S. Epatha Merkerson and Yolonda Ross)
Los Angeles June 18, 2021—Law & Order alumna, and Chicago Med veteran, S. Epatha Merkerson has joined the gothic family drama Desmond’s Not Here Anymore from director Mmabatho Montsho. She will star opposite Yolonda Ross (The Chi, The Get Down).
S. Epatha Merkerson is best known for her award winning role portrayal of Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on NBC’s Law & Order. She has received numerous high-profile accolades for her work including an Emmy, A Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, four NAACP Image Awards, two Obie Awards, and two Tony Award nominations.
Desmond’s Not Here Anymore is the 2019 Oscar-Qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival Screenplay Contest winning script. The annual competition is sponsored by the Seattle Film Summit, and the organization is financing the short. The film, scripted by Lindiwe Suttle Müller-Westernhagen, explores the relational interplay between a resilient daughter and her mother who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. The film is being produced by HollyShorts’ fledgling production company 88th Street Productions.
What sold Mmabatho (Golden Horn Award for Best Achievement in Script in a TV Drama, 2020 Best Short Film – Worldwide Women’s Film Festival) on directing this story?
“Reading the Desmond’s Not Here Anymore script was an experience in its own right,” Mmabatho says. “Lindiwe’s writing is breathtaking, and her way with characters and world-building is reminiscent of Toni Morrison; it invites you to walk hand in hand with each character as they work through their personal horrors in search of true healing. I am looking forward to bringing this experience to the screen.”
This short film also tackles three hard topics rarely talked about in the Black community, much less seen on the big screen: sexual abuse, dementia, and self-care. African American women disproportionately experience sexual violence. In fact, one in four Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. And Alzheimer’s disease is the fourth leading cause of death amongst African Americans. Over 65% of family caregivers are women in their 40s, making them six times more likely to suffer depression and health problems as a result.
“I’m a survivor of abuse and sat with this ‘secret’ for so long,” Lindiwe says, “that I felt I had to tell my story. I started writing it, but fear stopped me. It took me a year to write 12 pages. Finally, watching a documentary on sexual abuse served as a trigger. The stories in this documentary helped me finish telling mine,” she says. “I had hoped to heal my own wounds and maybe inspire other sexual abuse survivors to tell their own stories.”
But there’s more to this film. According to Lindiwe, Desmond’s Not Here Anymore also became a love letter, paying homage to the mother-daughter relationship and unique, abiding bond there. Lindiwe hopes that Desmond’s Not Here Anymore will inspire support and conversations in and out of the Black community about sexual abuse and dementia, as well as the physical, psychological, and social burden on family caregivers.
Lindiwe is taking inspiration from Band Aid’s director Zoe Lister-Jones and bringing together an all-female key crew to shoot this mother/daughter story. Award-winning Hungarian-born-Berlin-based Agnesh Pakodzi will be the director of photography. Shelby Ivey Christie, 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 fashion and costume historian who focuses on Black fashion history, has also joined the team. This truly global women’s creative team has been working remotely from Johannesburg, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
“I wanted to leave this precious story in the hands of women,” Lindiwe says. Desmond’s Not Here Anymore is scheduled to shoot in July 2021 in Seattle, Washington.
Desmond’s Not Here Anymore is the latest in a series of short films financed by the Seattle Film Summit through the HollyShorts Film Festival’s annual Screenplay Competition. Previous projects include: Jameson by John Humber, Lunchbox Brigade by Kyle Thiele, and The Son The Father by Lukas Hassel. 88th Street Productions recently collaborated with Disney on Stefan Dezil’s short THIRST.
S. Epatha Merkerson is repped by ICM and McGowan Rodriguez. Lindiwe Suttle Müller-Westernhagen is repped by Alta Global Media.