Tyson Beckford: King of the Evening

Life is grim. But on Sunday nights, in a dingy hall in a forlorn neighborhood, the men of the ghetto piece together the finest attire their meager lives can beg, borrow or steal to compete in an underground contest like no other.

Based on actual events – “Kings of the Evening” is a Depression-era film that transplants a South African tradition – donning one’s finest attire for a chance to be crowned “king” for one night – to the Deep South. The story centers on Homer Hobbs (Beckford), an ex-con who competes in a weekly underground fashion show with other men in town.

The sense of pride they get enables them to keep fighting against their bleak circumstances. The film, the brainchild of Andrew Jones and his father, Robert Jones, was shot in Bartlett, located 40 miles northeast of Austin past Georgetown in Williamson County. It is currently traveling the film festival circuit, seeking a distributor, racking up honors along the way.

“When you really stand in your own truth, you do beautiful things and this movie is a testament of that.”

The cast is helmed by veteran actors Glynn Turman and Lynn Whitfield, with Tyson Beckford in the lead role of Homer. Yes, that Tyson. “The script touched my heart,” Beckford said. “It was so well-written that I had no choice but to jump in.”

kang-of-the-eveningNewcomer Linara Washington said she felt a deep connection to her character, Lucy, a woman with a past. She said that she hopes audiences appreciate the film’s intent – to tell a story steeped in truth and dignity. “When you really stand in your own truth, you do beautiful things,” she says, “and this movie is a testament of that.”

Turman plays the suicidal Clarence, “a nobody who aches to be somebody.” He had high praise as well for the film — “It’s finely-drawn, character-driven piece with a great message and terrific story” – and for his cast mates. He described Whitfield as “always as talented as she is beautiful,” predicted that Washington would “blow the socks off everyone” and said that Beckford delivered a strong performance.

A cinematic newbie, Beckford admits that it was intimidating to share the screen with an actor like Turman, whose career has taken him from Broadway to the small screen. Turman’s performance on HBO’s “In Treatment” is up for an Emmy later this month.

As one of the last actors cast, “I only had a few days to work with the script,” Beckford says. “It was definitely a challenge but I talked to my manager and she said, ‘You can do this.’” That same can-do spirit is pushing the director and producer in their quest to find a distributor for the film, which took top honors at this year’s San Diego Black Film Festival – Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.

“It’s tough going for independent films even though we’re getting a lot of critical praise,” director Andrew Jones said. “There’s just a glut of independent films right now.” At the movie premiere in Austin on September 10th, audience member Anne Boyd said “The acting was great…Linara was fabulous and I’d expect to see great things from her in the future.”

Not that striking out on your own is a bad thing, added producer Reginald Dorsey, who also stars in the film. “Hollywood has a tendency to dictate to an audience what they should view. If it’s an African American audience, what they choose to expose us to is very limited,” Dorsey said. “There are so many great stories yet to be told. He who controls the image controls the power. It’s certainly up to us as African Americans to control our own images.”

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