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Mixed raced marriage gets the box office treatment

LAUNCH: Members of the cast and well wishers at a recent screening of Moral Conflict.

IF YOU get a group of black people together, there is one subject that is almost guaranteed to spark passionate debate.

Mixed race relationships prompt views on everything from black male celebrities not choosing to be with black partners to the loss of cultural identity.

These are also some of the themes explored in new director Maxine Chantel’s film, Moral Conflict.

But her decision to highlight these issues was inspired by an unusual source – talking to the council tenants she met through her former job as a housing official with Hackney Homes.

Despite completing degrees in communications and screenwriting, the budding director found work in her chosen profession hard to come by. So she took a job in housing to pay her bills while keeping her film making dream alive. But it unexpectedly sparked an idea for a new film.

 “I  met a lot of tenants who were talented singers, actors or artists but were discouraged because they weren’t getting work and had no platform for their talent to be seen” she recalls “I’d also often get into discussions with the tenants about the fact that there was nothing positive on television or in the cinema about black people. Then one day, one of the tenants said to me ‘Maxine, you’re a writer, why don’t you write and produce something that portrays us in a positive light?’ That hit me hard. I had a degree in film and began to think that maybe I should produce a film. I felt strongly that we need dramas that portray us as people who fall in love, as people who make mistakes, as people who are witty."

"Films like Kidulthood and Top Boy are great but I want to move away from those as the only representation of black British life we see in the cinema. It was about the same time that a friend said to me ‘there’s never been a film that focuses on the lives of people in the black church. Why don’t you do something around that?’”

Chantel was spurred into action and started writing the script for Moral Conflict.

The comedy drama tells the story of Pastor Chuks (played by Nollywood actor Ken Smart) who is struggling to increase the growth of his church. He comes up with the idea to organise an audition but unfortunately the singers who show up cannot sing. 

While this is going in, his personal life is in turmoil. His mother Tope arrives from Nigeria and takes an immediate dislike to his white English wife Denise (Birds of a Feather star Linda Robson), due to cultural differences.

 The only person who can help him sort out his life is Lucinda, a loyal member of his congregation, who happens to be in love with him.

“The underlying theme of the film is about not losing who we are,” says Chantel “Even though as we live here as black people, we still have roots elsewhere. When the mother talks to her son about his marriage, she brings up some controversial issues about who we are. Her ideology in the film is that we shouldn’t be here, we should go back to Africa and build the continent up.”

But despite these themes, Chantel says she is determined not to be pigeon holed as only making films for a black audience.

“Just because I’m a black female writer I don’t want to only speak on black issues. The film covers issues that everyone can relate to. Moral Conflict is about cultural differences but in the end what the film shows is that love has no colour. You can’t control who you fall in love with.”

Like most independent writer/directors with next to no budget, she faced tough challenges in getting the film made.

The script was written in 2007, but it took two years to develop before production began in 2009. It took another two years to edit, which involved Chantel doing a normal day job and then working on the film until midnight most days of the week. In the middle of this struggle, she was made redundant and not long after had to undergo a major operation on her liver.

REFUSED

Despite the difficulties, and lack of investors, she refused to give up.

And that persistence paid off. To her complete surprise, the owner of a local shop where she regularly bought ink for her printer agreed to help her fund the film.

And she managed to achieve a major coup in persuading soul singer and TV presenter Mica Paris and Birds Of A Feather star Linda Robson to appear in the film, despite not having much money to pay them.

Leading performance poet Lyrical Healer also features on the soundtrack.

REVIEWS

A pre screening for Moral Conflict, held earlier this month at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in north London, has already won rave reviews from its selected audience of film critics and prominent church leaders. It’s set to go on general release in November.

“There are nights I cried” she reveals “People would think I was crazy but I’m very determined to make a difference. There are a lot of professional black people around and we don’t always want to come home from church and then watch a film about gang culture.”

For further details please visit www.moralconflict.co.uk

 

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