Dre (Taye Diggs) and Sidney (Sanaa Lathan) can attribute their friendship and the launch of their careers to a single childhood moment - the day they discovered hip-hop on a New York street corner. Now some 15 years later, she is a revered music critic and he is a successful, though unfulfilled music executive. As they lay down the tracks toward their futures, hip-hop isn't the only thing that keeps them coming back to that moment on the corner...
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa (THE WOOD), BROWN SUGAR stars Taye Diggs (HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK), Sanaa Lathan (LOVE & BASKETBALL), Mos Def (MONSTER'S BALL), Nicole Ari Parker (REMEMBER THE TITANS), Boris Kodjoe (LOVE & BASKETBALL) and Queen Latifah (THE BONE COLLECTOR). The screenplay is written by Michael Elliot (LIKE MIKE) and Rick Famuyiwa based on a story by Elliot. The film is produced by Peter Heller (LIKE MIKE) and co-produced by Trish Hofmann (IGBY GOES DOWN). BROWN SUGAR marks Earvin "Magic" Johnson's first feature film as an executive producer.
"I always felt like all the great love stories weren't ones that had black people in them. I just wanted to create something really romantic that by the end of the movie, touched you," says Screenwriter Mike Elliot of his motivation for BROWN SUGAR.
Elliot decided to base the story on lifelong friends who, as adults, come to the realization that they are also in love with each other. Once he had worked with the basic concepts of the love story, Elliot placed Sidney and Dre against a background he was intimately familiar with, the world of hip-hop music. "I had the desire to create a love story inside a world that I loved. It just made sense," Elliot recalls.
Producer Peter Heller was quick to recognize the story's potential. "It's really hard to find a romantic comedy that can surprise people because the structure for the genre has become so fixed in stone. This film sets the audience up to believe that something is going to happen, and then all sorts of other things happen."
Elliot's obvious love and understanding for his characters was another reason Heller was drawn to the script. He explains, "The secondary characters in romantic comedies are usually set up to be weak, so you know why the two main characters end up together. This was not the case. All of the characters are really funny and rich, unique and grounded."
When Fox Searchlight Pictures came on board, the quest began to find a director who could bring this unique combination of elements to the screen. It soon became apparent that Rick Famuyiwa was the ideal man for the task. "He saw in this script an opportunity to use it as a metaphor for people who grew up loving hip-hop music, and who found something in the music that was unique and fresh and theirs," comments Heller.
Famuyiwa made his feature film debut with THE WOOD. The film, an insightful exploration of male friendship, also proved that he knew how to make music an integral and seamless element of the story. In addition to being a talented director, Famuyiwa is also a noted screenwriter. After reading the script, he had a number of ideas that he wanted to incorporate into the story. Elliot welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with the talented director. "It is such a blessing to have someone like Rick to work with. From the moment Rick added his own thoughts to it, not only did his ideas gel with mine, but they elevated the script and the movie."
Famuyiwa describes BROWN SUGAR as a dream project because it combines some of his favorite topics - romance, hip-hop culture and the ways in which people relate to each other. "I love doing stories about people, about friendships and relationships, and how we fall in love. So when I saw the concepts in the screenplay, I knew that I wanted to build on that. It had six characters that I thought I could develop and really make into special, quirky individuals."
Like Elliot, Famuyiwa grew up listening to hip-hop. He can easily recall the time that he fell in the love with this constantly evolving cultural force. "There was a radio station in Los Angeles called K-DAY that played hip-hop all the time. There was an outlet that I could turn the dial and hear Eric B. and Rakim, LL Cool J and Run DMC. I heard all the stuff coming out of New York, and the stuff that started to develop in Los Angeles with NWA and Eazy E and that's when I truly fell in love," Famuyiwa reminisces.
"Just the idea of this romantic comedy being set in the world of hip-hop, which is the music that I grew up with, really moved me. I felt a connection immediately. I thought that it would be interesting to make a film where the characters' love for the music spoke to the love that they had for each other. That's the idea that I wanted to play with."
He welcomed the opportunity to show the diverse elements that co-exist in the world of hip-hop. "You don't think of hip-hop when you think of a romantic comedy. There's a certain connotation that comes with the music, because a lot of what's popular is negative and violent. I feel that there's always been romance in the music. It's always been a music that's true, so whether that truth is violent, whether that truth is love or friendship - hip-hop has always been multi-layered...I wanted to do something that showed a different side of the music that I love," he concludes.