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She don't like it like that - motion picture director Darnell Martin's 'I Like It Like That' focuses on character development

American Visions,  Oct-Nov, 1994  by Steve Monroe

Darnell Martin has little love for politically correct marketing hype. Her reaction to being labeled the first African-American female filmmaker with major studio backing: "It pisses me off." And she believes there's no need for the label. Rich in characters, emotions and the music of the streets, Martin's I Like It Like That (Columbia Pictures) attracted attention at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year with its slice-of-life tale of a young woman trying to love her man, keep her family together, assert her self-worth as a person and keep her sanity, all at the same time.

But, Martin insists, "I wasn't thinking about trying to do something politically correct. I was trying to follow the human beats. My foremost interest in filmmaking is about character, about the environment of my characters. I wasn't trying to do a film about Latinos or women or anything like that. I just tried to make a film about people."

So take Martin, 27, at her word and forget politics; just watch, listen to and enjoy her people. Watch Lisette Linares (Lauren Velez), an honest, passionate black Latino woman whose traditional role is challenged when her husband, Chino (Jon Seda), lands in jail and she is forced to become solely responsible for the care and feeding of their three children.

Watch Chino's macho reactions to his woman's aserting herself. Watch Lisette's 10-year-old son, Li'l Chino (Tomas Melly), torn between the fighting and money problems of the family he loves and the lure of the drug trade in the streets. Watch the legendary Rita Moreno as Lisette's conniving but funny mother-in-law. And enjoy the film's rich soundtrack, which moves from hard-edged urban rap to the velvet romance of Nat "King" Cole to the classic rhythm and blues of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness."

"Everyone tells me, 'Your film is so loud,'" says Martin. "I never thought about that, because the movie is set in New York, where I grew up, and that's how it was. In New York you have people of all cultures--black, white, Latino--living on top of each other. You hear them talking and shouting, and you hear their music all the time."

The inspiration for I Like It Like That came straight from Martin's childhood in the Bronx. The streets, the schoolyard (of Public School 64) and the buildings she grew up in all became centerpieces of the film. From the Bronx, Martin went on to Sarah Lawrence College and New York University Film School. Along the way she worked in film labs and camera rental houses and as a bartender, made music videos and short films, and wrote the first draft of I Like It Like That.

In 1992, Martin's short film Suspect won critical acclaim at the New York Public Theater's Young Black Cinema showcase. That same year, she delivered her revised script of I Like It Like That to Columbia Pictures, which was still enjoying its successful investment in untried black talent--John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood. Early in 1993, Columbia agreed to make Martin's movie, which will be released this fall.

Martin knows that for all of her film's power, what helped make I Like It Like That such a novelty at the Cannes Film Festival were the press releases linking her race, gender and studio backing. And she doesn't like it one bit. "I don't like them touting me like that to sell movies," she says. "I understand it, but I don't like it. I think it takes away from all those women who've been out there before me making films. It's not easy dealing with people who are not filmmakers, and it's not easy dealing with them when you're a woman, and a black woman at that.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Heritage Information Holdings, Inc.
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