David E. Talbert doesn’t simply believe Black lives matter; he lives by the mantra.
For the past 25 years, the playwright/director/producer has created art that offers both a celebratory and critical take on the nuances of African-American culture via stage plays (His Woman, His Wife, Love in the Nick of Туmе) and films (First Sunday, Baggage Claim). His latest project, Almost Christmas (released November 11), is about a widower (Danny Glover) trying to hold his family together after the unexpected loss of their loving matriarch. Talbert opens up about his new narrative, how Black lives matter for him and much more.
Many are familiar with your work now, but what was your first job in the industry?
I was a radio announcer by trade when I graduated from Morgan State University, and my station transferred me out to the Bay Area. When I was there, someone gave me tickets to see The Diary of Black Men, whose commercial would say, “How do you love a Black woman?” I caught the bug. I started writing my play that night, and it debuted the next year, 1991. It was called Tellin’ It Like It ‘Tiz, and it sold out 18 shows in a row. The promoter of Shelly Garrett’s stage play Beauty Shop saw it and took it on tour.
Why add film?
Morris Chestnut starred in one of my touring plays. Love in the Nick of Туmе, and two studio execs came to see the show. They loved it and wanted to try a movie. I came up with the idea for First Sunday.
Almost Christmas centers on male leadership. Tell us about that decision.
Almost Christmas is the best of everything I’ve been doing for 26 years rolled up into one project. In the movies, the head of the family is always the big mama; as a new father, I wanted to write a film in which the patriarch [becomes the center of the family] after the mom has passed. I wanted to show my son something that would mirror his household with dads, granddads and uncles [taking charge], so I thought it was an important image to put out there. I didn’t grow up with my father but so many men from my generation have challenged each other to be the best dads we can be. I wanted a film that represents that all Black lives matter.
How would you describe this movie?
I would say it’s your family during the holidays on steroids. It’s every bit of faith, fun, dysfunction and food. People will say they know all these characters.
You have a lot of heavy hitters on this project, including Will Packer, the executive producer. How did you connect with him?
Will and I have known each other a long time; we’re both graduates of HBCUs and always said when the time was right, we’d do something. When he read the script, he immediately said yes.
Many folks believe HBCUs aren’t good for connec¬tions, especially in Hollywood. What are your thoughts?
Going to an HBCU helped me hone my craft with people who wrapped their arms around me. A lot of what stops us from succeeding is people saying no, or not giving us a chance; there, people believed I could. It gave me a sense of confidence and swagger. At 21, I was one of the top talk show hosts at my university—and the youngest—all because they gave me a shot. It launched my career.
Speaking of great careers, superstar Gabrielle Union is a producer of the movie. Tell us about the perspective she brings.
Gabrielle has such a wealth of experiences because she’s been on countless sets. I could look to her if something was not quite right and ask for input. I have tremendous respect for her as an actress and behind the camera.
What’s next for you?
— I’m In Demand, Inc. (@imindemand_com) December 30, 2016
My play Another Man Will comes out on DVD and On Demand in January. I’m touring my next play. Can a Woman liaise a Man?, which I’m producing with Steve Harvey, in early 2017. It will be the most personal project of my career because I have a strong emotional connection to the topic since my mother raised two men. And we’re working on the sequel to Almost Christmas.