Is John Sayles the advocate for black actors?

“The only reason the two leads in this movie are African American women is because I wrote it with LisaGay Hamilton and Yolonda Ross in mind,” shares writer/director John Sayles whose movie “Go for Sisters” follows two black women who enlist the help of a Hispanic detective to help find one of their sons. “This could easily be a story about three Asian people who are Americans. It’s one of the advantages of making movies that don’t have the economic pressure that a studio movie might have. I don’t have to think about those things. You just pick the best actors for the part.”

One of the founding fathers of modern American independent cinema, or as he humorously coins himself, “grandfather,” Sayles, a two-time Academy Award nominee, has an impressive slate of films spanning four decades. He has made films about lesbians, westerns, black street life, and his fantasy film ‘The Brother from Another Planet,’ a film about a black, three-toed slave who escapes from another planet remains a cult classic. ‘Passion Fish’ starring Vondie Curtis-Hall and Alfre Woodard and ‘Sunshine State,’ which starred Angela Bassett remain firm favorites amongst his many fans. In ‘Go for Sisters,’ Sayles, who previously worked with Hamilton in his 2007 movie “Honeydripper,” a movie about black Southern life, returns to the complex humanity story he tells so well.

LisaGay Hamilton

Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) takes drastic action in a scene from ‘Go for Sisters’. (Photo by Kevin J. Long) 

The film follows Bernice (Hamilton) and Fontayne (Ross) who were so close in high school that it was natural to assume they were sisters, but time has sent them down different paths. Twenty years later, those paths cross: Fontayne is a recovering addict fresh out of jail, and Bernice is her new parole officer. When Bernice’s son Rodney (McKinley Belcher II) goes missing on the Mexican border, Bernice realizes she needs someone with the connections to navigate Rodney’s world and turns to her old friend. The pair enlist the services of disgraced ex-LAPD detective Freddy Suárez (Edward James Olmos) and plunge into the dim underbelly of Tijuana, forced to unravel a complex web of human traffickers, smugglers, and corrupt cops. “I love John’s films as it’s not about sex and violence. It’s about people,” quips Hamilton. “This is a film about two black women and a Hispanic detective and I love that color combination.”

Yolanda Ross, Isiah Washington and LisaGay Hamilton

(L-R) Fontayne (Yolonda Ross), Vernell (Isaiah Washington) and Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) Photo by Kevin J. Long

Also starring Harold Perrineau (‘Oz,’ ‘The Best Man Holiday’) as a drug dealer and Isaiah Washington, the movie has the disciplined artistry of his movies. The story progresses at its own pace and has Sayles’ trademark emphasis on character development and dialogue. “What I respect so much about John is that he is a political writer,” Hamilton continues. “He is a consistent, smart and humble human being who has a gift for writing, a love for the human spirit and telling stories about people. A lot of times these are stories about people of color.” An incredibly humane artist, who writes, directs and edits his own movies, ‘Go for Sisters’ marks his 18th film, and for the iconic director it’s a title he initially wrestled with.

“For about a minute and a half, I was thinking about ‘Redemption Song’ after the Bob Marley song, but we didn’t have that kind of money to secure the rights. I also didn’t want to compete with Bob Marley. The song is so strong that sometimes the song overpowers what the movie is doing, so I just stayed with this one. The movie is really about how far you would go for a friend and is about these women who are so tight that they are like sisters, and so I wanted to keep sisters in the title somewhere.” Shot in 19 days in California and Mexico, Olmos plays the movie’s most engaging character, a disgraced ex-LAPD detective who is almost blind in one eye from macular degeneration.

LisaGay Hamilton, Edward Olmos, and Yolanda Ross

(l-to-r) Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton), Freddy (Edward James Olmos), and Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) navigate the Chinatown section of Tijuana, Mexico (Photo by John Castillo)

“It’s an amazingly written piece of work and I don’t think anybody will ever write another story like this,” says Olmos. “It gives an incredible window into the heart and soul of the people that we are looking at, and it so happens that they are people of color. Who writes for African American women? And usually if they do, they are African American and very well rooted inside of the culture. That shows you a lot about the beauty of the artistry and the depth of this man’s understanding of life. It’s a very unusual movie with a very unusual title done by a very unusual artist.”


‘Go for Sisters’ is out in select theaters.

Samantha Ofole-Prince is a journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news that includes television and film. She serves as the Entertainment Editor for Trendy Africa.

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