Early in director Anthony L. William's drama Thicker Than Blood, which makes its Chicago premiere on the closing night of the 17th Annual African Diaspora FIlm Festival-Chicago, the lead character Jordan's mother Marilyn ( Christina Smith ) prays, "This is going to be good day. Thank you, Lord. This is going to be a good day."
That'll be a tall order.
Thicker Than Blood takes some recognizable tropes of the fish-out-of-water family drama and uses them to interrogate issues around homophobia and anti-HIV stigma in the Black community.
"It's just new," openly gay Jordan ( Kevin Boles Jr. ) says of being in his family home for the fist time in three years, recognizably uncomfortable when his boyfriend Cameron ( Florencio Martinez ) shows up unexpectedly for a family barbecue in honor of his supportiveand much more successfulbrother Richard ( Tony Bravado ).
"Don't chase [Cameron] off because of your own stuff that you haven't figured out yet," warns Jordan's best friend Selena ( Destiny Diamond McNeill ), who's also engaged to Richard.
Given that Jordan has long had strained relations with his parents, the audience could be forgiven for thinking the main crux of the drama will center on his introducing Cameron to his brood. But that's just one of many dramatic turns that day.
Williams keeps the action centered in Jordan's family home for the entirety of the film; at times you might have the sense you're watching a filmed play rather than a fleshed-out screenplay. He literally gives his actors time and room to move; several pivotal moments in Thicker Than Blood are filmed in long takes, and his camera moves effortlessly with and between characters as they pair off and reconfigure various revelations, arguments and reconciliation.
But what's most compelling in Thicker Than Blood is Williams' refashioning of the familiar parental reconciliation drama and using it to make larger points about issues that many Black LGBT Americans contend with, especially stigma against persons with HIV and the role of churches in perpetuating homophobia in their community. Jordan's homophobic father, Richard Sr. ( Thom McKinney ) , an avid churchgoer who can quote biblical passages from memory, ends up getting schooled by his own minister ( Berle Lorenzo Stocks ) for not knowing that their church welcomes LGBT folks and does outreach for people who have HIV; Richard Sr. shows up every Sunday, the minister asks, but does he bother to listen?
Williams' actors do a great job with difficult material, especially McKinney as Richard Sr. and Smith as Marilyn, a sweet but at times manipulative character who turns on a dime when she needs to.
Thicker Than Blood screens alongside the short film In His Image on Thursday, June 27 at 8:30 p.m. at Facets Cinematique, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave. For more information and tickets, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/adiff-chicago-2019-closing-night-film-thicker-than-blood-tickets-62089986822 .