Who picks up the pieces after police brutality destroys families? This film explores the 'Residue'
Leighton Alexander Williams and Shonna Foster's "Residue" explores the day-to-day realities of trauma
When Beyoncé appeared on the red carpet for the MTV Video Music Awards last year, she brought several women with her. Among them were Lezley McSpadden, Gwen Carr, Wanda Johnson and Sybrina Fulton — four members of a group that's often called the Mothers of the Movement.
They're the mothers of young men who were murdered by the police: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin. Too often, family members get forgotten in these tragedies, but Beyoncé put them front and centre.
Written by Leighton Alexander Williams and directed by Shonna Foster, the film follows the journey of a woman named Valerie (Keeya King). Her fiancé was murdered by the police, and she struggles with the day-to-day realities of the trauma.
"Residue" is Foster's directorial debut, and I spoke with the filmmaker earlier this week.
A lot of stories about police brutality tend to focus on the police, the victim or the political movements sparked in the immediate aftermath. Residue shifts that focus to the long-term impact it has on the women left behind. How did this shift in focus affect the tone of the film?
There are no funny moments in this film. Even at the point of playfulness, there was an opportunity to insert a moment that could extract laughter but I didn't go for it — intentionally. I decided that we must stick to a tone that was serious throughout because this aftermath is a serious thing for these women.
I didn't want there to be too much focus on the cop scene — no lingering there because in life we often do.
I wanted this film to feel like a long song. It had to feel like we are lingering on Valerie, especially in the moments when we are alone with her.
There wasn't one day where I didn't cry as a result of being moved and/or just feeling the weight of this thing.- Shonna Foster, filmmaker
I wanted it to feel like time, though passing, is passing slowly, uncomfortably, irritably, sadly, happily but with tarnish.
I wanted it to feel like even though we go on, and even though life goes on, it goes on stained — and that stain, though it fades with time, is forever present.
The writer has stated that this film was inspired by the real murder of Philando Castille, but Residue takes place in Toronto. How did this shift in location impact the story that was told?
The writer of the film, Leighton Alexander Williams, was firm with me from day one that the story must take place here, in Toronto.
Leighton came to me already having most of the cast in mind and he tactfully made this cast look like Toronto.
We are constantly bombarded with these happenings of racial profiling and police brutality in the U.S.A., and as Leighton has stated, it is very naive to think that Toronto is exempt. Nothing was sugarcoated.
Tell me about the choice of blood residue as a visual marker for the film. [Note: Blood is left on the face of each woman in the film who loses a loved one to violence, a poignant reminder that they are forever changed by the tragedy.] Where did that idea come from? How did the actors engage and understand it?
The choice of blood residue came directly from the script. Leighton wrote this image of a blood-stained face directly into the story.
This aspect was what grabbed me immediately when I first read it — that it is there and never goes away. To play with this, I made the decision to have the colour tone of the film move in stride with the stain, darkest in the beginning and lightest in the end.
Walk me through your process with the cast. How did you prepare them for the heaviness and emotional weight of the story?
This cast knew ahead of time where this story came from. I believe because they knew this, the heaviness, the weight was already there.
I did, however, have quite a few one-on-one sessions with a few of the cast members before going to camera.
One night, I facilitated a meeting with the four key cast in the cop scene. I wanted us to have a discussion about the project, boundaries and our personal views on the issue of police brutality and racism.
We learned a great deal about each other that evening. We went through quite a few emotions, which was my hope because I wanted all of that to be brought and used in the work.
What was it like on set?
On set it was heavy. There wasn't one day where I didn't cry as a result of being moved and/or just feeling the weight of this thing.
What do you hope is the response from audiences?
I hope that this film will move people and spark necessary conversation and action on a personal level. I hope that the audience will be empathetic and gain an understanding of what it is like for, yes, the women that are still here, but also for all of the loved ones and all of those affected by police brutality and racism.
I hope that people will acknowledge and understand that these problems and all of their elements are much, much bigger than the trending hashtag.
Residue. Starring Keeya King, Leighton Alexander Williams and Ordena Stephens-Thompson. Directed by Shonna Foster. Premieres Oct. 15 at the Reelworld Film Festival, Toronto. www.reelworld.ca