Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making of “Soul Food”
In the ’90’s when it came to black films, you were most likely to see portrayals of gang violence, drug use or some other type of hood classic. (Nothing wrong with that.) But then there came Soul Food. There was drama and the movie was certainly entertaining; but all of it came together in the end, because they were family. Anybody who watched this movie could relate to at least one aspect of this family dynamic. We all remember the scandalous drama, we argued whether a “push” was too much and who could forget Teri, (Vanessa L Williams) pulling that knife on her husband and cousin?! You remember all of that but do you know these behind the scenes secrets?
Twentieth Century Fox, originally had reservations about enlisting Tillman as a director, being that he was a newbie in the industry. But after watching some of his earlier works they had confidence he could direct the film properly. It wasn’t just Tillman’s directorial skills that made the movie the hit that it was, it was the fact that the script drew from Tillman’s own story, growing up in a matriarchal family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In ’97, he told the Chicago Tribune that he was always surrounded by women, “I used to get so upset with my father,” Tillman says with a laugh. “I’d ask him, `Why do I have to be around all these women all the time? But in time, I learned that was an advantage.”
The Edmonds’ were just going to do music
When the Edmonds couple first received the Soul Food script, their company, Edmonds Entertainment, was just supposed to score what was slated to be just an independent film. But Tracey was immediately drawn to the story and the strong characters and decided that she and her husband’s company would make Soul Food its first movie. Obviously, a good choice. The movie cost $6.5 million to make and ended up grossing nearly $12 million in its opening weekend.
It was shot in just 36 days
Twentieth Century Fox, who underwrote the film, wanted Edmonds Entertainment to wait to shoot the movie until 1997, the year it ended up being released in theaters. But that just wouldn’t work, all three lead actresses, Vanessa L. Williams, Nia Long and Vivica Fox, all had already committed to other projects for that year. So Edmonds Entertainment was forced to shoot the movie in 36 days. If they went over the allotted days, another company could have taken over the project. To put that in perspective, smaller, simple plots usually take 8 months to shoot, while thrillers can take 1-2 years. So needless to say it was a crunch.
Did white folks see Soul Food?
The film did so well after the first week, that people thought those numbers would translate with white audiences as well. But once the final numbers were tallied, white viewers made up only 12 percent of ticket buyers. Though Tillman noted that he would like white audiences to watch films with a majority black cast, Soul Food proved [once again] that a black feature film could be a success, with or without white audiences.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Irma P. Hall, the woman who played the Joseph family matriarch, originally had no intention of being a professional actress. She was actually a language teacher in Dallas, Texas when she was discovered by a director reciting a poem. She was hired for her first movie role on the spot at the age of 36. From there her career took off. Hall later said, “I believe acting is teaching, but in a different way. The many lives that you can mold and direct by each role you take on. One of the reasons I loved playing motherly roles was to allow my audiences to travel with me and never forget the roles I have played.”
What happened to little Ahmad?
If there were a star among stars in this film, it was little Brandon Hammond, the boy who played Ahmad. His grasp of the emotions it took to carry off the role of the narrator/protagonist were advanced beyond his years. Though the media touted Hammond as a new comer; considering his age, he was something like a veteran in the game. Before Soul Food he was in Menace II Society, Waiting to Exhale, and Space Jam. From there he went on to do a bit of tv work. After that it seems Hammond had a relatively regular childhood, attending prom in 2004. Last we heard, Hammond was in California pursuing a degree.
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