'Hunter Gatherer' Depicts the Struggles of a Former Inmate
We talk with actor Andre Royo and writer/director Joshua Locy about the slow burn success of their new film, <i>Hunter Gatherer</i>.
In a year where black art—and especially black film—has seen nothing short of a renaissance, Hunter Gatherer is another well-executed attempt to capture and display black people in their full complexity. The cast, led by Andre Royo (Empire, The Wire) is almost all black; in the film, we're allowed to see these characters smile, lie, and forge relationships—actions typically reserved for white people in TV and film.
Love and connection are the two biggest threads throughout Hunter Gatherer, as Ashley Douglas (Royo) returns from a stint in jail to try and win back his ex-girlfriend Linda (Ashley Wilkerson), who's since moved on. Rejected, Ashley turns to Nat (Kellee Stewart) and lives with her (in his mom's house) the way he wishes he could live with Linda: kissing, cuddling, cutesy nicknaming. Ashley tells Nat early in the relationship that he will always love Linda, and he continually wrestles with loving the woman he can have while also hoping his ex will someday love him again. This complexity is portrayed uniquely in Hunter Gatherer: We see the awfulness of Ashley ignoring the good woman next to him while choosing to pursue a relationship that no longer exists, but we also see his naiveté and his desire to be sincere.
As Royo put it in our phone conversation, "Ashley loves to be needed. He had an obsession to connect with someone to validate his own self worth." This relationship dynamic is prominent, and it's certainly alive and well in the black community. Art that's thematically similar to Hunter Gatherer reflects how messy human connection is, and how often we can get it wrong; both Ashley's character and how he affects those around him shows how far we've come from one-dimensional black characters that populated 90s television shows and movies.
Similar to recent TV shows like Atlanta, Hunter Gatherer takes its time to construct an extra layer of reality, pushing you to ask whether or not what you see is what writer/director Joshua Locy intends you to see. When asked about what drew Royo to an independent project that required him to temporarily step away from the massive hit Empire, he explained, "This is something special. I'm connected to it in a certain way... I haven't seen this type of movie in some time." He elaborated on the type of show that gives him a similar feeling, mentioning FX's aforementioned critical darling: "Atlanta [is] one of my favorite shows. They don't try to glorify anything. It is what it is, I love the way they portray the world—poor people trying to get it together."
This elusive, impossible-to-describe feeling that connected Royo to both Hunter Gatherer and Atlanta might be what's garnered the film acclaim, which filmmaker Joshua Locy credits to the team around him for "creating an environment where this movie mattered." Locy went on to identify another attribute that makes movies great: the ability to catch an audience off guard with the element of surprise. "Movies that contain possibility... when there's a cut, if anything is possible when the camera comes back on, that, to me, means something. When I'm engaged in a movie is when each cut is full of potential."
Filmed in Los Angeles, Hunter Gatherer uses great editing, memorable cinematography, and surrealistic elements to keep the surprises coming. Part of what Locy said is striking—specifically, the idea of "containing possibility" within the context of a black movie, and how that speaks to the ways that in-depth portrayals of black communities are getting through to those who are creating and producing stories. Films like Hunter Gatherer and Moonlight are part of a larger trend to provide depth to people who haven't been afforded that courtesy lately, and Royo himself spoke to what's caused these stories to be so well received: "When bullshit oversaturates, real artists and real art emerges."
Follow Carl Brooks Jr. on Twitter.