At the helm are wife-and-husband team Ericka Marsalis-LaManna, who writes, produces and directs, and Ray Sr., who stars as himself in the film, produces and is a local Hip Hop artist and sound engineer.
Marsalis-LaManna wrote the film to tell Ray Sr.’s true life story, including time he spent as a homeless teen and as a young father before serving five years in prison for robbery. Ray Sr. emerges from prison ready to face the emotional pain caused by his mother during his childhood, as well as the challenges of dealing with his son’s mom, Felicia (Colby Crain). Three months after his release, he marries Jessica.
“In the film, Ray’s mom is always telling him negative things about his dad, and then saying that he looked and acted just like his dad. When you make negative comments about the parent and tell the kid they are just like them, it’s not good for the child’s self-image,” says Marsalis-LaManna, who self-funds her productions and works as a learning consultant for a college-textbook company.
“One thing that I hope people take away from this film is that if you have negative feelings about the other parent, keep it to yourself. Your child is not your friend. Your child is not your man—let them be a kid. It’s kind of a cycle and unless someone breaks it, it can have a negative spiraling effect.”
Marsalis-LaManna is the basis for the character Jessica, played by Austin-based actress and pole-dance instructor Amber Prowl. Prowl also starred in Marsalis-LaManna’s award-winning 2012 film, Generation Me, which chronicles dating in the age of social media. Both films feature racially diverse casts.
“I get a lot of compliments on the racial diversity of my films, and I think that’s because I write the characters, but not for race. Regardless of who shows up, I cast the best person in the role, whatever their race,” says Marsalis-LaManna.
“If you will open up your roles as a director and you open up all the doors and let people come in and do what they will, then they can take it to a higher level than even you as a director had in mind. And a lot of actresses, especially here in Austin, appreciate that because roles for women of color are kind of scarce.”
Ray Sr. teaches Hip Hop production courses at Austin Community College, the first courses of their kind in the state. Marsalis-LaManna will begin filming a documentary in the summer of 2016 and is currently writing a script for a dark religious drama. She earned her art degree at Texas State University, and her first feature film, Generation Me, won five film festival awards, including two for Best Emergent Filmmaker.
The Bag Lady and Generation Me are available for download online.