Filmmaker Trey Edward Shults (left) directs Sterling K. Brown in “Waves” (Photo Credit: A24 Films).


Trey Edward Shults, a Universal Filmmaker with Universal Stories


Family drama is usually universal. 


However, White filmmakers often catch flak for trying to depict Black family life on the big and small screen.

But with filmmaker Trey Edward Shults’ latest film “Waves” starring his friend Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (“12 Years a Slave”) and Sterling K. Brown (“Marshall”) that potential controversy should float away with the waves because Shults nails a reality that is quite obvious.

While Black families do experience unique drama because of skin color, families are often all the same regardless of skin color, religion or other physical characteristics.

“Waves” depicts a family coming together after experiencing a great tragedy.

The Houston native came back to town this week to discuss “Waves” and his hopes for the film.

And luckily, he took a few moments out of his busy schedule yesterday to discuss “Waves,” which hits Houston theaters on Nov. 29. (RM): I recently read a Houston Chronicle article and in it you talked about your apprehension about being a White filmmaker depicting Black family life. Can you talk a little bit about that fear and discuss how Black audiences have responded to the film so far?

Trey Edward Shults (TES): I think the apprehension was just feeling responsibility to do it right, you know. It felt right with this because it’s so personal already because (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and I already knew each other and love each other and collaborated. So that felt great. And then it was just like it felt right to us. It felt right to the rest of the actors, Sterling (K. Brown) and Renee (Elise Goldsberry). So, I just hoped that an audience would feel we did good by it. And so far it’s been amazing connecting with a lot of audiences of color that dig it. It’s really fantastic. 

RM: I look at “Waves” as not being a film about a Black family, but a story about a family that happens to be Black. Was that a conscious decision on your part to make the story universal?

TES: Well, that’s what we talked about too. Ultimately, what this family is going through is universal. Like, it’s universal problems. We wanted it to be specifically a Black family. Like even that conversation between father and son [about Black Americans having to be twice as good as their White counterparts], Kel’s dad would tell him [that]. We didn’t want it to be no race. But they’re a Black family going through universal issues that I think almost any family could relate to. 

RM: Did you have any worries, from a promotional side, about people perceiving “Waves” as a Black film and not thinking it applies to all races. Also, Black films stereotypically do not get the same promotion overseas as films with a predominantly White cast. Did you worry about that as well?

TES: Not really because I care less about that. I care more about…I don’t know…I’m so organic. I’m like Kel, let’s make something we love together. How it gets out into the world is just gonna be how it gets out in the world. 

RM: I know you and Kelvin have a personal friendship. But friendship aside, what do you like about his acting. How would you describe his acting to someone who has never seen him perform?

TES: He’s real. He’s a human being. And he’s so like…The thing I love about Kel is he’s so smart and intelligent and then he’ll analyze a part to death and then throw it all away and just live it and consume it. To me, he just puts all of his heart and soul into a performance. And I’m so, so proud of him. And to watch him…his first lead role is my last film. And to just watch him, there’s some other amazing movies he’s in as well.

RM: Why did you choose Broward County, Fla. (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and Hollywood, Fla.) as the location for “Waves?” Was there any significance to South Florida?

TES: I love it. It’s where I’ve lived for a number of years. I lived in Texas all my life until I moved to Florida. My girlfriend grew up there, lived there all of her life. So, I think it was a lot of things. One is it made a lot of sense for this world. And…the movie is personal to my girlfriend and I. It’s also about love and I’m in love with Florida. So, all these reasons it made sense. And I just wanted to do Florida justice.

RM: Can you go into detail about why it’s personal, relationship wise? Or is that too personal?

TES: Just thinking about the character dynamics. Actually, between the relationships between Ty (Harrison) and Lex (Alexa Demie) and Emily (Taylor Russell) and Luke (Lucas Hedges), I’d say, a big inspiration for that is our relationship with the good and the bad. And then also, a lot of inspiration for Emily is from her as well and things in her life.

RM: The movie “Waves” depicts a couple of interracial relationships. However, nobody really mentions race as it pertains to those relationships. Was that a generational thing or were you trying to make a statement with that?

TES: Uh, I don’t know about a statement. But I do think it was just natural and organic. I think…in younger generations too you don’t just pick…you know love picks you.

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