*Consummate actor David Oyelowo’s roles spam the gamut of characters that include the iconic Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” a Tuskegee Airman in “Red Tails,” and Inspector Javert in “Les Misérables.” Also, in many films he has held the title of producer. With “The Water Man,” Oyelowo makes a notable directorial debut. “The Water Man” captivates and draws the audience into a world of fantasy and mysticism.
David Oyelowo has been working his magic not only onscreen but off. He will soon be seen in “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway,” and just signed a tw0-year deal with Walt Disney. Oyelowo and his wife, Jessica Oyelowo, will produce through their Yoruba Saxon banner, which is focused on creating values-based content for all, with emphasis on the long neglected cultures of color.
Last year Oyelowo, who stars as Amos Boone in “The Water Man,” cast members Rosario Dawson (Mary Boone), Lonnie Chavis, (Gunner), and Amiah Miller ((Jo) took part in a panel at the Urbanworld Film Festival hosted by Ava DuVernay (Director/Producer).
AVA DUVERNAY: This is a very special film, a picture that is for families and I’m so proud of you, David, for doing this. The film is really your heart beating up there on the screen. If anyone knows you, they know that this film is a perfect directorial debut for you. Lonnie, what was it like playing Gunner?
LONNIE CHAVIS: Mr. David always puts me in the right mindset to be Gunner. Especially when I was scared. On the first day I was super nervous. Like when I had to be on top of a log over the rushing water. On the first day, he gathered us all in a circle and said, ‘We’re going to do this with love.’ We always prayed and that’s exactly what we did. We did everything we love.
Amiah, what did you draw on to embody your character?
AMIAH MILLER: I think Jo is a very strong and independent girl that has also faced a lot of trauma. And over the course of the film, I think she just overcomes immense adversities and just becomes a better person. My goal going into this was to inspire young people…Love conquers all. It was an honor to play Jo and one of my dream roles.
Rosario, what was your approach?
ROSARIO DAWSON: It was such a powerful film and touched upon things I was going through at the time. My dad had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and it was Gunner’s journey wanting to take care of his parent. Lonnie brings life to that role. It was wonderful working with him. He’s so much fun on set considering the serious role he plays ‘This is Us.’ Lonnie and Amiah brought such depths to their roles and it’s a testament to their parents. It was both magical and healing for me to do this film.
David, I don’t think a lot of people know how prolific you are as a producer. You have produced at least half a dozen films you have starred in since ‘Selma.’ Can you talk a little bit about how this film came together for you?
DAVID OYELOWO: It was a long process, which the good ones tend to be. I was looking for something in the vein of this film. Something that had adventure, coming of age, meaningful, and for the family. I was going up against a major, major studio. Oprah Winfrey is a good friend of mine and we share a sensibility. I showed her the script, and she loved it. When we approached Emma Needell (writer), I told her I would love to have this story be centered around a black family, and she was all for it. The very thing that felt like a risk became the reason why Emma went with us as opposed to a big studio.
I have never taken for granted the privilege of storytelling. It is such a gift to craft a narrative that people listen to, whether it’s one person, whether it’s reading to your children before they go to sleep, or millions of people around the world. When I look at this film, I see me, I see my family. I see my values. I see my culture, the vibrancy, the clothes that Rosario wears, the head wraps. My mom used to wear head wraps like that. There’s Afrobeat music in it. I grew up on this music.
I’ve always wondered why in Western movies do we only ever have Western orchestral music? There is Afrobeat music in “The Water Man.” I grew up on that music. I have Laura Mvula singing a song and I have Ric Hassani from Nigeria in there. These things that mean something to me are on the screen, so I’m just humbled and so grateful that this film exists.
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