EXCLUSIVE: Award-winning filmmakers Daniel Junge and Sam Pollard are partnering on a documentary about the late Archbishop Carl Bean, the pioneering gay African American singer turned pastor and AIDS activist.
Production is underway on the feature I Was Born This Way, which takes its title from Bean’s 1977 Motown Records gay disco anthem that celebrated LGBTQ identity and later became the inspiration for Lady Gaga’s hit “Born This Way.” Junge, who won an Oscar for the 2012 documentary short Saving Face, and multiple Emmy-winner Pollard (When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts), are working with Bean’s estate to make their film.
The documentary will include “exclusive, in-depth interviews” with Bean filmed before his death in September 2021 at age 77, and will also incorporate “never before seen archival footage and rotoscope animated recreations,” according to a release from the filmmakers.
“Bean overcame brutal homophobia as a young man,” the release noted, before recording his classic “I Was Born This Way.” “Eschewing fame, he left the music business to form the Minority AIDS Project, dedicated to serving people of color during the AIDS crisis, and at the same time founded the Unity Fellowship Church – the first house of faith to welcome and serve all people, but particularly Black LGBTQ folks.”
“Archbishop Bean was an exuberant, big-hearted, larger-than-life hero, and his life was filled with improbable twists and turns,” Junge said, “but ultimately the film is about the power of love over hatred.”
Pollard added, “It’s so sad that Archbishop Bean passed away during the making of this film, but we were fortunate to have extensive interviews with him, and his voice will carry the film. In an age where we’re hungrier than ever to learn about Black and LGBTQ heroes who’ve flown under the radar, the Archbishop’s life story cries out to be told, then celebrated and learned from.”
The documentary will include interviews with prominent figures who became close with Bean, including Rep. Maxine Waters, NMAC (formerly National Minority AIDS Council) leader Paul Kawata, and songwriter, producer and music exec Iris Gordy.
Wellington Love (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) will serve as producer on the project.
“As a gay Black man, I’m so moved by the Archbishop’s incredible life,” Love said. “It spanned from a traumatic childhood on the streets of Baltimore to an inspired music career to the enormous and diverse church he built where everyone was embraced and loved, regardless of race, sexuality or gender identity. Archbishop Bean was ahead of his time as he practiced and preached radical love.”
Cori Robinson, Bean’s grand-niece and the executor of his estate, is co-producing the documentary.
“To many, Carl Bean was a messenger, a hero, a father and a healer,” Robinson commented. “To me, he was my loving uncle and one of my best friends. So it means the world to me to have the opportunity to collaborate with Sam and Daniel to continue his legacy by sharing his story of equality, justice and, most importantly, love for all.”
Emmy-nominated composer and singer-songwriter Kathryn Bostic (Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir; Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am) will score the film. Jed Alan Klemow and Junge are producing. I Was Born This Way is executive produced by Josh Green, Barbara Bridges, Kristen Wolf and Andrew Tobias, and co-executive produced by Owsley Brown, David Beatty, Rob Frier and John Caulkins.
No target release date for the film has been announced.
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