They're Playing "Our Song"
Who better to ask about the new film "Our Song," than the three young women who played the leading roles? Read on to hear what these leading had to say about acting in a feature film, growing up in inner city New York and the realities of teen pregnancy.
What do you have in common with the character you play in Our Song?
Melissa Martinez: My life is very similar to the character of Maria. One thing we have in common is that fact that we [are both Latina but we] both grew up in households where there was no Spanish spoken. I also grew up in the projects like she did. So the whole film was very close to home for me.
My life is pretty much the same as my character's. I definitely relate with her attitude. We're both really into style, and the "Tommy thing."
Kerry Washington: I have a lot in common with Lenisha, the character I play in "Our Song." I also started commuting to a private high school when I was her age, and I was driven to education and bigger possibilities but still had close friends back home in my community, so I related with that pull. Around the time I was making the film I had moved into my own apartment and I was feeling a little like a woman and a little like a girl, so I was in a transition like she is in the film. Her character is also really sensitive and cares really deeply for her friends like I do.
M.M. I put a lot into the character and I learned a lot from her as well, like what it really means to have a wall up around your heart. Maria didn't have a good relationship with her mother and I think it just reminded me how important it is to have healthy relationships. I really grew lot during this process.
A.S. This was my first film, and it was really exciting. It brought a lot of adventure and life into my life. I was six months pregnant when I saw a poster hanging near the elevator at Ida B. Wells, the high school I attend for teen moms. I kept seeing it and I didn't want to go but something in my just pushed me forward and told me I had to try it. I was worried because the character wasn't pregnant I went down there hoping I'd get the part. And when I did everyone treated me so well. Jim [McKay] is an excellent writer. And I feel like I bonded with the other actresses as much as the characters in the film did.
K.W. Working on "Our Song" was a dream come true. I've always wanted to be an actor and to be able to act in a feature film, and then to be able to do that with such talented people, was a gift.
What does the film say about what it's like to grow up in the inner city?
M.M. This film is very realistic. It shows people screaming out the window at one another onto the streets and scenes like the one where I'm exchanging conversation from the ninth floor about babysitting, the kinds of [positive, playful] things people from outside the inner city don't know exist here, the things you don't see in movies or on TV We see plenty of films with the other stuff, the violence, drugs, etc., but we don't need another film about violence. I think people who aren't from areas like Crown Heights will be fascinated. It'll almost be like a foreign film [giggles]
A.S. This film tells the truth. It doesn't sugarcoat anything.
What are the messages it sends about teenage pregnancy?
A.S. At first, until I saw the film, I didn't realize it was as focused on teen pregnancy as it is. It's interesting because I planned my pregnancy. I decided to have a baby at that young age. But I like to think [that my child and I] are growing together.
K.W. One thing that comes across in the film is that if we don't deal with pregnancy and sexuality in an open, honest way, if we don't allow young people the opportunity to make educational choices, than it makes the process that much harder. It's very clear in the film that Maria has not had the opportunity to talk with anyone about it and she lacks the information. Lenisha (who has had an abortion herself) helps her get access to more information. Pregnancy is clearly an issue that a lot of young people are dealing with, and "Our Song" shows that. Especially for young women of color, it's close to home. But it's not the negative stereotype you often see, it just shows that its something we're really dealing with, and talks about the facts of what's really going on in our communities.
What will young people get out of seeing this film?
M.M. I think young people who see this film will leave a with a sense of what friendship is, because there's always someone growing up around you who has experienced a pregnancy, a death, or the end of a friendship. And when you can see your lives reflected in a movie, you go away with a lot to think about. When I first saw the end of the film, I saw my character walking away and I was like "Is that the end?" but the more times I've seen it, the more I've realized it ends in an important wayyou know she's gonna keep walking and keep struggling and it leaves the viewer to decide what is going to happen. You decide if Maria keeps the baby, if she stays friends with Lanisha, etc.
K.W.: Everyone deserves to see their stories told on the big screen and people in the inner city don't often get to see themselves portrayed in ways that are honest or uplifting or so much integrity and art. For those who don't live in inner city areas, films like this can act as a window into another lifestyle and a way to learn about other people, and will also help them see the similarities with their own lives. The process of growing up is a complicated one. It's not easy being a young person today and this film really honors that.
A.S. If you're tired of phony stuff, and Hollywood Blockbusters, and want to see something that will touch your life and bring your family together, this is the film. It's going to be hard to find [because it's not a big Hollywood production] but it'll be worth looking for.
KERRY WASHINGTON (Lanisha) made her motion picture debut in "Our Song." The Bronx-born actress can be seen in Paramount Picture's "Save the Last Dance" with Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas. She can also be seen as the female lead in the Hart/Sharp Production ("Boys Don't Cry), "Lift," which premiered in the Dramatic Competition at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.
ANNA SIMPSON (Joycelyn), born and raised in Brooklyn, began her acting career at the age of nine playing a blind girl in a performance of "Upbeat" at the Sorrentino Recreation Center in New York City. "Our Song" is her first feature film. A student in the 11th grade at Ida B. Wells High School in Queens, Anna plans to finish school and then continue her education in the arts by attending acting or modeling school.
MELISSA MARTINEZ (Maria) is currently co-starring with Bai Ling, Kristy Wu and Treach(Naughty by Nature) in Bertha Pan's feature film, "Face." Born in the heart of Spanish Harlem on the east side of 115th Street, Melissa grew up in the projects and lived with her mother, father, and two brothers. Her first joy is performing and it is something she is determined to do for life. In the 5th grade, she did a dance to Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" and realized she loved dancing. Her favorite film as a kid was "Singin' in the Rain."