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Stephen Williams on Directing 'Chevalier,' the Black Man's Experience Throughout History

Well-renowned Director Stephen Williams had never heard of the story behind the recently released movie, Chevalier. But once he was aware, it was full steam ahead.

Chevalier is a movie about Joseph Bologne (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), the illegitimate son of a French plantation owner and an African slave, who rises to prominence in French society as a decorated violinist-composer and fencer.

Williams has directed since the early 90s, working on shows such as Soul Survivor, Soul Food, among other hits. He said when he found out about the story, it was the right time to direct the movie.

“It felt really urgent to tell the story of this forgotten musical revolutionary,” Williams said to The Quintessential Gentleman. “And then just on a personal level, he’s from Guadeloupe, an island in, the Caribbean, and I’m from Jamaica. Both of us made it to Europe at a very young age. And so there were many aspects of his personal story that felt similar to my own journey.”

Williams said one constant in the movie, which was written by Stefanie Robinson who wrote the likes of Atlanta and many other FX classics, is that no matter what, Bologne was just a Black man. He likened Bologne’s experience to Malcolm X and President Barack Obama, saying that Black and brown folks had different feelings for those kinds of revolutionaries because that kind of experience was lived every day.

“Those are just two examples, but they’re multiplied across the entire tapestry of this country, and unfortunately, that was a very important part of me relating to that story…,” Williams said. “The more things change, the more things stay the same.”

Another difficult situation in directing the story was that Williams needed to make a perfect blend of a factual story and a theatrical experience, meaning that he was trying to get as far away as possible from telling a Wikipedia story.

“So blending those elements and blending the period authenticity but with a contemporary vibe, moving the camera and having the actors behavior and physicality feel contemporary so it was alienating the modern audience but at the same time wasn’t disavowing the time period in which it happened," Williams said. "Calibrating the balance between those two elements was probably the trickiest thing."

“…We were interested in getting the essential truth of the character, and sometimes you have to invent things in order to get closer to the truth than merely replaying the historical facts…”

Check out the full interview below.

Photo Credit: Searchlight


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