Atlanta Film and TV was fortunate to have a conversation with filmmaker Edson Jean and actress Shein Mompremier about the film Ludi, which was one of the film selections at the 2021 Atlanta Film Festival.
Ludi is about a woman who is desperate to send money back to her family in Haiti. Ludi Alcidor, is a hardworking and exhausted nurse, spending a chaotic day battling co-workers, clients, and an impatient bus driver as she chases the American Dream in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood.
Edson Jean is an emerging Haitian-American actor/writer/director. He most recently was nominated for a Streamy and MIPCOM award for directing all eight (23 minutes) episodes of his dramedy Grown, for Complex Networks. Edson also wrote, directed, and starred in The Adventures of Edson Jean, which aired on HBO/ HBO GO. As an actor, he was seen in A24’s Moonlight, Warner Bros, War Dogs, HBO’s Ballers, and Netflixs’ Bloodline.
Shein Mompremier is a Haitian-American actor and model best known for her recurring roles as Chenoa in The CW's Black Lightning, and Davi in Complex Network's Grown. Her latest film, Ludi, directed by Edson Jean, recently premiered at SXSW and was the opening night film at the Miami Film Festival.
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you give our readers some background on who Edson Jean the filmmaker is?
“I was raised by Haitian-born parents specifically from the north city of Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. My experience growing up in a Haitian church community inspires my work, and curiosity, sort of like a “cultural excavator” of sorts through filmmaking. All the work I do is focused on the myriad of Haitian, and Haitian-American experiences, as well as Caribbean and some Latin, because those demographics outside the Haitian demographic, are thriving in Miami.”
“I, too, was raised by Haitian parents. My mother was from Jacmel, and my dad from Ocap, Haiti. I am the daughter of a pastor and an educator, and I had a strict upbringing. I broke off and found my way through the arts against their will, but everyone’s happy now because I’m doing great!”
- Shein Mompremier
Atlanta Film and TV: Ludi was your first feature film. Could you share with us your experience?
Edson Jean: “My mother’s early years of immigrating from Haiti into the U.S., specifically, Miami was inspired by the film. I found a piece that highlighted and pulled from the different experiences she had, as she found her footing and the culture clash of being in a foreign country. Ludi is a love letter to my mother’s experience. It was both exciting and challenging on the production side because it was my first feature film with many unknowns. Even more specifically, it was a micro-budget film, where we didn’t have a lot of resources to do whatever we wanted. But, I thought that was to the benefit of the film and the story we were trying to tell.”
Atlanta Film and TV: The Cinematic Arts Residency at Oolite Arts, provides $50,000 for Miami-based Filmmakers. Could you share with us about that and how you received those funds in order to bring Ludi to life?
Edson Jean: “Oolite Arts is one of Miami's best arts support organizations, if not one of the best in the nation. But, with this grant, there are no strings attached. Oolite Arts blazes the path forward for understanding the gap in financial opportunities creating an ecosystem that funds and supports and funds people of color and underrepresented artists. This grant was the lifeblood of Ludi. I, however, knew I wanted to make a micro-budget film. I had to apply for the grant, and afterward, Oolite Arts reached out and let me know I was on the frontlist for the grant. And, Ludi was fortunate to be the first film under the Oolite Arts banner.”
Atlanta Film and TV: How long did it take to make this film from pre-production to post-production?
Edson Jean: “Principal photography began right before the pandemic. Once the pandemic hit, we took it as an opportunity to relax until our post-production process because we weren’t in a rush. So, in all, it took us about a year to complete.”
Edson shares his intention of showing an array of black folks from various cultures and backgrounds throughout the film Ludi.
“Ludi was inspired by what I, Shein, and many other crew members experienced in Miami. There's an array of people more than any other area of the country that I've been to. So, we were trying to reflect on the demographic of Miami.”
- Edson Jean
Atlanta Film and TV: Did either of your parents recognize your gift of the arts early on, and if so, how did they nourish that gift to facilitate your growth?
Shein Mompremier: “Both my parents were educators. I believe they would’ve liked for me to continue to go to school and get my Ph.D. But, I chose another path. I remember my mom saying she looked at my legs and thought I should be a dancer. She tried enrolling me into dance classes, but my dad said, “No. That's not what Christian girls do!” I experienced the performing arts when I went to high school and had to audition to be a part of the dance program, but it was a means to a better education.”
Edson Jean: “My parents never saw the arts as a viable career. But, earlier on, my mom was aware the arts was something she wanted us to get involved with and put me in piano, amongst many other things. I was also Joseph every year in the Christmas play at church, and I think people could see I had a personality. But, I don’t think anyone thought I would become a serious actor. The church was where acting was unlocked as an option because I wasn’t seeing acting in school. I grew up in the Delray Beach area of Miami, and I attended a magnet school for music which, like Shein, was a means to a better education. But then I quickly got kicked out after the first year for misbehaving and being a clown!
I was introduced to drama during my sophomore year in high school, and that’s when a snowball effect of looking into it as I was preparing to go to college. So, my parents didn’t necessarily foster my gift of the arts, and it wasn’t until a couple of years after undergrad was when my mom finally stopped asking what I’m minoring in.”
Shein shares how her portrayal of Ludi differs from other roles she’s portrayed.
“Playing Ludi was the closest to home that I ever had. First and foremost, Ludi is Haitian-American, and I’ve never had the opportunity to play that, and I’ve not seen many scripts that have Haitian people in them. And, it’s by far the proudest work I’ve ever done.”
- Shein Mompremier
Atlanta Film and TV: It is a matter of fact that the American dream is more difficult to achieve for an immigrant than for a US citizen. We know that the degree of difficulty for reaching that dream is increased if the immigrant is black. What should black immigrants know when trying to make a better life for themselves here in the states?
Edson Jean: "The conversation about the immigrant experience and struggle is portrayed throughout Ludi. I think a big thing that citizens of this country are deprived of is education applicable to real life and life after grade school. The education that helps you set the foundation for building a sustainable career (or life and family) things that can be basic to others who have this knowledge from other generations before them. Such as understanding financial literacy, the importance of establishing equity in a home, and not renting forever. Because those who do have that knowledge - and you’ll see a lot of that in many other West Indian cultures, know how to leverage their hard work that comes with coming from a Third World country. They’re willing to do whatever it takes, making sure they put themselves in a position to make their money work for them in the best way possible, as opposed to being caught up in a hamster wheel. And for me, it’s not a question of whether one group or individual is more intelligent than the other; it’s access to resources or information.”
Atlanta Film and TV: As a Haitian-American actress, have you had any obstacles getting roles?
Shein Mompremier: "As a black actress, those obstacles were there. However, when I was starting, there weren’t many lead roles for black actresses, but now we’re starting to see more of that. During the past few months, I have seen more roles specifically for Caribbean Americans and a few for Haitian-American actresses."
Atlanta Film and TV: What do you hope people take away from your performance?
Shein Mompremier: "More than anything, I want people to see something truthful, and I want people to experience something that maybe they’re not aware of. Such as a non-immigrant, seeing what it’s like being an immigrant. More importantly, people like me see themselves represented in Ludi and somehow make people feel like their story is being told."
Atlanta Film and TV: What do you hope people take away from the film, Ludi?
Edson Jean: "It's all about authentic representation in the work I create. If someone sees themselves, (and I realize that there are multiple ways for people to see themselves within Ludi's character) but, importantly, creating conversations acknowledging our existence is a crucial step toward loving and encouraging ourselves to become great individuals."
Atlanta Film and TV: What is one piece of advice you could give someone wanting to pursue a career as a filmmaker and an actress?
Shein Mompremier: “Find out who you are. Embrace who you are, and be yourself!”
Edson Jean: Whatever field you’re in, under the arts or the filmmaking and acting industry, find a way within that field to be self-sustainable. I think it’s important not to wait to be picked on or have a lottery ticket mentality. Our skills and experiences can be used as a business model to get some steady income so you can pour yourself into your work.