Texas filmmaker Ya’Ke takes on a predatory gay relationship and the church in the film fest drama ‘Wolf’
Screens at Landmark’s
Magnolia Theatre on April 14 at 12:30 p.m. and at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird
Station on April 18 at 10:15 p.m.
It’s hard to tell as you watch Wolf if the story is about a gay relationship that just happens to involve the clergy, or is a story of betrayal within the church that happens to revolve around gay sex. But for Ya’Ke Smith, the writer-director of the film, the two are inextricable.
“I grew up in the church — I still am in it,” he says over an iced tea in the lounge at Private | Social, “I was exposed to the good and the bad [of it]; I knew people who had been molested. I knew I had those stories inside me and one day would do something about them.”
The trigger for Ya’Ke (as he prefers to be known) was the documentary Deliver Us From Evil, about a priest who sets out to make amends with the parishioners he had wronged. It opened his eyes in a new way.
“I had never thought of a pedophile as being humanized,” he says. “I wanted to show how the cycle continues.”
In the film, playing this week at the Dallas International Film Festival, a protestant bishop engages in a sexual relationship with an underage boy in his congregation. The situation is complicated, however, because the boy, rather than frightened by reprisals of coming forward, professes love for the minister and refuses to accuse him. It leaves the boy’s family to seek satisfaction.
Is the boy really in love, just confused or so victimized he has become brainwashed into false feelings of love for his abuser?
One thing is clear: Wolf is not a “what happened” mystery. Despite the church’s denials, there’s never a doubt that the minister committed the abuse. That was something Ya’Ke wanted no uncertainty about.
“An important question for me was, how do you get past [such events]?” he says — not just the victim, but the church membership as well. “When a pedophile [is revealed], you realize he’s always had two faces, which means you’ve been duped. It’s not even about knowing, but about exposing this to the broader world.”
But Ya’Ke also wanted to flesh out the complexity of such relationships. In the film, we learn through flashback how the minister, Bishop Anderson, was abused as a boy; in the present day, his victim, Jaymund, has an absentee father who doesn’t offer the support his son craves.
“[Anderson] fills a void his father has left,” Ya’Ke says. “It was important to me not to villainize the bishop. For him, sleeping with this guy is how he shows love. It’s what he learned.”
The self-financed production (he won’t say how much) scored one coup of casting: The great North Texas stage actress and sometime Hollywood star Irma P. Hall plays the boy’s steely grandmother. How did he snag her?
“She saw a short film I made and said, ‘What’s he doing next?’” he explains.
Ta’Ke knows this is not the kind of film one would expect to be embraced by the church. So far, though, the reaction has been positive. In fact, after some initial resistance, the bishop at Ta’Ke’s church in San Antonio finally gave his blessing to the film. (Ta’Ke now lives in Arlington, and is a member of T.D. Jakes’ church.) He hopes all kinds of churches will want to screen the film — if only “to start a conversation.”
“I wanted [to explore] the broader issue of how religion could be abusive,” he says. “You see how people use religion, use God to manipulate others. More than about sexual abuse, it’s about betrayal. And what a man does can cause others to turn away from God.”
But he doesn’t want to stop there. Ta’Ke, who is straight (his wife, Mikala Gibson, plays Nona in the film), has already been approached by several gay film festivals about screening the film. All of which is fine with him.
The more people who can see it, and embrace his message of healing, the better.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 13, 2012.