Neema Barnette spoke with 24Wired.TV about her latest directorial project, Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day. The film, about a New Orleans couple whose secrets are revealed after their daughter is abducted, was produced by T.D. Jakes and filmed on location. Barnette shared insights on both her approach to integrating faith into the film and why she thought New Orleans was where the story should take place.
24Wired: How did you go about setting a balance between the film’s message of faith and its bleak atmosphere?
Neema Barnette: That’s an interesting question. Because the initial script, the predator was a pedophile, number one, and he worked in a garage. So when I started reworking the basis, I didn’t want to deal with a pedophile and I came up with the idea of creating a religious character. I did a fair amount of some extensive research on these types of killers and quite a few of them used the Bible and God as a reason for them doing what they’re doing. So we created Remy [the serial killer] in that light…serial killers who quote the bible, who use Bible phrases. Because I thought it would be more interesting to show the bad guy using the same format–God, the Bible–as what Bishop Jakes’s platform is. You know, to show how religion can do so much good for people’s faith and also how people distort it. And one of the things that our character, or our bad guy in On the 7th Day, says [is] people are destroying the world. Polluting the world. Well, people are polluting the world. But you don’t go around killing young kids and sacrificing kids’ lives in order to save the world. That’s how I kind of came about the new way to develop the Remy character because it is a faith-based film, and after talking with Bishop Jakes, and having several discussions with him about what he really wanted to say, what kinds of problems people have who he counseled, I thought that would be a more interesting way to go.
24Wired: Why was New Orleans the best location to tell this story?
Barnette: First of all, New Orleans needed help, and Bishop Jakes was very concerned along with Jeff Clanagan of Codeblack, to find a way to put some money into the pockets of the people struggling there. I thought New Orleans would be a perfect backdrop because of that, and because of the agencies of New Orleans. When I went to visit in April initially, before I began rewrites on the script, I found the city to be a hustle city. It had a shade over it. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something was amiss there. And when we got there, aside from it being very hot, the atmosphere of New Orleans kind of molded us. I mean, we really improved on the set. We did a lot of changing as we went, according to our locations. We had our plan, we had our format, we had our color charts and our tone charts. My team and I did all the work we possibly could within the small pre-production time. But New Orleans has its own life. And I really wanted to put the film in New Orleans.
I decided to use music–old music, instead of modern gospel music and I was very glad that Bishop Jakes allowed me, and also Jeff Clanagan, allowed me to do that. Because my concept was, okay, On the 7th Day. That was the name of the film. Then I spoke to Bishop Jakes; I said, “I have an idea.” What if I shot every day that this event was happening–what if I shot an organic metaphor of what God created each day, but also organic to our story and organic to New Orleans? And they liked the idea, so that’s what I did, and as I did it, New Orleans kept creeping in, creeping in.
It was a situation where they have very distinct social lines in New Orleans, as they do in many cities, but New Orleans, I found it really really distinct. One of the things I also did was create the poor black woman in the film because I felt like, being poor is a crime in America. If you have kids missing, it’s very unusual for poor women, especially of color, working women, to get any help in local news stations or anything about their children missing. So I created the character of Lynette because I wanted to show that. Because particularly in New Orleans, people have connections, and like Blair [Underwood]‘s character says, when he calls the mayor: “I helped you get elected. So you better help me out.” So he was lucky in that aspect, but there are many husbands and wives all over the country who are poor, whose children have been missing for quite some time, and no one knows about it. And New Orleans is one of those cities.
So it was very important for us to be grounded in New Orleans, in the music, in the visuals. We couldn’t have but so many plots. And there were quite a few, because it’s a thriller as well. So what I decided to do was also shoot metaphors of Katrina, the houses with the X’s on them. Cemeteries. And the still porches of the people who had survived from Katrina. And we put that in the film in the hopes that somehow it would connect with the audience as well.
Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day is in theaters now.