The programming of HBO’s American Black Film Festival (ABFF) concluded with the screening of Spike Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” along with Art Shirian and I meeting the leading lady of the film, the “next star in Hollywood.”
The Kickstarter-funded indie drama, which explores peoples’ lust for blood drinking, sparked international conversation from its inception. The international film community scratched their heads over what they decided was a critical marketing blunder when Spike Lee politely declined the president of Festival De Cannes’ offer to screen the film. Lee instead opted to have the premiere screening at Jeff Friday’s ABBF.
“Spike Lee is a marketing genius,” shared Friday, “ He is also a loyal man who understands and therefore respects his audience.”
Lee also has an eye for talent and a passion for shaping careers, the most celebrated and beneficial being that of Samuel Jackson and award-winning actress Halle Berry, who, according Lee, had to audition three times to gain the role of the crackhead in “Jungle Fever.”
Meanwhile, the British-born Zaraah Abrahams didn’t have to audition at all really. That nugget was provided by the often-animated and smiling Lee, who said, “I found my lead while screening one of my NYU students’ shorts. She’s the next Halle Berry.”
Hollywood seems to agree. At the New York City screening, the European beauty was surrounded by a bevy of nervous handlers, but she slid away and gravitated to us—well, to Shrian to be accurate. I just listened and snapped the photographs. Here is what I overheard on the red carpet:
AmNews: I didn’t see the film yet, but Spike is raving about you. You didn’t audition—really?
Abrahams: What did he say? Kidding. Half true. He saw me in the short film “Black Girl in Paris,” which screened at the HBO Festival. He emailed me directly and complimented my work and told me that he had a lead part for me in a new film. Then he sent the script.
Surreal. Did you think the email was authentic?
I froze and stayed like that for about five long minutes. My fiance said, “Are you OK? You seem a bit quiet.” That’s usual for me. Then it hit me—Spike Lee just emailed me.
There had to be something that scared you?
Of course. He’s Spike. I was nervous, but he was gracious. I was shaking—I was that nervous. I had two days to rehearse for my audition and that was it. He cast me and then my nervousness went away.
What is Spike like as a director?
He’s a generous director. I was nervous to go to America, but he sent me a lovely email saying he saw something in Halle Berry that he sees in me. It touched and comforted me—it was really nice to hear.
What’s he like as a friend? Are you friends?
He likes karaoke, and we do that together, and we go drinking. He’s also filled with amazing stories, like working with Michael Jackson, and how much he respects Denzel Washington.
He’s smart and generous. I’d say we are friends. His stories never ended, and I was always asking questions.