how they are treated in this nation, how they are valued as black men, and there has to be this welcoming back that we as women have to give these men.
We’re not making excuses for bad behavior, but [you have to say], “Look you’ve made these mistakes, you might have done this, and you might have done that, but I’m here at the table come sit down and let’s talk.” That the kind of attitude I wanted Bad Dad Rehab to have and I’m more than willing to answer and soothe their fear that this is not male bashing. It’s the truth, but it is sugar with the medicine. It’s going to hurt but you are going to heal from this one, and that’s what I want audiences to take away.
EUR: Bad Dad Rehab screened at this year’s American Black Film Festival and two of the actors in the film Wesley Johnathan and Rob Riley both broke down as they were discussing their characters. What was it like to work with these men on this project because, for some of the actors, this topic hit close to home?
KM: Malik Yoba did not break down, one person did tell me that Robert Ri’chard while he was watching the movie, he wasn’t on stage breaking down, but while Robert was watching he was crying. Wesley Johnathan and Robert Reily, it was surprising and not to say crying is a weakness, but these are upbeat guys. To see that kind of reaction from them was like ‘wow’ because these things come from deep wells inside of these men. They have learned to push [it] down and to keep moving forward, and a lot of men are dealing with that. So to see these guys talking about it and spring these wells of emotion, for Rob Riley’s particular personal pain of not being able to reconcile with his father and him having the determination that his performance can help somebody else reconcile with their dad, that’s a powerful thing.
The more we see men do that, show their vulnerability, emotions, and their pain, the more other men will be brave enough to do the same thing. I heard that at the community screening the next day that there was a formerly incarcerated gentleman, and he bawled out because he said that is my life, this is the purpose for Bad Dad Rehab. You have to expose what is gnawing, hurting, and killing these men to raise these men up.
EUR: What do you want women to take away from this film?
KM: I think it is important to understand why a man might be this way. If your behavior as a mother contributes to that, is it that man’s past, just to be willing to examine it and not just brush them off. It is very important for me to say that all deadbeat dads are not the same. Different triggers cause that man to be in that predicament for whatever reason. I also wanted the women to take some responsibility and to develop some compassion. After watching this if their child’s father comes knocking or calling, don’t reject them because there’s a bigger stake involved with their children. For black men in particular whether their fathers or not just to understand that you are of value, and we love you guys flaws and all. But you got to come and meet us half way for dialogue and discussion. I want people to take away [from Bad Dad Rehab] that there has to be a willingness to come together whether right or wrong, ugly, good, or bad, we have to come to the table and because nothing gets resolved until we do.
Check out the cast speaking about their experience filming Bad Dad Rehab at the American Black Film Festival, courtesy of TV One.
Bad Dad Rehab premieres tonight, July 3 at 7 p.m. ET on TV One with an encore at 9 p.m.