Salli Richardson-Whitfield might be plotting a transition behind the camera but, in the meantime, she’s been using her acting to help launch new talent. Her starring role in the 2011 independent film, I Will Follow, about a grown niece dealing with the demise of her beloved aunt, helped bring attention to relatively new director Ava DuVernay. And Saturday, Feb. 16, Richardson-Whitfield is at it again with the Lifetime film “Pastor Brown.”
Penned by emerging Atlanta-based screenwriter Rhonda Baraka and directed by Soul Food’s Rockmond Dunbar, who also acts in the film, “Pastor Brown” is the story of preacher’s kid, Jessica “Jesse” Brown, who lost her way by becoming an exotic dancer and finally comes back home to a father whose dying wish is for her to take over his church.
To those who have questioned the story’s believability, Richardson-Whitfield says, “There are a lot of people in this world nowadays who are doctors, lawyers, bankers who start doing drugs and are in the streets. Anybody, no matter what kind of family they have and what happens, can lose their way in this life. I just think this is the case for [Jesse]. Sometimes you do things and then you’re afraid to come home because you don’t think your family will accept you but, when she’s fully faced with having to deal with her life, she does.”
Part of that includes reconnecting with her disapproving sister Tonya, played by Nicole Ari Parker-Bodjoe, and her estranged son Tariq, played by Michael B. Jordan, best known for Friday Night Lights. Keith David plays the elder Pastor Brown.
“We really have a wonderful cast of people,” says Richardson-Whitfield, who, as the film’s co-producer, had a hand in securing the cast, which also includes the familiar faces of Michael Beach, Ernie Hudson, Tasha Smith, Monica, Angie Stone, Tisha Campbell-Martin, and hubby Dondre Whitfield. Well-known Atlanta-based pastor Creflo Dollar even makes his acting debut.
The rumor mill has been buzzing about series potential for the film but Richardson-Whitfield isn’t jumping the gun. “Honestly, all of that is nothing if we don’t get the numbers,” she says. “If not enough people watch the movie, then it won’t happen because it won’t get the numbers. So watch it, people.” –ronda racha penrice