Edy Ganem is Alejandra (Ali) Batista. She is suing the catholic church to become a priest. Aaron Tveit is Tommy, a good hearted, but intellectual and emotionally vain young gun solicitor. Ms Batista enters Tommy’s firm looking for someone to take her case. Tommy, surprise surprise, hasn’t done the pro bono hours required for his firm, and harboring ambition to become a partner takes the case against the church, despite his luke warm catholic faith.
Beyond the two main characters every actor in this is wooden. I don’t like that description because it doesn’t tell you much. But in this case it’s kind to be as indescriptive as possible. It’s not just their fault entirely – they are reading the lines that were written for them. Why show emotions when you can just tell your fellow characters how you’re feeling? In one nauseating scene Tommy comes home to his mother to let her know he needs to win the case to become partner. Without an ounce of emotion she says she can’t deal if he wins, and how can he do this on her birthday?! We’re talking somewhere between The Room and Catwoman in terms of nuanced dialogue.
The case is fairly straight forward. Despite a separation of church and state, Tommy is arguing on the basis of anti-discrimination laws. Ali argues that God is on her side. The plot doesn’t go into details but does spend plenty of time reiterating the basic facts.
The lighting and tone is identical in almost every scene creating an eerie monotony. It looks like most of the film has been shot between 12-3pm, giving the entire production a Lifetime original vibe. The attempt to illicit tension, turning this fictional drama into a thriller, isn’t successful. Ali is continually threatened by religious extremists, strangled and stalked but with the low production value the action scenes aren’t nail-biting. In one instance they are cut off in traffic and forced to brake. With some rough cutting together their faces are suddenly blood splattered. Unfortunately it doesn’t fall into the ‘so bad it’s funny’ category.
The film would have been helped with better shaped characters and a back story to heroine Ali. Beyond a rigid faith and plenty of screen time we don’t know much about her. Martin Luther King realised that a martyr’s character is integral when fighting discrimination. He waited for a case like the heroic Rosa Parks. Counter-intuitively Created Equal glosses over Ali, instead spending plenty of time on Tommy. But really all we learn about him is he wants to become partner and isn’t heartless.
Actor turned director Bill Duke is at the helm of this but not the creator or writer of the project here. His imdb resume is an interesting mix of eclectic roles in big projects and plenty of socially conscious directorial projects. The writers here could perhaps take a lesson from more intricate projects concerning faith such as Spotlight or Contact. Not every question and theme needs to be presented so literally.
Created Equal is available on DVD/VOD from 16th January.