For years, Robert Townsend has been making television and film for people of color and while his latest film, Playin’ for Love, seems to be no different, Townsend was able to change the lives of several Miami-based high schoolers during the filmmaking process.
The film chronicles the budding romance between an ambitious high school basketball coach and an overbearing single mother, but it’s the production that really makes it unique. Townsend chose 20 high schoolers from Overtown, a historic and primarily Black neighborhood in Miami, to work with him on the film.
The kids worked in various departments including wardrobe, makeup, set design and sound.
Townsend got the idea to bring the high schoolers on after he met with an Overtown commissioner who mentioned that many of the neighborhood’s youth could use a positive outlet for their energy.
“Some of (the) kids came from homeless shelters, some came from gangs,” Townsend said. “They learned the process of making movies.”
Townsend, who is from the Westside of Chicago, noted that by bringing on the teens he hoped to show the kids some of the unexpected career options available to them. The teens also got executive producer credits for working on the film.
“Part of the mission for me was to give hope. We were trying to do something in the community to make a difference,” he said. “I understand when you feel like the world is on top of you and you have no hope.”
Playin’ For Love stars Robert Townsend, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Jennifer Lewis, and Esai Morales and is set to premiere on February 9, on DVD and digital including iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, GooglePlay, Xbox and Vimeo.