Promise Me

Running Time: 24:47 Audio: Stereo Aspect Ratio: 64:27, 5632 x 2376 Canada 2020

Directed & Co-written by ALISON DUKE Co-Written by LINDSEY ADDAWOO Cinematography by LUCAS JOSEPH Edited by Eui Yong Jong Composed by EZINMA Sound Designed by DEREK BRIN Art Direction by LADAN SIAD Executive Produced by ALISON DUKE, NGARDY CONTEH GEORGE Featuring Oluniki Adeliyi, Breonna Morrison, Angela Reid, Alana Bridgewater, Wyatt Lamoureaux

Promise Me ‘(20) is a 24-minute dramatic film about a young girl trying to inspire her ill mom to get better while their lives are under surveillance by child welfare. The film is inspired by true events that occurred while I was directing the documentary The Women I Have Become (Duke, 07) about eight African, Caribbean and Black Canadian women living with HIV in Toronto, Canada.

This new work essentially is a fictionalized treatment of many Black women’s interactions with the child welfare and education systems. In this new Neo realism fictional piece, the main protagonist Charlie Thomas (15) played so tenderly by Breonna Morrison is facing the reality that her mother Yolanda Thomas (40) played brilliantly by Olunike Adeliyi is dying from complications of living with HIV, and can no longer parent as she has before. Out of loyalty, Charlie insists on being her mother’s caregiver even though her actions may cause child welfare (Angie Reid) and the school board to tear their family apart. But she feels she has no choice, knowing that she may have to live with a decision that’s outside of her control. The film culminates with a heart wrenching ending. This film has been lived by many Black women and their families in Canada.

The emotional ride from the first frame to very last is reflective of the co-writing process working with Lindsey. It was inspired by true events that I witnessed and many situations that I have heard about but the reality for Black women is actually far worse. We decided to concentrate the relationship between Charlie and her mother so that people could really feel the what it would be like in their shoes.

I met with Olunike for several month to talk about Yolonda’s character and what the possible backstory could be. The backstory to Yolonda represents many different women I know living with HIV. They are smart, gorgeous, amazing women. Oluniki and I, sort of preplaned a lot of things about the character before anyone else was involved such as her wardrobe, the head tie, how she was lie on the couch. I had a few false starts with casting and luckily found Angie and Wyatt. I knew Alana and wanted her to play that role from the get go. But finding Charlie took some time. It was so nerve-wracking because I only had a limited time to finish the project.

As soon as I met Breonna, I knew she was Charlie and when she read for me it was perfect. I had two read through/ rehearsals with entire cast. We allowed for feedback to help them make the words their own.

Thanks to my producer Fonna, the team came together quite easily. I went to each location with my Cinematographer to roughly block out all my scenes. I wanted to be really discipline with the blocking. I have been shooting observational documentaries for almost twenty years and in this film I wanted a much tighter shooting style where I was aiming to make the viewer feel increasingly trapped or even claustophobic by what was transpiring on the screen.

The film is as dark as it is light. There are a lot of happy moments as well.

Charlie playing with her friends

Poetic flashbacks of Yolanda’s life in better days, scattered throughout the film, remind the viewer that Black women with HIV is so much more than their illness. But it is very much a “horror story within a love story or a love story within a horror.”

The intersectionality of various social issues such as race, gender, poverty, motherhood and HIV/AIDS status, and their resulting oppressions, are contrasted against the truth that her Black life was also filled with so much joy, beauty and hope. The result is a social commentary on numerous Canadian institutions, specifically the health, education and child welfare systems.

I feel that my long artistic practice of making social justice documentaries has now evolved into the genre of new Neorealist fiction. One of the tenets of Neorealism is working with real people, instead of actors. This was Breonna’s first film. Another tenant is that it showcases some social issues in the society. This film was surely inspired by events that I personally documented in previous work as well as many other horrific stories that I heard.

I spoke to teachers and social workers and they all confirmed that this happens to Black women and families facing these issues. For the work to be neorealism, it has to have a realistic style to it and this film certainly does feel like you are inside of Yolonda’s and Charlie’s bodies although the actions of the characters do not resemble anyone. I’m taking a lot of creative liberties to drive home the point. It’s more about what Black women living with HIV/AIDS go through than a specific person.

It will be interesting to see how far and wide this film will be seen. It is currently touring the festival circuit. Some people after viewing ask me if this really happens to Black women and I say yes!!

I’m currently writing new material and dusting off a few scripts. After all these years, I’ve finally caught the fiction bug.

Our producer brought this cake to set on our final day.


– Social Justice Now Film Festival

– International Pan African Film Festival du Cannes – Finalist

– Reelworld Film Festival

– Festival du Nouveau Cinema

– Columbus Black International Film Festival – Best Short Film

– Bronzelens Film Festival

– Las Vegas Black Film Festival

– Afro Prairie Film Festival – Winston W. Moxam Best Canadian Short award

 – Short Film Factory – Winner

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Published by Alison Duke

I'm a writer, producer and director enjoying the process wherever I go and whatever I'm working on.

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