In a time of mass confusion and challenges, the likes of which none of us have seen before, Sylvie's Love, is that breath of fresh air that we so greatly need. And while the film is about passion and romance, it is also about innocence and determined desire to break glass ceilings.
The movie, written and directed by Eugene Ashe, frames the journey of two characters trying to navigate the rub between holding on to or giving up on the one thing they desperately want to do in life. This dichotomy drives the plot and the relationship between Sylvie (Tessa Thompson, who is an executive producer of the film) and Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha, who is also a producer). Their struggle is not only in the course of action they take to find each other but ultimately what they must do to find themselves.
Set in the late 50s and early 60s, the movie begins with Sylvie in New York City standing outside of a Nancy Wilson concert. Her perfectly matched bright blue outfit harkens back to a more prim and proper era when men wore hats and women wore gloves and dressed to reflect a sense of both fashion, function and stylistic pride. This beautifully crafted moment by Ashe is actually what won over Asomugha to get involved in the project.
"I read the script, and it had this gorgeous Black woman coming out of a taxicab in the middle of Times Square in 1957,” said Asomugha in an interview with BET.com. “She was running to the theater, and it was raining. She forgets to pay the cab driver, and the guy is yelling at her as she is trying to make it to a Nancy Wilson concert. I was done.”
This scene —like many others during the film— on the surface may seem typical of movies set during that period. Except, there aren’t many films of that time that so methodically tells the story of a burgeoning love between a Black man and a Black woman with a mostly Black cast. "It drew me in, and I loved that we'd be able to tell a story about Black people during that time," said Asomugha.
Thompson, known for her films, “Dear White People,” “Creed,” and “Creed II,” wanted her next project to be both historically and emotionally complex.
“I’ve always wanted to make a sprawling love story and do a period film and I never imagined that I could do both of those things at once and also play a central character because that continues to be a rarified thing in Hollywood," said Thompson to BET.com.
In playing Sylvie, Thompson found a different type of motivation. Although the plot centers on this love story between these two people, it also hits on awakening of self-love and faith in one's own abilities. Please make no mistake; Sylvie is far from what one might consider a stereotypical 1950s wife. She knows who she is and determined in her steadfast pursuit to get what she wants out of life. Of course, being both Black and female, the path is riddled with hurdles. There are several times when Sylvie must choose between being an appeasing wife or take the necessary steps to pursue her dreams.
"I feel lucky in my personal life. I come from a supportive family, but in terms of gender, there have been moments when my contribution inside of something is diminished,” said Thompson. “I feel as women; we are still unpacking the patriarchy. So that is something I understand as Sylvie tries to figure out her dreams. Not in relation to what her friends, family, and society at large tell her is possible but her true desires. And, I love that she is told that her dreams are possible by another Black woman in the film.”
This realization of the possibility of what one can achieve by way of seeing faces that look like you is just as relevant in 2020 as it was back then. Women of color still grapple with racism, colorism, sexism and all the other isms that marginalize us.
“It is important for me to cultivate relationships with other Black women in the industry,” Thompson continues. “When we get opportunities to be in positions of power, we must invite more of us into the room."
That invitation is also open to the brothers. Thompson credits working with Asomugha as “a gift.” His portrayal of the talented jazz saxophonist, Robert, doesn’t come without his own struggles. While Robert and Sylvie start out as friends, their love quickly blossoms, but when Sylvie becomes successful, Robert falters and the couple is confronted with a different set of challenges.
Asomugha, the one-time pro defensive back who retired after an 11-year career in the NFL, has now turned his sights on Hollywood. Asomugha starred in the Amazon Studios film Crown Heights in 2018 to rave reviews and says with this character, he truly understands what it means to have to pivot your passions and change your course in life.
"John Coltrane was the person Robert looked up to. He wanted to be as good as him or better. He wanted to be the world's greatest saxophone player. It became personal for me when those dreams didn't turn out for Robert. He's a great saxophone player on the surface, and he got to enjoy that, but internally he wanted so much more, and I can relate to that,” Asomugha explained.
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“From the outside, it may seem like nothing, but for me having a goal within playing football to be on one of those Superbowl championship teams and win it all may seem silly to someone else, but it was my passion. I’ve had those moments like the character in my life that had me stop and think where do I go next?"
Get your popcorn ready. Sylvie's Love, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January (rated PG-13), will debut on Amazon on Dec. 23. Take a look at this BET.com exclusive preview of a scene between Thompson and Asomugha below: