Eugene Ashe’s romance drama Sylvie’s Love is a love letter to jazz, Motown music, and 1950s and 1960s Doris Day-like cinema. It is also Emmy-nominated for Outstanding Television Movie after it made its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Tessa Thompson stars as Sylvie, a young, affluent woman who falls in love with a jazz saxophonist, Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha), who’s not from her class. That’s an ongoing problem in their long-term relationship, not to mention their careers that separate them; Robert’s music taking him to Paris, and Sylvie finding a burgeoning career as a TV producer. However, love always finds a way.
“Something that the film does really well without being heavy handed is the way in which ideas of gender roles, how they were shifting at that time,” Thompson said during Amazon Prime Video’s panel for the movie at Deadline’s Contenders Television: The Nominees awards-season event.
But to make a period African American romance that pays stylistic homage to old Hollywood films, Ashe, Thompson (who serves as EP) and Asomugha (who’s also a producer) had to go outside the studio system.
A number of the 1950s movies Ashe suggested to Thompson as prep, the actress says, “With the exception of Paris Blues, something that was remarkable to me was there were no people of color in so many of these films. I felt like this was an opportunity to make a kind of film, a spirited kind of film if Hollywood was interested in putting a lens on someone like Nnamdi and myself.”
“I owe a great debt to independent film,” Thompson added; she’s frequented the Sundance labs and has been involved in the development of indie movies from the ground up.
“I get to make big movies, but my formative years as an actress, I made independent films. When Eugene spoke about showing another side of our humanity, I don’t know if I’d have that opportunity to star in a film like this if it were made by a studio because, frankly, studios aren’t making a film like this.”
She added: “If I want to be able to play the kind of parts that speak to what I know to be true about my own humanity –which is layered, complex and expansive — I feel like I can only do that in independent films. It’s not a choice for me actually; necessity is the mother of invention. We have to advocate for ourselves and our stories to be told.”
Check out the panel video above.