With “Waves,” young filmmaker Trey Edward Shults created a cinematic experience that stays with the viewer long after they leave their seat.
The emotional climax is a punch to the gut that lingers as one wonders how life can veer so left so quickly – especially for a family unit led by a man with tunnel vision for excellence and success.
The film opens in St. Louis on Friday, December 6 and stars St. Louis’ own Sterling K. Brown in the role of a demanding patriarch intent on creating a legacy through his children that counters the negative stereotypes of African Americans.
“Ronald is not my dad, but I know dads like Ronald,” Brown said. “I know that pressure of growing up in a household of expectations. I know that conversation – that you must be twice as good, or in some cases ten times as good, to get just as far – from the receiving end.”
Unlike his Emmy and Golden Globe winning portrayal of the sensitive to a fault father Randall Pearson on NBC’s “This Is Us,” excellence is the only option for the children of Ronald Williams. His measures are extreme as he attempts to put them on path to the American Dream as they grow up in suburban Florida. Even if he doesn’t condone them, Brown can understand Ronald’s parenting choices to a certain degree because of the history of how black people are viewed in this nation – particularly black men.
“Now I have two boys and I have great expectations for my children and I want them excel and I want them to go into the landscape of America with their eyes wide open as far as this is how other people can experience you,” Brown said. “They can see you as less than. They can see you as something to be feared.”
But Brown also knows the danger of extremes. And through “Waves,” Brown and his co-stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, and Renée Elise Goldsberry give an authentic experience of the trauma that that can be found in the type of parenting where output and achievement outrank a child’s humanity. The consequences of such an environment can be earth shattering for all parties involved.
“There is this pressure that our youth can feel – that I felt when I was a young man – that can be debilitating – that can cause young people to make decisions in a vacuum,” Brown said. “As a parent, it is a cautionary tale. If you want your children to share their life with you, then you must create an environment in which they feel comfortable sharing everything – good, bad and ugly. And knowing that they are going to be loved regardless of their shortcomings. We all fall short of the mark. They need to know that they are going to be loved and that ultimately it’s going to be okay.”
“Waves” has made its way to many critics’ year-end top ten picks since making a splash at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Embodying Ronald was a learning experience for Brown that applies within his own family.
“The lesson for me is that there is a learning that goes two ways between a parent and their children,” Brown said. “It’s not just a parent teaching a child. There are things that your children can teach you if you are open and available to seeing and hearing their wisdom. In the case of Ronald, it was “this is the way it’s gonna be in my house, and if you don’t like it, you can be up out.” He didn’t give his child the opportunity to teach him some things. I try to not to make those mistakes.”
Brown admitted that the idea of “Waves” was terrifying for him at first. “Am I adding to a negative stereotype?” He asked himself when considering the film. Brown is everywhere on the big and small screen. But he is also intentional about what he lends his time and talents to – both as an actor, and through his newly formed production company Indian Meadows, named in honor of the Olivette community where he grew up.
However, Brown saw “Waves” a chance to spotlight the humanity often diluted by stereotypes.
“Hopefully the film is showing the example of a good human being who loses their way and makes an awful mistake – but it does not take away their innate goodness, therefore humanizing this person,” Brown said. “Not making them into a stereotype – but showing a full-fledged human being. And I think we were able to do that with the film.”
“Waves” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, December 6. The film is rated R with a run time of 135 minutes.