Preacher's Sons

A gay couple faces prejudice when they adopt five at-risk children.

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Apr. 27, 2010

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Direct Effect: C. Roebuck (pictured) worked alongside Mark Nealey to create Preacher's Son

Photo by PW Staff

This is the part of my job I hate.

Let’s say you’re watching a micro-budgeted labor of love—the story of a brave and wonderful couple, who did a noble thing. Now how about if this movie took years to make, and is full of positive, inspirational messages from which we could all benefit?

What do you say if, despite all that, the movie is also terrible?

Preacher’s Sons, a documentary by C. Roebuck Reed and Mark Nealey, runs Friday night at the Equality Forum, and I wish it weren’t so lousy. It’s the story of Reverend Greg Stewart and his husband Stillman, who adopted five deeply troubled, at-risk minority children. These are decent people working as hard as they can to make better lives for these little boys. Someone should have made them a better movie.

We start out with a flurry of introductions. Young Allen, Arthur, David, Javonte and Dionte are rushed onscreen and then all five are adopted before we’re even able to tell who’s who. Life is relatively normal for this family when they are out and about in Los Angeles, but we first run into trouble when Reverend Greg uproots the family to take a position in Grand Rapids, Mich.

As you might imagine, a couple of gay men with a brood of mixed-race children are going to raise a few eyebrows in this locale. Unfortunately, Reed and Nealey don’t really have any footage to back this up. There’s just a lot of Stillman, sighing into the camera about how shabbily they have been treated by their new neighbors, and explaining that the kids are constantly ridiculed by their classmates for having two dads. Attempted interviews with the children themselves could charitably be called disastrous, as in one painfully long scene in which young Arthur just sits there refusing to speak to the filmmakers.

Stillman grew up in a similarly provincial city, and he seemed to see this coming. So why did Reverend Greg agree to take the gig? One of the movie’s many klutzy printed expository titles explains to us that ministers often move to advance their careers. But was his career that much more important than his family’s comfort? Any questions about tensions this decision might have caused within the marriage are quickly brushed off by Stillman, who just says something to the effect of, “I’ll never talk about that on camera.” OK, well if that’s the case then why are you starring in a documentary?

Grand Rapids obviously isn’t working out, so the family moves to Reno, Nev. Reverend Greg gets very excited about living on a ranch and decorating everything with a Western motif, while Stillman points out that because of their arrival, Reno’s black population has increased from 4 percent to 5 percent.

The Reno scenes are supposed to show us that racism is even more rampant than homophobia in certain regions. But once again, Reed and Nealey haven’t shot anything that actually illustrates this point. It’s just more of sad-sack Stillman sighing into the lens again. The closest we come to anything eventful happening on camera is when the family dog gets sprayed by a skunk … and that we don’t even see, just the tomato-juice bath afterwards.

The Stewarts finally movie to San Francisco, which is predictably the warmest and most welcoming place one could ever imagine for their nontraditional family, and everybody lives happily ever after at the Pride Parade. But by this time you’ll probably just be wondering why they ever bothered to leave California in the first place?

With its shoddy digital video photography, poor production values and borderline incompetent editing, I feel churlish beating up on Preacher’s Sons. Too bad good intentions don’t always translate into good movies.

GRADE: C-

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1. Riva Reed said... on Apr 29, 2010 at 09:43AM

“Surely Emmy Award winning editor Mark Amos Nealey is laughing in his grave!”

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