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Selma star David Oyelowo says his directorial debut, The Water Man, was inspired by his childhood and aims in part to allow Black kids to see themselves on the big screen.
“I made it for my 12-year-old self. I made it for those kids who don’t get to see themselves represented in this kind of story,” Oyelowo said during a press conference for The Water Man at the Toronto Film Festival on Saturday.
The adventure, fantasy pic penned by Emma Needell portrays a sensitive young boy, played by Lonnie Chavis, who tries to save his mother (Rosario Dawson) from terminal cancer. He does so by going in search of the town’s bogeyman, The Water Man, who is fabled to have conquered death.
“It’s very rare to see a Black family at the center of this kind of story. And I’m not just making it for Black and brown people. I’m hoping that white people will watch it and see themselves represented in it because I believe seeing ourselves in different kinds of people is what engenders empathy and erodes ignorance,” Oyelowo told the TIFF presser.
“And at this moment of so much division and divisiveness, anything that one can put out into the world that makes us feel more connected, I want to be part of that,” he added.
Oyelowo said family-friendly films he watched growing up inspired his creative collaboration with his cast, which includes Amiah Miller, Alfred Molina and Maria Bello, who all appeared remotely to tout their work on The Water Man.
Oyelowo cited early Steven Spielberg adventure pics like The Goonies and E.T. the Extra-Terrestial, and Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me, as inspiration. “I have four kids, and I love watching movies with them, and I love watching movies which I grew up enjoying, and those films had adventure and escapism, but they also have a depth and a meaning to them,” he explained.
And Oyelowo insisted telling a family-friendly pic from the perspective of a young boy opened up creative possibilities. “You know, juxtaposing the world and struggle through the eyes of a child, and how we approach it as a grown-up, it makes it more relatable and it reminds us of what’s important. It enables grown-ups to reconnect with the truth of what love is through the eyes of a child who is discovering it in real-time,” he argued.
The film, which Oyelowo also produces and stars in, is executive produced by Oprah Winfrey.
The Water Man will screen in Toronto on Sept. 19 as a U.S. acquisition title.
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