Pivotal People

Ep. 53: Craig Brown, "Between Mercy and Me" Film

June 12, 2023 Season 2 Episode 53
Pivotal People
Ep. 53: Craig Brown, "Between Mercy and Me" Film
Show Notes Transcript

Between Mercy and Me will be available nationwide, on June 20 for one night only, through Fathom Events. Spring boarding from the Juneteenth holiday, the film is set to challenge societal norms and spark honest and raw conversations around sensitive topics including race, gentrification, interracial dating within the evangelical church and beyond. Between Mercy and Me is a must-watch film for all who desire to learn more about having honest, authentic, and more meaningful conversations about race, and the impact of racial divisions within the church. 

Find a theater near you to see the movie June 20th here: https://www.fathomevents.com/events/Between-Mercy-and-Me

The film was written and directed by Craig Lamar Brown and is based on some of his own experiences experiencing racism and microaggressions – with the police and with other Christians. It stars Andrea Summer and David J Driskill, and Andrea also co-wrote the screenplay and the original music featured through the film.

View the 2 minute trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrZHui76HXo

Synopsis: The film centers around Hugo, a talented musician and worship leader in a Cincinnati community grappling with the impact of gentrification and tragedy. When his pastor challenges him to produce more inspirational music for the congregation, Hugo struggles with writer's block. In his search for inspiration, he meets Mercy, a jubilant and outgoing fellow musician, at a neighborhood coffee shop. As they join forces in their songwriting efforts, their relationship blossoms romantically, but they soon face challenges from friends, family, and their own communities. Determined not to let hard conversations or tension tear them apart, Hugo and Mercy set out to create space for honest conversations and work toward unification in their community. They courageously challenge biases, both seen and unseen, often left unspoken. However, one fateful evening, their relationship is rocked by a routine traffic stop that forces them to confront their own internal narratives and beliefs. Will they choose to embrace vulnerability with each other or let their relationship crumble under the weight of biases they worked so hard to overcome?

Find "Between Mercy & Me" at your local theater on June 20th.

Contact Craig Brown at https://www.instagram.com/craiglamarbrown/

Order Stephanie's new book Imagine More: Do What You Love, Discover Your Potential

Learn more at StephanieNelson.com
Follow us on Instagram @stephanie_nelson_cm
Follow us on Facebook at CouponMom

Stephanie Nelson, Host (00:00):

Well, I would like to welcome Craig Brown to the Pivotal People Podcast. Craig is a multi-talented film producer, writer, and a director. He's originally from Detroit. He's the founder of Brown, brown Films, which is a production company that's dedicated to creating inspirational and artistically captivating stories, which is why he is a pivotal person. We're talking today about an award-winning film. He has directed, it's his directorial debut. The film is called Between Mercy and Me, and it is showing for one night in theaters across the country on June 20th, which is why we are airing this podcast now to give people a chance to get tickets. I believe it's since 750 theaters across the country. I checked. It's in a major theater in my suburb. So we all have the opportunity to watch this. The film addresses some pretty tough topics, so I'm really glad Craig is here to give us insight. And, you know, Craig, could you just tell us a little bit about who you are and what your background is, and really what inspired you to go to the effort to produce this film, to direct this film?

Craig Lamar Brown (01:15):

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, I I grew up in inner city of Detroit and went through Detroit public school system. Had a, i I would say pre pretty normal life compared to most of my peers, but it was a really rough city that I grew up in on the, on the east side of Detroit. And I've, I've witnessed quite a bit of, you know, crime murders, you, you name it. It was a pretty tough city to be brought up in. However, I always tell people that, you know, it's part of who I am and it's it, and it is made, made me who I am. So I love Detroit, miss it. My whole family's still there and me, I'm su super thankful for it as well. So yeah, and I moved to Cincinnati 10 years ago. Met my wife. We now have five kids all girls <laugh>,

Stephanie Nelson, Host (02:06):

So I saw that. I was like, there's a movie right there,

Craig Lamar Brown (02:09):

<Laugh>. Oh yeah. That's, that's a hundred movies there. Easily <laugh>. Yeah. Yeah. And it is been great. Our, yeah, our, our, our family, we, we spend a lot of time outdoors and we do pretty much everything together. We're inseparable at this point. Oh, kind of. We, we, we don't have a choice, but <laugh>. Yeah. So I remember we do love being together and yeah, we spend a lot of time just traveling and learning. So yeah. Yeah, that's a bit about my my background and my family. And yeah, I, in the midst of 2020 I, I saw that there was a big disconnect around racial unity or how to have like, good conversations around race. Like it, I'm not sure you were on social media at that time, but it was pretty gnarly in regards to, you know, left versus right, white versus black in regards to politics and, and race.


And and specifically after the murder of George Floyd. So there was a time where everyone was locked in doors for, and however long lock lockdown was, I can't remember at this point, but it's like where we just had a years Yeah, exactly. <Laugh>, where we just had our you know, our devices that we could say pretty much whatever we want. And I saw a lot of that and wanted to address it. I don't think the country had a good resource in, in regards to art and film or how would I have a conversation that's not biased, but one that's like healthy and productive in reaching the goal of becoming unified and especially with in the church as well. Right. So I thought the, I thought the best way to do that was to tackle it from the perspective of Hugo who's a leader in the film, a black male lead, and to make this story a love story that's surrounded by music to help carry a conversation that can, you know, otherwise be very difficult to have. So yeah, that was my inspiration behind the film.

Stephanie Nelson, Host (04:26):

What I thought was interesting is, it's such a paradox really, that we would have a racial divide within the church. Doesn't it seem like mm-hmm. <Affirmative> of all places within the church? I mean, come on, where would Jesus be on this topic? Right, yeah. And what's so beautiful, I only saw the trailer of your film, but what's so beautiful is, you know, one of the things your production company talks about is, you know, inspiring change through art. So the power of music to bring communities together. And your film is not a documentary, it's a, it's a story. It's a story that we can all step into. And you, even in the trailer, you, you are pulled into the story of, you know, love and music. I was standing in church yesterday, you know, listening to the beautiful worship music. We have multiple races in our church, you know, we're standing there, unified, worshiping God. I mean, what better way for us to be unified mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. So ideally that's what it should be, but the reality and your story in the movie shows the reality of our human failings. So the couple of topics you addressed in the movie that you said you addressed, one I thought was interesting was gentrification and what is it and what dangers or consequences does it carry for communities of faith? And I thought that was interesting. Could you talk about your perspective on that? There was a clear message in your film.

Craig Lamar Brown (05:54):

Yeah, yeah. Basically gentrification is when if what would be a traditionally lower income neighborhood starts to see a lot of revitalization or newer, newer buildings that ultimately end up pushing out the lower income because rents get raised and they can no longer afford to live there. That's like the high level, simple explanation of what it is. And I thought the reason to tackle that, why, cuz it, it doesn't get talked about a lot and it's, there's so many complexities around it. But I did want to express <laugh> just from the perspectives of people who live in those communities of, you know, the, the impact of gentrification, how it continues to basically keep people who are in poverty there. It's, it's, we all, I think we all wanna see communities revitalized or see them like flourish like with, with our eyes and experience those communities in a better way, however that comes at a cost.


And that cost normally is people getting pushed out or people who don't own homes and who can, you know, benefit from the revitalization of that community. So I did touch on that, but also I talked like we, you know, we also can, yeah, we would bring up that conversation with the hope of like, alright, how, like how do we continue to obviously those kinds of neighborhoods will always see some type of movement because it's opportunity, right? Like you can put money in those areas with the hope of getting some type of financial reward from investors viewpoint. So I think that will always be something that happens. I think we just need to be very careful on how it happens and how fast it happens, and like, I'm making sure that the people who live there are in those conversations. So Yeah. Yeah, it was definitely you know, it is, it is not the funnest topic to tackle. Right. well,

Stephanie Nelson, Host (08:07):

I think it's a very important topic. It's not a racial topic because I have lived in a couple of communities where, you know, the local people are, you know, particularly, let's suppose it's a you know, a vacation destination and the local people who live there are the ones who are keeping everything running. And then the second homeowners come in and they raise the prices to the point that the people who are living there and serving the community can't even live in their own community. And so we do see accommodations being made to say, okay, how can we subsidize the housing so that we can have a diverse community and we can have a community where people have jobs and they can afford to live in their communities. Yeah. And so perhaps, you know, an investor can see the value of making that investment. For example, the community I'm talking to, the investors are building housing, employee housing.


Mm-Hmm. That actually pencils for them. And so if we can be creative and come together, I mean, it's a human issue, it's an economic issue and in some cases perhaps it's a racial issue. But let's figure out, what I like about your movie is that you're talking about unity within the church on a couple of different levels, you know, economic, racial, and so you say, how do we have an honest discussion about this in the church? You asked the question, you know, you're trying to break down stereotypes, particularly in the evangelical church, that's what you say. So tell me a little more about that. Tell me your kinda thoughts behind that. Yeah,

Craig Lamar Brown (09:34):

So okay, kinda going back to 2020 when, you know, again, social media news outlets, I think it was very clear that the church did not have an answer for it in that time, which I think, I think it was a time for the church had stepped in and say, Hey, here's how we go forward. But there weren't many leaders that did. So I, I, I can't say that all, but there weren't, there weren't many, there wasn't a big push for, you know, this social this is emotionally socially charged conversation around racial union right there, there just wasn't any momentum there. So with that knowledge, it's a conversation that we just need to have in order to be unified like it. And the way we do that is by one listening. And this goes, this is on both sides. If you're black, you need to be empathetic, understanding and listen.


And if you're white, same thing. You need to be empathetic, understanding and, and listen as well. And however, no ma no matter what, like the playing field isn't even right. Like, it, it just is, we can look at our history and we can clearly understand that there's still some obstacles that the black community are still trying to overcome. So it definitely takes work on both sides. And when you link arms, so like the movie definitely deals with like, you know, how do we do that? And a lot of that is around conversation. Also spending time with someone who isn't your same complexion and starting, like e even having like the, the simplest conversation o over a cup of coffee and not that that is going to ultimately like fix, you know racial division within the church. It is definitely a way to get conversations going or just get, gain some, some traction or like some type of unity amongst the church in regards to race.


So yeah, yeah, again, listening is <laugh> very good step and end up izing with one another. And just really looking at things from each other's perspective. Like, I know what it's like to be black and to grow up in inner city and to have all of my experiences, but I don't know what it's like to be a white person who was growing up conservative, who may have parents who were very cautious about black people. And sometimes like we, we get these things from our parents and our communities in regards to race or how, how to view someone that we're, we're sometimes we're taught these things without even knowing it and it just persists and that cycle doesn't break. So, yeah. And, and again, like empathy is one of those things where I try, I do my best, I have as well when I feel, you know, the heaviness of someone not understanding my difference or my, or my, my background I should say. So yeah. Yeah, it's and, and again, like I thought the best way to do that is with music as you mentioned. Like when you're in church everyone's up in their hands no matter what your race, gender is, like music is a thing that unifies and music does it really well in this film. And yeah,

Stephanie Nelson, Host (13:05):

It's beautiful music. Just even the trailer you picked up on that, are you the songwriter?

Craig Lamar Brown (13:11):

No. No. So Andrea Summer is the person who wrote the music for the film. And there's also a lot of other co collaborators as well. David Driscoll who plays the the Mel Lee wrote music for the soundtrack as well. And just a ton of o other talented individuals. I mainly framed up the song story to make sure that the music match those emotional elements within the script. But yeah, we, we just had some really talented people contribute to the soundtrack.

Stephanie Nelson, Host (13:45):

You know, I'm listening to you and thinking, you know, the whole idea of listening to each other and being empathetic. A couple of things. One is our pastor, Andy Stanley always says, make a friend with a different skin color because something stops becoming an issue when it becomes a person. When it becomes a friend. I always say I understand issues better when I see them through the eyes of a mother. True. Yeah. When one of my friends has the other thing I wanna say is we, I think we have to be careful about stereotyping within a group. So for example, to say that all women are a certain way or all black people have a certain viewpoint, or all white people have a certain viewpoint. You know, we all have different experiences, socioeconomic experiences, educational experiences, families, you know, whether we come from a divorce family or not, all kinds of factors that go into it, we can't overgeneralize our skin color.


Yes. I'll tell the story years ago, you know, I'm 107 years old, so years ago when I was in my twenties, I was working at a corporation and affirmative action was a hot topic. And helping women get promoted was a hot topic. I worked at corporate headquarters. So one of the executives, one of the men decided to take a group of women out to lunch. I think he thought we were gonna promising women and to get to know us better and get to know our perspective. And there were about seven or eight of us around the table. We were all different levels, we were all different functions. And he started asking questions. And to us, they were all such basic questions. I can't believe he asked, ask us what we think about this. And some of us answered one way and some answered another way.


And at the end of the lunch, he said, the most insightful part of this lunch for me has been to learn that not all women have the same opinion. And I thought, oh my gosh, that's where we're starting. We're never gonna get anywhere. It's like, no <laugh>, not all white people have the same opinion. Not all black people have the same opinion, let's get to know each other. Exactly. And especially like, this just hits me because we're talking about faith. I just finished a fabulous book that I think is required reading for everyone in this country. It was a biography of Abraham Lincoln written by John Meacham, who's an amazing biographer. And if you wanna know history and if you wanna know all the complex issues that were behind all of this, I think we just have to read it. And it gave me a much better perspective on what you're talking about, Craig. It's not an even playing field. And it goes back in history and I don't know what we do about that, but I think you have, you know, a really good suggestion. Let's try to reach across. And even if it's vulnerable, it would be vulnerable for me to sit down with you, Craig, and say, you know what, Craig, I don't understand this cuz I don't wanna be like that stupid executive I just told you about

Craig Lamar Brown (16:42):


Stephanie Nelson, Host (16:43):

How don't wanna be like that.

Craig Lamar Brown (16:44):

Yeah. Vulnerability and honesty is a big one. And, and along with that is pride. Since the course of this move, I've encountered people who are just so they hold so tightly to their politics that it doesn't leave any room for these types of conversations. And I, and I think politics have, has become very divisive especially within the church. And I think a lot of pastors who I had that struggle of like, okay, like this is right before me. Like what do I do? Do I, you know, forsake my predominantly black church who is left leaning and say, Hey, we need to come to the middle to have a, you know, better unified body as a whole, as a, as a big C church. Right? Or if you're a white conservative male and you're leading the church of fully conservative congregation and you have some minorities that may lean a certain way, and then it's like, how do you, and that's where it gets really difficult.


 And I think that's where people get tested and challenged. And I think it's the first time in the while we pastors and leaders have, have seen this and that they're asking questions themselves, hopefully to God that they're going to God not asking like, alright, how, how do we move forward? But yes, like, like vulnerability and pride in letting go of whatever you hold so dearly and at the end of the day, they're idols. Right? And I, I'm just going over I've, I've been taking my kids through the Torah and just, just trying to give them a gut understanding of the context of why the, the 10 Commandments and just breaking down, making it very accessible for them. And just talking about you know, commandment, like don't have any gospel form, don't have any idols. And it just thinking of that and it's like, man, like, you know, we've, we've idolized our own ideas of what is right and we forgot the commandment of love your neighbor.


And that is what has been incredibly divisive in the past, you know, three years especially. So yeah, I think as you know, and, and it is work, right? We're, we're not perfect <laugh>, and I'm, and I'm still working in this as well. It's like my, my own pride, my own ideas of what I think things should be like. I'm still working on this and I'm fairly, and politically I'm, and, and I'm very open and honest like this. I'm very much in the middle <laugh>, like, and I probably lean right on some things, but like my upbringing and so it's like, so I can definitely see both sides, which is a gift and a curse <laugh> I agree at at times. But there's times where I can get very passionate about one side versus the other and it's like, oh, like I need to remember that. Like, this doesn't define who I am. God does. So yeah.

Stephanie Nelson, Host (19:39):

Can we just stop right there, Craig? Yeah. Cause I just absolute that. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And that I think is the message that I keep hearing and I keep trying, this doesn't define who I am. God does, you know, what is more important? Andy Stanley says, do we look at our politics through the lens of our faith or do we look at our faith through the lens of our politics? We won't touch on that topic, but I mean, I feel like you're talking in your movie about uniting people and you're starting at the church, you know, and with music, how can we overcome all this human little idol stuff you're talking about? Yeah. You know? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, where are we putting our identity? And I mean, I, I was like, at Jesus was really not into politics, was he

Craig Lamar Brown (20:22):

<Laugh>? No, he was

Stephanie Nelson, Host (20:23):

Not. There's a lot of stuff going on around him and he kind of ignored it. Yeah,

Craig Lamar Brown (20:27):

Right. Exactly. And that's and, and, and, and that's one of the reasons I would say I was probably one of the motivators because it was the politics part. Cuz it was clearly, it was easy to see like how we all just shows aside. And it was hard to come back to an understanding of, oh, like here's Jesus in the gap. You know? So, so yeah. And it not that the movie touches on politics at all. It really zeros in on who God is and what he's asking of all believers when it comes to race and how we should all love one another. And that's the, that's the North Star is just looking at all right, like God, like you, you know, the commandment of like, hey, like love your, love your neighbor love your God with your whole heart's soul mind and love your neighbor.


And if you just like all know all other sins that you know, the Bible goes through, if you look at someone lustfully, you commit adultery. If you hate your brother, you commit murder. And so hate, you know, racism at the root of is hate and the hate is murder. So I, I think if we really look at it with that, that kind of heaviness of man, like, dude, I feel this way about my brother and sister in Christ. If so, like, God help me. Those are very serious commands. I think that we just kind of just kind of let go because of our pride.

Stephanie Nelson, Host (21:55):

Yeah. And and you said vulnerability and this requires all of us mm-hmm. <Affirmative> to be vulnerable to say. Yeah. you had so many interesting themes. Now one that struck me. I'm involved in a relatively new church plant, so it's just a few years old and it's part of a church network. I believe the church that's involved in producing this movie is similar in Cincinnati Crossroads Church, where you have multiple campuses across the city. So I used to live in Cincinnati, so I live in Atlanta now. Oh, okay. So we have some segregated areas and some integrated areas, but when you have a church with a pastor with 10 campuses, you're hitting everybody, right? Yeah. So across the board, you are a unified church, but how can you connect in a more global way? So you're talking about what are the, and I'd like your advice on this.


So as we have a new church plant, you know, you hope to have a diverse congregation, but it really has to start at the beginning. So you really have to make people, and when I say diverse, I mean, you know, men and women and different ages and different socioeconomic backgrounds and different races. I'm not just talking about black and white, but you really have to start at the beginning. So how you talked in the movie about what the role local churches can play in creating welcoming environments for everyone. And that I think is the key. How many of us have walked into a new church and we felt like there's no one here who wants to talk to me. And then another church, you walk in and everyone talks to you. So what is the culture? How do you establish that culture from the get go?

Craig Lamar Brown (23:27):

I don't know, <laugh>,

Stephanie Nelson, Host (23:29):

How do we do that? Just be nice. Talk to the person next to you.

Craig Lamar Brown (23:34):

Yeah. Just well I think a good step is hiring diverse staff. I've, I've seen some churches do this really well, hire diverse staff to make sure that, you know, you, you can reach people who, that all all don't look like you. Right? But I think it's very, I mean, just being a welcoming church I think is pretty easy. It's like all, you know, come, like all come hear the message of, of Jesus, right? But, but then there's other cultural things that may be a little more difficult for someone to connect with. Like if if I take my grandmother-in-law who's who's, who's white, if I were to take her and I were to drop her like right in the middle of Detroit, inner city gospel centered church, it would be shocking to her <laugh>. So it's like, that would be culturally, that would be shocking to her.


And if I were to take, you know, if my grandmother was still living and I would do the same thing with her, put her in the church, it would be shocking to her. It is like, you know, where's, where's the organ? You know, where is that, where is it? Where's you know, where's, where's some drums? Where's, you know, these certain things that, you know, Detroit music is what she's used to in Detroit music, right? So I think so culturally there are some things that it's just is what it is. But like, I mean, I think starting off with, you know, just having a diverse staff and just again, and making sure that everyone's accepted. Now music is a big part of that cuz that's how a lot of people connect with God. Right. And that's, and that's how we wrote the film. We wrote the film to have Hugo from a black gospels in church and we have mercy from, I would say your maybe or the contemporary worship style. And we took their worlds and we blended together and we created a beautiful story with some amazing music to show that together we can create beauty. But also it is just a beautiful representation of what God wants for his bride to church.

Stephanie Nelson, Host (25:47):

Oh, that's beautiful. I can't wait to see it. I just thank you so much. You know, you've talked about some challenging things, but what I really appreciate is just giving both sides permission to be vulnerable. You know, make a friend and just be honest at the get go and just say, Hey, you know, this is what I'd like to understand. I'm sorry if I sound ignorant, but there is nothing more painful than some of the stuff that we saw in 2020. And you know, I hope that as a church we could be the beginning of that healing. That at least we could be an example. We certainly shouldn't be the opposite. We don't wanna be the opposite. Yeah. So I, I just thank you so much. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie. Congratulations on its success already. Thank having won awards. Tell me, because I wanna make sure people know, and I'll have this in the show notes, how do we find you? Do you have a website? Instagram? Yes.

Craig Lamar Brown (26:37):

Yeah, it's, I can be found on Instagram at Craig Lamar Brown. Okay. On Instagram. And that's my Instagram handle. And brown brown films.com is my website. And same thing with the Instagram handle. There you'll find more information for more movies and more pro Yeah. More projects that we're working on in the future. So,

Stephanie Nelson, Host (26:59):

Well, good luck. And I wanna see that movie about the guy who has five daughters that I think <laugh> would have a lot of good material.

Craig Lamar Brown (27:08):

Yeah, yeah. That is, that is true. It'll be rich material, <laugh>. It'll be craziness.

Stephanie Nelson, Host (27:13):

Craziness. Certainly entertaining. Well, thank you so much and I look forward to all of us seeing the movie.