People 23 April 2017
Ever since starring in her first controversial movie Kids, Rosario Dawson has taken on complex roles that challenge her. It’s no wonder why the talented actress chose to star in the new thriller, Unforgettable, which deals with the troubling theme of domestic violence.
Part of her choice to join the cast was personal, Dawson told SWAAY at the movie premier, as her own mother worked at a women's shelter when Dawson was just 10 years old. “This (subject matter) is something that’s always been in my life, that I take very seriously,” says Dawson, regarding the subject of domestic abuse. "There were women and children who came in during the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs."
That experience infused her with activism; Dawson has been a board member of V-Day, an organization which helps stop the violence against women and children around the world. “I didn’t want this to be used in a film for some minor character note, I really wanted the film to say something," says Dawson.
In Unforgettable, Julia, (Dawson) is a newly engaged writer who has emerged from a personal dark period, in which she was being abused by an ex-boyfriend. While Julia is excited to start her life with her fiancé, David (played by Geoff Stults), a divorced father of one, she still hasn’t shared with him the emotional scars from her past.
Dawson says that while filming, an important part of her process was having an open dialogue about the movie's subject matter with producer, Denise Di Novi.
"We wanted to be really honest about it…when one in three women are being raped, killed or beaten in their lifetime, that’s over a billion women on the planet," says Dawson. "I loved that this was an opportunity to play a character who had gone through that and had sought help. [My character] is a survivor--she got her perpetrator in custody, went to court, got a restraining order, and she checked herself somewhere to get psychological help. While that's something that happened off camera, you see how much that has affected her. These tools end up saving her in this film.”
About her character, Dawson says, “You’re catching Julia at that ‘pinch me’ moment when she’s happy and in love. She is excited about the steps she is taking to build a new life, but because of everything she’s gone through before, it’s hard for her to trust in it and not wonder when the other shoe is going to drop. I was rooting for her because I know how that feels, and I think anyone could understand what that might be like."
In the movie's Dawson's Julia is also dealing with her partner's increasingly manipulative ex wife, Tessa (Katherine Heigl).
"She’s definitely stepping into this new experience with excitement, but also some trepidation because she didn’t have the kind of upbringing that makes her feel secure about being a parent," Dawson says. "That puts her at an obvious disadvantage when she meets Tessa. At first, Tessa appears to be doing her best to make the transition as smooth as possible, but you see pretty early on that she’s actually not as welcoming as she pretends to be and is trying to gaslight Julia.”
To be sure, both women in this film are suffering trauma. This theme is explored through detailed character development, Dawson says.
"Amazingly, my character, who has the least resources of all of them, has actually gotten some emotional help and given herself a leg up," says Dawson. "While these other women, who should have access to everything, don’t use it, because they keep the skeletons in the closet and don’t talk about it."
“We need to really look at the ugly, in order to get it out of our lives," Dawson says. "That’s a really important lesson."
In her own life, Dawson says that thankfully she hasn't had to deal with any crazy ex-boyfriends, but that she has had many experiences with stalkers and "all kinds of crazy things," she says. "That was scary to reflect upon and think about."
In terms of relationships, Dawson said she's in fact, very timid. "I have been really lame in my breakups, writing really sad little handwritten letters that I dropped off at their house," she says. "Those are the moments that I look back and think, 'yea I could have been a little bit classier and taken that a little bit better.'"
The first film for director, Di Novi (Crazy, Stupid, Love, Focus), Unforgettable explores the notion of the self, and how important it is to feel whole without a relationship as well as with one.
"Tessa’s entire life has been geared toward having the perfect life—the right marriage, the right husband, the right house," says Di Novi. "Julia escaped an abusive relationship and has worked hard to move past it, yet she is still hiding it from David. So it is kind of a cautionary tale for women about what can happen when your whole identity rests on your relationship with a man, good or bad.”
Di Novi says that working with Heigl and Dawson was inspiring, as both inherently possessed similar characteristics that their respective characters did.
“The thing that got me about Rosario when I met her, is that she has an inherent goodness about her and a huge heart and I knew that would work for the role," says Di Novi. "Julia also has a kind of joie de vivre and Rosario nailed that part of the character. You see why David fell in love with Julia: she’s funny, sexy and spontaneous and doesn’t care about being a little messy, and that’s a breath of fresh air to him after being married to someone like Tessa, who is very good at keeping that perfect veneer.”
5 Min Read
Like so many millions across the globe, I deeply mourn the loss of one of our greatest real-life superheroes, Chadwick Boseman. To pay tribute and homage to him, my family rewatched his amazing performance in Black Panther. T'Challa was one of Boseman's most important roles both on and off the screen, as his portrayal of the heroic warrior and leader of the people of Wakanda inspired viewers of all ages.
Re-visiting the futuristic city of Wakanda on screen caused me to reflect on how Blacks in America once had our own version of Wakanda: Black Wall Street. Black Wall Street was the name given to the wealthy, thriving, Tulsa, Oklahoma neighborhood of Greenwood in the early 1900s. The nearly 40 square-block neighborhood had more than 300 businesses and over 1,000 homes, including several stately mansions. Like Wakanda, Black people in Greenwood built their own hospitals, schools, theaters, newspapers, churches, and everything needed for their community to flourish.
Tragically, he lost everything he built, as did the entire district of Greenwood, in the largest, government-sanctioned race massacre in U.S. history.
With only 42 years separating the moment Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and Greenwood's founding, the amazing feat of Blacks building Black Wall Street is something that required supernatural acts of real-life superheroes the likes of which we see onscreen in Black Panther.
One of these real-life superheroes and leaders of Black Wall Street was my great-grandfather A.J. Smitherman, owner and editor of the Tulsa Star. The Tulsa Star was the first daily Black newspaper with national distribution and was a source for Black people to stay informed about issues affecting them throughout the US. A member of the first generation of Blacks born free in the late 1800s, Smitherman attended La Salle and Northwestern Universities. After receiving his law degree, A.J. began his career in community activism, politics, and the newspaper business.
A fearless leader in the Black community not just in Tulsa but throughout the nation, he dedicated his life to empowering his race in all categories of life in every way: morally, economically, physically, and politically. A.J. fiercely and courageously used his newspaper and the power of the press to end a myriad of corrupt operations and develop his community. As one of the most influential founding fathers of Black Wall Street, his contribution and investment in Greenwood was and is immeasurable. Tragically, he lost everything he built, as did the entire district of Greenwood, in the largest, government-sanctioned race massacre in U.S. history.
Unlike Wakanda—the fictional land hidden in the mountains of Africa, mostly invisible to the outside world and protected from foreign threats—Greenwood was exposed. Greenwood was not only visible, but the 11,000 residents and their luxurious lifestyle were a constant reminder to their poor white neighbors across the tracks that Black people had surpassed them in economic empowerment and success. Eventually, the jealousy, greed and contempt for the growing Black economic and political power ignited a horrendously evil act of domestic terrorism by white Tulsans.
A.J. fiercely and courageously used his newspaper and the power of the press to end a myriad of corrupt operations and develop his community.
On May 31st, 1921, thousands systematically looted and burned down Greenwood in a 36 hour-long massacre resulting in the murdering of over 300 Blacks. Thousands more were detained in concentration camps where they remained for months through the freezing Oklahoman winter.
In a recent interview, I was asked what goes through my head when I see the racial unrest taking place today and compare it to what was happening 100 years ago leading up to the Tulsa Massacre. The short answer is that I am incredibly sad. I'm sad for so many reasons. One of the things I am saddest about is knowing that my great-grandfather and great-grandmother sacrificed everything for the betterment and empowerment of their race. And after all of these years, the struggle continues.
I believe that now, more than ever, it is so important to maintain not only our hope but our faith.
A.J. Smitherman's writings in both the Tulsa Star, and thereafter in the Empire Star, a paper he founded later in New York, reveal a man full of hope and ambition to make a difference and contribute to his race and his country as part of the first generation of Blacks born free. He worked tirelessly to this end until the day he died in 1961. Tragically, A.J. died still a fugitive of the state of Oklahoma, having been unjustly indicted by a grand jury for inciting the massacre. This is another point of tremendous pain and grief for me and my family. It is a travesty that he never saw justice in his lifetime, and he furthermore never saw his dream of racial equality.
But perhaps what saddens me most is the fact that I truly believe that in his heart, he still had hope that America was on a path to find its way out of its dark past and into the light of a new dawn. He hoped that the nation would one day become a country where his descendants would no longer be subject to racial hatred, discrimination, and economic disenfranchisement. And I'm certain that he believed the days that Black people would fear being lynched would be long gone by now.
One of the things I am saddest about is knowing that my great-grandfather and great-grandmother sacrificed everything for the betterment and empowerment of their race. And after all of these years, the struggle continues.
I can feel A.J.'s blood in my veins, and I feel a responsibility to carry the torch of the light of hope. I believe that now, more than ever, it is so important to maintain not only our hope but our faith. I'm very grateful for the attention being brought to the legacy of Black Wall Street and A.J. Smitherman. Knowing their story of success and triumph and how it tragically turned to massacre and destruction is vital to insuring history doesn't continue to repeat itself 100 years later.
One thing I know for certain is that building a brighter future will require all of us to summon our own inner superhero, like A.J. Smitherman and Chadwick Boseman before us, and work together to continue to fight for our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.