One dress changes everything for a family in Dionne Edwards’ spirited debut, which investigates Black masculinity and family structures. The film that features Natey Jones and Alexandra Burke in lead roles is set to release in theatres across UK on the 16 June 2023.
The slow, simple opening chords to ‘Proud Mary’ echo out in the audition hall, singer Candice (Alexander Burke) begins to portray one of the biggest rock and roll icons of the 1980s and 1990s. Creedence Clearwater’s ‘Proud Mary’, a song about leaving painful, more stressful things behind in search for a more meaningful life, could not be more true of Tina Turner, who survived, overcame and then came back once again from the domestic abuse that marred the artist early in her career – it was her breakthrough song.
Pretty Red Dress is the story of Travis (Natey Jones), Candice and their daughter Kenisha (Temilola Olatunbosun) as well as their relationships with the same dress. Travis has just finished serving time in prison to return to his family and home in London. Candice, Travis’ fiance, is waiting for him. She is struggling to pursue her goals and raise her family, as her agent has landed her with the chance to play a lead role in a Tina Turner musical.
Kenisha, their daughter is queer or questioning her identity, so herein are three people with which the dress is holding meaning, each in its own way. For Travis, the dress is a symbolic reframe of his own sense of masculinity and the film explores these themes in a way that’s light-hearted as it is revealing.
Queer black and LGBT+ rights have been historically marginalized, which is evident in how Travis is screaming out for love, particularly in a scene filmed at park in which a drunk Travis, approaches a group of heteronormative young black men wearing the red sequined dress, in drag after he’s thrown out of the family home. Travis is swiftly beaten, and rejected by the community and has much soul searching and healing to do.
Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/or questioning young adults have led to experiences that have by turn influenced activism, but in Pretty Red Dress, Dionne Edward’s portrayal of a modern and black lgbt+ family also supports the experiences that marginalization of black lgbt+ lives on our sense of community belonging, identity development and psychological well being among black lgbtq+ people.
The film refuses to take itself too seriously, it’s funny and crafted together within a classic Motown theme. With a cameo appearance from comedienne Angie Le Mar, notable acting performances of Alexandra Burke who’s portrayal of Candice shines in the role and Natey Jones, who carries the part of Travis with a low dignity throughout. In the sibling relationship between Travis and Clive (Rolan Bell) Jones is sensitive yet strong-willed enough to stand up to the aggressive attitude of his domineering older brother, staying consistent throughout.
Pretty Red Dress is as healing to watch as it is entertaining and gives audiences a much needed break from the white, heteronormative perceived lgbt+ life that instead places a much more believable, alternative black and queer reality.
Director : Dionne Edwards
Cast : Natey Jones, Ben Caplan, Alexandra Burke, Temilola Olatunbosun, Nicholas Bishop, Eliot Sumner
Words by Abigail Yartey
Reviewer and writer