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As with many new parents, Michael Edwards, now 37, sank
into a period of deep, somewhat painful questioning about himself and his family
heritage after the birth of his first child some years ago. Having created a
new life, he wanted to know, What have I passed on to my son? What of history
and culture and even family demons resides in my boy’s blood?
Those questions
led him to create the award-winning one-man stage show Runt, which eventually
evolved into a radio program before settling into its final — and always intended
— incarnation as a film. In the tale, Christopher (Edwards, who plays several
roles in the drama) is a man on the brink of an emotional breakdown, with his
family sustaining collateral damage. He returns to his birthplace in Jamaica
to participate in the spiritual ritual of Obeah (spiritual cleansing), confronting
the demons and scars of his past in order to move forward. The L.A. Weekly
recently spoke to the L.A.-based performer, writer and director as he was prepping
for the Los Angeles premiere of his film at the Pan African Film Festival.

L.A. WEEKLY: What exactly was it about your son’s impending
birth that lead you to create the stage version of
Runt?

MICHAEL EDWARDS: I’d been fiddling with the idea of a one-man
show for a year or so but couldn’t settle on a subject. Once it was announced
my wife was having a boy, all I could think of was the subject of men’s issues.
I wanted to be a good father to my son and didn’t feel, because of unresolved
conflict, that I was ready. So I recalled a name that meant a lot to me, that
my own father once called me in anger — runt. And I sat down to flesh
out on paper all the images this name provoked.

So, is the work strictly autobiographical or simply inspired
by your own life?

Joseph Campbell said to look at your life as a myth, to observe
the “story points” of your life that make you you, then share
them so that others in the human community can learn from your journey. Runt
is autobiographical in origin. It’s a factual theme with factual moments
told in a fictional form.

There is so much current discussion about the dissolution of
the black family and the perceived failures of black men as fathers. What do
you feel
Runt adds to that dialogue?

As a black man, it is of course my heart to focus on the plight
of the black father and his need to heal for the betterment of his family and
community. But as I discovered while doing the play around the world, this story
is universal. In the film, when Christopher whispers to his wife after completely
losing it, “I wasn’t going to hit you,” everyone witnessing the situation
will know he was going to hit her. A quiet man discovers his rage. Black
men, white men, all men repress. Runt, I believe, offers a very honest
avenue for spiritual healing.

And that healing takes a distinctly African approach . . .

Yes, Runt’s take on healing is an African one. Obeah was
the basis of my research, and for the play I worked with an Obeah circle. I
chose not to explain the circle in the play, however — I just did it. With the
film, I chose to reveal the device. A man enters a stone circle and does not
come out until he has conquered, or at least faced, his personal demon. In Runt,
Obeah — African mythology kept alive in Jamaica by escaped slaves — opens all
the doors.

One of the strongest elements of film is its progressive stance
toward issues of gender and sexual orientation, toward the ways in which all
sorts of people are slurred and beaten down. Few modern black films, unfortunately,
possess that level of awareness.

Christopher is speaking from his soul, and when one is speaking
from the soul, gender and sexuality aren’t an issue. I’m proud to have produced
a film that promotes the rarely celebrated idea that the black spirit can rise
above judgment. I’m proud to have created a character that discovers not only
that he can but that he must see beyond his lower self if he is to attain
a future of any worth.

Runt premieres at the Pan African Film Festival, which starts
Thursday, February 10, and runs through Monday, February 21, at the Magic Johnson
Theaters. Call (213) 896-8221 for more information, or visit www.PAFF.org.
See the
L.A. Weekly Calendar section for Ernest Hardy’s festival picks.

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