'Juanita' Cast and Director on Ongoing Netflix Debate
"There was a time when an indie film could only go to Blockbuster, and I think Netflix has given a new platform," said 'Juanita' director Clark Johnson ahead of the film's March 8 release.
The cast and creators of Juanita had nothing but praise for Netflix at the film's premiere Thursday at Metrograph in New York, amid the ongoing debate in Hollywood about the streaming giant's role in festivals and awards shows.
In fact, Adam Beach — who plays the love interest of the title character portrayed by Alfre Woodard — told THR that without Netflix, Juanita might not have seen the light of day.
"My daughter, she’s 10 years old, and she knows more about computers and the Internet than I do. That’s the representation of what Netflix is," Beach said. "They’re the future of filmmaking and they open a door, like this film that you wouldn’t get when you’re dealing with studios and running a commercial venture."
He added that he has personally found it rare to be in a leading man role as a Native American in a lead role actor. "We want to show the reality of the world we live in," Beach said. "Like, if you walk down the street in New York City, you don’t just see a whitewash of people. So, it’s changing. And this film proves that we can make a good product if we’re offered an opportunity."
Director Clark Johnson echoed Beach's sentiment, telling THR that the opportunity only arose when Netflix "came to the rescue" of Juanita.
"There was a time when an indie film could only go to Blockbuster, and I think Netflix has given a new platform," Johnson said. "I think it’s really great for all of us filmmakers to have a home for our films, because otherwise we get one screening at IFC [Center] or one at the [Film] Forum and that’s it."
Johnson continued, "I still love film festivals, don’t get me wrong; I will always love film festivals. But there’s room for all of us. I think it’s going to even out eventually; we’re going to figure out what the model is for all of us. We all just want to make our movies and be entertaining and have as many people who can see them, see them."
However, Roderick M. Spencer, who wrote Juanita's screenplay, didn't want to just make another movie — he wanted to make one with Woodard, his wife of nearly 40 years.
"It's been a long time coming," Spencer told THR. "It's been a lot harder until recently for an African-American woman to be a lead in any size feature, so we got heaped with compliments for years and years, and then told, ‘We can’t do this unless there’s a white guy.’ So that’s why our résumé is kind of short."
Based on Sheila Williams' novel Dancing on the Edge of the Roof, Juanita follows Woodard's character who's fed up with her life and decides to take off in search of a fresh start.
“When I read it, I was like, ‘Oh my god: a road movie of a woman of a certain age who hasn’t given up, who’s still punching, has strong opinions, loves her kids but is sick of them — all of those things that women of every generation and every race go through,'" Spencer said. "I just thought, ‘If we do this right, we’re going to have a movie that a lot of people can relate to.’“
After reading the book, Woodard said she "fell in love with it," and knew that her husband could bring the story to life on the big screen.
"He’s deeply ensconced in my family that is full of very expressive women," she told THR. "He knows how language swings out of their mouth, as well as how they swing their hips, and how they have that kind of poignant thing about them, and [how they're] absolutely profane at the same time. So I knew he could write the love and the fun in Juanita."
Juanita is currently streaming on Netflix.