Some of us in the Black community were taught that therapy was for people who were either batsh*t crazy or very wealthy (we call that “eccentric”). For everything else, you could talk to a family member on the porch or Pastor Curtis after Sunday service. Nowadays, it is not unusual to seek therapy. That is a stigma to which we’re more than happy to say farewell. The new film A Snowy Day in Oakland explores the hesitation and the process of getting treatment in the Black community. Two of its stars, Nicole Ari Parker and Loretta Devine, were kind enough to discuss with Taji Mag about the film and how they manage their own mental health.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): Can you tell us a little bit about A Snowy Day in Oakland and a little bit about your character, Jeanette?
Loretta Devine (LD): A Snowy Day in Oakland is really a dramedy. I’m sort of like the comic relief in the show. I’m sure you’ve probably met people in your community that are a little like her. Lol! She’s a gossip. She barely does her job, but the way she carries on you would think she was doing more than her job. She is in everybody’s business. I think she might be reading their mail. She is nosey; she’d tell them she didn’t open it and glue it back together. She’s the busybody of the community, but I think every community is blessed that they have at least one person that is all up in everybody’s business. So they’ll tell you if somebody comes by somebody’s house. She’s a little over the top compared to everybody else who seems so normal. I have to admit, when I watched it I was like, “Oh my God, pull out, Loretta, pull out!” But that’s what the director Kim Bass told me to do.
DDF: Yeah. I can definitely relate. My life was like that. That’s why I was cracking up the whole time. I was like, “Man, I know somebody just like that”… I’m not gonna say who.
LD: They know you’re talking about them.
DDF: I know, and they’ll see this and call me after seeing this video.
DDF: Nicole, why are people opening up to Latrice? Everybody seems to resist her at first but then ends up on her couch opening up to her.
Nicole Ari Parker (NAP): I think she has to earn their trust. With her capacity to listen, I think it helps. Even if she isn’t from that particular moment in their lives, she seems like a fancy lady coming in. I think she calmly lets them know that they’re in a safe space, then has the patience to listen, and then is strong enough to give it back to them in a way that makes them think and talk more about what it is that’s affecting them. Because we hold everything close to our chest, a good therapist really lets you know it’s okay to honor what’s going on inside of you and to verbalize it. You can ask for help. So I think that’s a great message in the film. It’s a gentle but still compelling message.
DDF: Loretta, your character Jeanette seems to have a unique relationship with Dr. Monroe. She reads her very well. Can you describe the relationship between your character Jeanette and Dr. Latrice Monroe, played by Nicole Ari Parker?
LD: Well, you know, it seems like this movie title tells you a lot about what the movie’s about. Initially, it was called “Head Shop“. We started production in 2017. That was way before the pandemic. And what we’ve gone through since then with being shut down for three years, and we’re just now coming out…I think now everybody does need therapy.
My character thought the couch was the trick, which had nothing to do with the doctor and her knowledge. She figured “the therapist is constantly asking questions…, so I’m gonna just sit here and answer questions, but when I go to Jesus, I ain’t gotta do all that.” So I think she came in initially knowing everything [she could find out] about the doctor. But eventually, she realizes that therapists need therapists as well. This is when the movie really gets interesting. Anything she knew about the doctor, she passed it back to the community. I’m trying so hard not to tell too much so people won’t be saying “Well, I don’t need to see the movie because she already told me everything that’s gonna happen.”
DDF: We see Jeanette slowly get Latrice to open up. What do you think makes her open up to Ms. Jeanette?
NAP: Well, I think Loretta could get anyone to hand over the secret code. She’s just so brilliant! And I just think the writer/director, Kim Bass, really wanted to show all facets of everyone’s healing process. So he wrote those kinds of moments in which everyone gets a revelation.
DDF: How do you manage your mental health? Do you pray, exercise, etc.?
NAP: That’s a great question! I have a lot of different ways of managing life’s obstacles, but I’ve started with my self-esteem. Meaning if I am in pain, I say I’m in pain. I no longer swallow it right away because of shame, fear, or [being unsure of] who I can tell this to. I honor that this is an opportunity to heal something. I don’t let it break me anymore, but I also say, “Okay, this is a particular issue I should take to my therapist. After I’ve talked to my therapist (or even before I’ve talked to my therapist), I also say to myself this is also an issue I should pray for. If it involves another person, I now have the words to express that to them and I don’t hold it in anymore. It doesn’t mean there’s confrontation when I let it out, but there are steps to honoring the process of healing. Sometimes a bubble bath, candles, and meditation music are mixed in there too. So it’s a lot of different modalities, but it starts with honoring the identification of something [being] amiss, [accepting that] something is not right.
LD: All you have to do to manage your mental health is to believe everything’s fine. Lol! Everything is everything. It is what is. You know, I stay busy all the time. I’m a workaholic, which may be why I probably need therapy. I also have a lot of activities that I love to do. I love knitting, crocheting, making gowns, and making jewelry. So I think you have to fill your life up, you know? That’s how you maintain your mental health. Keep it full. Plus, I lived alone for a long time, so I had to figure out how to entertain myself if there was nobody there to consider me. When people came over, I’d say, “I wish they’d go home ’cause I could be doing stuff I want to do. I could’ve made a whole evening gown and ate my food while they sat there talking.” That’s how I maintain my mental health. So don’t ask me any more hard questions, ok? Lol!
DDF: I can’t ask you any hard questions??
LD: You can ask me hard questions.
DDF: You’ve done everything from this character to your character in Spell; how do you manage to get these phenomenal roles?
LD: Did you like Spell?
DDF: I did. I was like, whoa! I was impressed.
LD: It was shocking. DL Hughley wished it on me. During an interview with me, he said, “I’m so tired of seeing you play nice. I know you ain’t that damn nice. I hope you get an evil character.” And just after he said that, about a month later, I got the offer to do Spell. But with me and the stuff that comes to me, it ain’t nobody but God. See, God and I, we are close, we are like this (gestures closeness).
DDF: Loretta, I’ve been waiting to ask you this question for years. In Waiting to Exhale, your character, Gloria, gave her neighbor a plate full of food. Gloria made the greens, cornbread, yams, etc. So what does Ms. Devine want on her plate?
LD: You know, it depends. If you were going past Phillips, you could gimme some ribs and barbecue. You can bring me some of those tacos if you go by Bill’s Tito Taco. If you go by the Serving Spoon, [I’ll take] food from there. If you go to the Spanish restaurant, you can bring me some margaritas.
DDF: Nicole, I will tie in one of your other characters. We saw in The Best Man: Final Chapters, Xiomara goes off the rails after Quentin (played by Terrence Howard) breaks up with her. If Xiomara was a client of Latrice, what would happen?
NAP: Latrice might not let her (Xiomara) bring the sage into the office but I think Latrice would have Xiomara do the talking and see where all this came from, all the multiple personalities.
DDF: What do you think people will get from this film?
NAP: The belief in love again and joy and the trust in reaching out for help and talking about it if you need to.
A Snowy Day in Oakland is a dramedy that explores therapy and mental health in the Black community. The characters are good representations of people I’ve come across in my community growing up, making the film funny and relatable. It resembles movies like Barbershop or Friday, but with less exaggerated scenarios. There are some profound messages in this film that I think people will connect with and hopefully serve as a reminder that everyone needs help and shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. A Snowy Day in Oakland will be released in theaters on March 17, 2023.
Directed and Written by Kim Bass
Starring Loretta Devine, Nicole Ari Parker, Keith David, Kimberly Elise, and Deon Cole.