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Arts / Culture

'Waves': New Film Tells Heart-Wrenching Story Of A South Florida Black Family

Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays the main character of the film, Tyler Williams, an ambitious high school wrestler.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays the main character of the film, Tyler Williams, an ambitious high school wrestler.

In one of the opening scenes of the new film Waves, Tyler Williams, played by African American actor Kelvin Harrison Jr., and his girlfriend drive down a causeway in South Florida, blasting electric pop music with the windows down, hair flowing and surrounded by the deep blue South Florida water on both sides. 

The movie, which was completely filmed and directed in South Florida, tries to capture the real essence of the place with shots of swimming manatees, walks in the Everglades, palm trees, beaches and drives down U.S. 1. Waves tells the story of a suburban African-American family who has strived to present as perfect, but are faced with loss, drug addiction, death, fatherhood and forgiveness.

Director Trey Edward Shults,  says the story is about empathy, compassion and growth even in the darkest of times. Originally from Houston, Texas  but currently a Florida resident, he talked with Luis Hernandez on Sundial about the film, why he chose South Florida as the locale and the reason why he decided to center the story around a black family.  

WLRN:  How do you how would you describe the relationship between Ronald [father] and Tyler [son]?

SHULTS: It's not just about wrestling. It's a way of life. It's about being the best. A big part of that, too, was collaborating with Kelvin and talking about the relationship with his father. It's about that being the best among everything and especially for a black father and son. Those pressures and that world of exceptionalism, it's in a lot of what that father is passing down from his generation. What he had to go through and coming down to his son. That dynamic is a huge part of the heart and soul, especially the first half of the movie.

Actors Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Sterling K. Brown (left to right) in the new movie, Waves.
Credit Courtesy of A24
Actors Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Sterling K. Brown (left to right) in the new movie, Waves.

What made Ronald who he is?

His past. I think about how he grew up, how he had to bring this family together. We also find out information about what happened to their biological mother. You got to think about how he was a single father for a time. You also got to think about, they're an upper-middle-class family. Look at their neighborhood, look at their house, look at everything he's had to go through to get to this moment. So that's why I think everything's led through love. He's just trying to build his son to be as strong as he can for this hard world.

This is a story of a black family. You're not black. How did the actors react to the story you were trying to tell, eventhough you don't have that perspective?

It was everything because of Kelvin. Kelvin, who plays Tyler, the lead actor, we met in my last movie [It Comes At Night] about a year prior to this. We loved each other, wanted to make something together again. I had aspects of this brewing, very personal of myself. And I was like, 'Well, I have these ideas for this other film and maybe we can figure it out this together and tailor it for you?' So about a year later, we're doing these like mini therapy sessions and I was just trying to understand his past. We're talking about both our pasts like our relationships with fathers, mothers, families, school pressures and understanding the commonalities in our experience and specific differences.

You cover addiction in the movie. South Florida is the epicenter for the opioid issue. Why was it important to have South Florida as the backdrop in a story where characters are struggling with pain and addiction?

Yeah, well, for myself, it wasn't just South Florida. It was more family. Addiction has been a huge part of my family, sadly. We've lost a lot of loved ones, lost my biological father and my cousin. So I wanted to make it honest. Same for Kelvin with some family members of his. It was like wanting to try to understand how a person gets to this place and how you can get caught up on that path. 

WHERE TO WATCH:

The South Florida opening date for the film 'Waves' is Dec. 6.

There will be a screening of the film 'Waves' priot to the opening date on Thursday, Nov. 21, 7:00pm at The Tower Theater, 1508 SW 8th Street, Miami 33135.

Actors Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown, Renée Elise Goldsberry (left to right) sit at a dinner in South Florida.
Credit Courtesy of A24
Actors Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown, Renée Elise Goldsberry (left to right) sit at a dinner in South Florida.

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