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Director Deon Taylor flips the script in thriller ‘Fatale’

Gives Black actors opportunity to work outside the “box”

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Director Deon Taylor flips the script in thriller ‘Fatale’
Hilary Swank as Valerie and Michael Ealy as Derrick in “Fatale.” PHOTO: SCOTT EVERETT WHITE

In the psychological thriller “Fatale,” Derrick Tyler (Michael Ealy) is living the fabulous life. He is a  sports agent who co-owns his firm, has a roster of elite and talented athletes, is married to a gorgeous realtor wife, has a beautiful home in an exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood and a car to match his success and wealth. However, a night of passion with a sexy and mysterious woman (played by Hilary Swank) lands him in a cat-and-mouse game and threatens to destroy everything he has built.

“Fatale” reteams director Deon Taylor with his leading man Michael Ealy (“Think Like a Man” and “Being Mary Jane”), who starred with Meagan Good in the 2019 thriller “The Intruder” about a young married couple who buy a beautiful house on several acres of land, only to find themselves terrorized by the former property owner (Dennis Quaid). That film brought the director and the actor together for the first time.

Director Deon Taylor on the set of "Fatale." PHOTO: SCOTT EVERETT WHITE

Director Deon Taylor on the set of “Fatale.” PHOTO: SCOTT EVERETT WHITE

“I’m a giant Michael Ealy fan,” says Taylor via Zoom recently, adding that he was blown away by Ealy’s performance opposite Quaid. “When we got to do ‘Fatale’ and I had a two-time Academy Award-winning actress [Swank], I was like, ‘I want to give him a chance to do this with her.’ Man, did he deliver.”

The director adds, “I always think, ‘Man, for a lot of us brown and black people, sometimes it really just comes down to opportunity.’ You know what I mean? He’s been great for a long time, but we kind of keep a lot of our people in these boxes. Now, when you see him opposite her, everyone’s like ‘Oh my God, did you see him?’ And I’m like, ‘He’s been good.’”

Roles such as Ealy’s are typically reserved for white actors, but Taylor’s film flips the genre on its head because nowhere in the film is it mentioned that his character is Black. It’s just accepted as is.

The independent filmmaker who’s directed three films in the past year and has four projects currently in post-production feels a sense of urgency with his work. “I’m fighting my own box,” Taylor admits. “As a Black filmmaker, I’m probably one of the only ones jumping genres. That was not accepted when I first started.” He was told to stick with one type of movie, he says, but he followed his interests instead.

Influenced by the thrillers from the 1980s and ’90s, especially the ones from Orion Pictures, Taylor’s films have been planted in the horror/thriller genres for years. One theme central to his movies is the idea of universality. “Mike Ealy plays a universal part in this film. We have [other] Black actors that allowed us to be that way,” says the director. “That’s Denzel Washington, Will Smith recently, and Sidney Poitier, who we did not see as just black. They were universal figures, and I’m fighting for that.”

It’s been a long and hard road for Taylor, who worked for more than a decade to get his stories on the big screen. Before that, it was straight to DVD — but the hard work and persistence are finally paying off. In the past three years, Taylor has directed “The Intruder,” “Black and Blue,” featuring Oscar-nominated Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”) and Tyrese Gibson (“The Fate of the Furious”), and “Traffik,” starring Omar Epps and Paula Patton.

Now that doors are finally opening for him, his urgency to create and make content is unwavering. Taylor describes it as “a fire that’s burning inside of me every morning that I wake up. It won’t turn off.”

The former Nike All-American basketball player from Gary, Indiana has been able to transfer his skills from the basketball court to the director’s chair. Being involved in sports gave him a perspective that is different from many of his filmmaker peers. It helped to program his mind in a completely different way and showed him the value of teamwork. “It allows you to understand that you have to work with other people to be successful. In film, you’re talking 50, 60, 100 people all together at one time trying to make one thing happen,” Taylor says. “If you don’t understand sports and team, you’re going to fail miserably.”

Lionsgate’s “Fatale” is in theaters nationwide and comes out on premium video on demand on Jan. 8, 2021.

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