Tag Archives: COVID19

Pandemic Inspired Film, I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking), Encourages Empathy for the Homeless

I'm Fine
Actress/director/producer Kelley Kali

I’M FINE (Thanks for Asking) Synopsis: Danny, a recently widowed hairdresser, and her 8-year-old daughter, Wes, are houseless. Shielding Wes from the truth, Danny pitches a tent and convinces Wes that it’s a fun camping trip. As Danny works to find permanent housing, Wes grows increasingly tired of weeks in the heat, so Danny promises her that they will go home by the end of the day. With clients lined up, Danny is confident that she will have the final cash she needs to secure an apartment, but a series of mishaps threaten to derail her plans. Under mounting pressure, and with roller skates as her only means of transportation, she has to somehow manage to get the money she needs in order to keep her promise to her daughter. 

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” is a quote by Sun-Tzu that sums up the development of Kelley Kali’s award-winning film I’M FINE (Thanks for Asking) during the COVID pandemic and a heatwave. Kali, like many, was not working and almost houseless when she decided to make the film. Not only is it about overcoming obstacles while raising a child, but it’s also about having empathy for the homeless.

Kali explained she needed to do this project stating, “I woke up one day with a pressing sense of urgency that I needed to create something NOW. I started to think about what resources I had access to and, being from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, I realized that I had many resources. I thought about what friends would be crazy enough to do this with me and I immediately called my two good friends from USC Film School, Angelique Molina and Roma Kong.” The group of creatives pondered over concepts. Kali stated she had noticed a lot more women on the streets in Los Angeles. Kali said Los Angeles already had a fairly large homeless population, but she specifically noticed a lot more women and children recently. 

“We went through the many issues facing us today, but one issue that hit us all was the threat of  not being able to pay rent and the lingering danger of becoming houseless.” – Kellie Kali 

When it comes to the trials and tribulations of Danny, I can’t tell you how many times I kept saying to myself, “It can’t get any worse than this?”, but as the film continued, Danny’s situation continued to worsen. To top it off, she was also continually sexually objectified by pretty much every male encountered; all but the Asian property manager who clearly was taking social distancing seriously. Chad, played by Deon Cole, was one of the worst of the male characters. He taunted and insulted Danny as he dropped hundred-dollar bills from his luxury car. “The Chad character was just another dynamic added to Danny’s decision-making so far as what she needed to do. Chad is who we, as the creatives, thought needed to be piled on to the drama of Danny’s decision making,” stated Deon Cole. 

This is something we were able to control and make without someone telling us what to do. Doing television, it’s a collective group of people that have a vision. You are hired to portray that vision and bring it to life. – Deon Cole

The beautiful scenery, great camera angles, and natural character interactions were wonderful. Interestingly enough, the actors were the crew. “I decided the crew would be the actors. At first, everyone laughed until they realized I was serious,” Kali explained. I especially loved the scene where after getting high with her friend, Danny falls over into a pool of her troubles. Drowning, while her money and desirables elude her, was a great visual for the film. “As artists, we always want to keep what the audience is watching interesting, especially when it has a social message because we, as the artists, don’t want to be hammering the message on the audience’s head. So we find creative ways to keep you entertained and captivated using metaphors. At that point of the story, she was drowning in her troubles, the grief of her dead husband, not being able to keep the secret of houselessness from her daughter, and not knowing what to do.” 

In the end, I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking) is an inspirational film and a reminder of how the human spirit can persevere. Given the time the film was shot (during COVID and with limited resources), precautions needed to be put in place to keep the staff safe. Production had many obstacles to overcome, but the finished product was well worth it. Star/Producer of the film, Deon Cole, stated the film is “necessary for today” and after watching it, I would have to agree. Check out I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking) when it makes its network debut on Saturday, August 7th at 7 PM ET/PT on BET Her.

I’M FINE (Thanks For Asking): Directed by Kelley Kali & Angelique Molina; Written by Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina, & Roma Kong; Executive Produced by Kelley Kali, Deon Cole, & Capella Fahoome; Produced by Roma Kong, Angelique Molina, Kelley Kali, Capella Fahoome, & Deon Cole.

18May/20
Lenny Thomas

“Ruthless” Co-Star, Lenny Thomas, Talks Tyler Perry Studios and Life during COVID-19

Actor Lenny Thomas

Lenny Thomas portrays Dikhan on Tyler Perry’s new series Ruthless. Dikhan is one of the ruthless and intimidating antagonists in the series but, as for Lenny himself, he is far from it. The New Yorker has a heart of gold and an optimistic attitude. Taji Mag was able to find out how unlike Dikhan Lenny really is in an exclusive interview during this COVID-19 crisis. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What brought you to this role? 

Lenny Thomas (LT): Thankfully my agent has a great relationship with the casting director of most of Tyler Perry’s projects. I was thrown in the mix through a self take. Mind you, during the auditing process of tv and movies, there are multiple rounds. Lucky me, I got this role off of one self-tape which still, ’til this day, blows my mind. While putting together my self-tape, my agent coached me and I sent it in. A week later, I’m on set with Tyler Perry. I’ve had some success, so I was not a stranger to hard work and diving right in and getting the job done. 

Lenny Thomas as Dikhan in Ruthless

DFF: What was your inspiration for the role?

LT: Honestly, if I didn’t have the proper guidance that I did growing up, I could have been Dikhan. Exercising the demons in my life allowed me to tap into this character. Being in the New York area, the undercurrent is kind of negative, so I pulled from dealing with that and seeing the negative characters in my life while growing up.

DDF: Dikhan is the second in command and seems ruthless, how do you think he got to this point? 

LT: Apparently, he spent some time in jail and used to be involved with numerous gangs. Decade or so time he spent in jail, something broke him. In this broken state, he met The Highest and they decided they were no longer going to be the victims of their circumstances by taking matters into their own hands, thus creating the life they currently live.  

DDF: What is it like working with Tyler Perry? 

LT: It was tough, everyone was trying to keep up with him. I have not seen a person work as hard as that man works. We barely passed a 12-hour day somehow. That is unheard of in television, usually, it’s between 12 to 16 hours in my experience. It was all inspiring too because of the people he surrounds himself with. There’s so much love in Tyler Perry Studios, I have never been on a set that had so much love and care. Everyone was taking care of each other. Also, to be unapologetically Black, I have never been around so many Black people on set in my life. It was overwhelming, so many times it was overwhelming. I was thinking to myself, “Is this my life right now, is this really happening?” 

DDF: Who have you developed a relationship with on set? 

LT: That’s a hard question because I love my castmates. There are 11 leads on the show and the people I grew closest to are Blue Kimble who plays Andrew on the show and Melissa Williams who plays Ruth Truesdale. Melissa, in particular, set the stage, she is perfect to lead the show because her heart is big. I did not notice she was the lead of the show because it was like I was shot out of a cannon into shooting the series, once I got the role. I was still working before I flew out to set, so I was playing catch up the whole time.  When I met her I was like, you are unusually nice to me. I’m not used to this, I mean I’m from New York, we don’t treat each other like this.

 

DDF: What is the best acting advice you have received and who gave it to you?

LT: Best acting advice was from Risa Garcia. She has an acting podcast and is also an acting teacher/casting director. Her advice just blew my mind, it makes life worth living honestly. She says to her students, “When you get these jobs that you’ve been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is after you have some power, then you should empower somebody else. This is not just a grab bag candy game.” That wisdom really speaks to the person I am going to be for the rest of my life. 

DDF: What director would you like to work with next? 

LT: Steve McQueen! I would love to work with him. He got on my radar with his movie starring Micheal Fassbender called Shame. He just seems like an actors director. 

DDF: How has life been during COVID-19?

LT: I turned myself into an introvert years before this happened so staying inside, has not been a problem. The beautiful thing is, before I booked Ruthless, I was going through a breakup and my life was seemingly falling apart. Then, all of a sudden, the Ruthless opportunity comes along and it was like a defibrillator was used on my life. My lady and I started to reconcile and said we would start to build this life together. We unsuccessfully tried to reconcile before but I didn’t have the tools for it. Now I do. 

Social distancing has been cool, we have spent several weeks in the apartment and we have been more connected than before. I’m not missing outside. I’m not missing a thing. I want to do my part and make sure no one gets infected by my doing. I’m curious to see how life is going to change but I am hopeful for the future. 

As I was watching the first part of the show Ruthless, I developed a disdain for the Dihkan character and was ready to fight him myself. Luckily he is only a character on the show, so I guess you can say Lenny has done a great job at portraying this role. Check it out for yourself! 

Tyler Perry’s Ruthless,” a spin-off of the hit television series “Tyler Perry’s The Oval,” tells the riveting story of a woman named Ruth who kidnaps her young daughter to join her in the dark underworld of a fanatical religious cult. “Tyler Perry’s Ruthless stars Melissa L. WilliamsMatt CedeñoLenny D. Thomas, Yvonne Senat JonesBaadja-Lyne Odums, Jaime Callica, Nirine S. BrownBlue Kimble, Stephanie CharlesHervé Clermont, Anthony Bless, and Bobbi Baker.

Watch Ruthless on BET and Amazon Prime.