Children of God is the debut feature narrative film from Bahamian director-to-watch Kareem Mortimer. The flick, which was filmed in the Bahamas, grapples with complex issues: homophobia, religion, an interracial gay romance and more. In some ways, this is a story that has been told before; however, Mortimer adds unique elements, like West Indian culture, to specify the experience of the characters.
The heart of the film is Johnny (played well by Johnny Ferro), a white Bahamian art student who has an unexpected romance with a local Black Bahamian man (Stephen Tyrone Williams). Johnny is delicate, has blond hair, blue eyes and is violently abused by the Black Bahamians. As we all know, the Caribbean is known for being homophobic, but there was something visually uncomfortable about watching this wilting flower of a character being physically and verbally assaulted by the Black Bahamians. But this is not a story about race and, ironically, Johnny being white is rarely mentioned. This is a story of faith in identity and love.
Kareem Mortimer, writer and director, is working with a strong cast that complement his excellent script. The standout is Margaret Laurena Kemp, playing Lena, the wife of a violently homophobic pastor who is secretly having sex with men. She is on a random crusade to save the Bahamas from gays, not knowing her own hubby is creeping with men.
Obsessed with homosexuality, Lena attacks her son if his wrist moves the wrong way and delivers lines like, "What I tell you about that hand? You don't want to go to hell, do you?" She rants of faith, delivering a venom-filled homophobic speech. Yet, when she is faced with the mess of her husband, she is as broken as the main character, Johnny. If there were any faults in this movie, Kemp's performance redeemed every moment. All I could think was — why haven't I heard of this woman before?
Children of God is gloriously shot, each frame strikingly beautiful, despite its low budget. It's refreshing to see an independent filmmaker who knows his craft. Unfortunately, the discipline of independent film-making has gotten lost in the age of the Internet, where anyone with web clips can claim they are a director.
Children of God wrestles with heavy issues, finding a rare balancing act. Moreover, each character resonates with authenticity. Mortimer presents the viewer with cinematic beauty, solid writing and stand-out acting, this subtle film is a respectable model for what an independent film should be.
Children of God premieres in New York City on Friday, May 20.
(Photo: Mercury Rising Films)