How Tessa Thompson Hopes Her Sundance Movie ‘Sylvie’s Love’ Can Rewrite History

A premiere at the Sundance Film Festival can change a filmmaker’s life. It can launch their career, or at the very least show their film to distributors who can distribute the film internationally. Tessa Thompson has even greater ambitions for Sylvie’s Love, her latest film which premiered at Sundance.

Tessa Thompson at Sundance
Tessa Thompson | | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Thompson plays the title character in Sylvie’s Love. She joined writer/director Eugene Ashe and the cast and crew on stage for a Q&A after the film’s premiere on Monday, Jan. 27. Her hope is for the film to change history. 

Tessa Thompson goes back in time in ‘Sylvie’s Love’

Sylvie’s Love begins in New York City, 1962. Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) runs into an old friend. Then the film flashes back to five years prior to show how Sylvie fell in love with jazz musician Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) while her fiance was off fighting in the Korean War.

“When Eugene first told me the idea of making this film, he said, ‘If you could look at a photograph, a very iconic photograph of black people from the time, from the ‘50s, maybe it’s a woman in a blue dress and her daughter is in front of her, maybe there’s other things in the photograph like a sign that says For Colored Only, right? If you could zoom in on just the mother and the daughter and you could ask about their life, never mind the signs or what they can or cannot do because of the color of their skin, just how was their day, that’s what this film would feel like. I thought that was so exquisite.”

Tessa Thompson, Sylvie’s Love Sundance Q&A, 1/27/2020

How Tessa Thompson will rewrite history

Sylvie and Robert are fictional characters, and there’s no undoing the struggles of the Civil Rights movement and America’s past. However, Tess Thompson believes making movies like Sylvie’s Love can fill the void left for African-Americans in American history.

Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha | Sundance Institute

“I thought it was a way to rewrite the iconography of film,” Thompson said. “How many incredible love stories that center on black people would have been made in the ‘50s if we were allowed to make them, if people wanted to watch them, or we were allowed to want to watch them and we got them? For me, if we can just keep making these movies, we can rewrite history if we want to for us or we can make new history. That’s what I want to do.”

Meet Eugene Ashe, creator of ‘Sylvie’s Love’

Eugene Ashe was a Sony Music recording artist out of Harlem before he transitioned to filmmaking. Since he was busy writing and directing Sylvie’s Love, he hired another musician to create Robert’s jazz and the film’s score.

Tessa Thompson and Eugene Ashe | Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for New York Magazine

“I kind of segued out of music into doing music for television and film,” Ashe said during the Q&A. “Once I wrote my first screenplay that was the only thing I wanted to do. Now I have amazing people like Fabrice Lecomte do the music.”

Tessa Thompson gives Nnamdi Asomugha a shout out.

Sylvie’s Love puts Tessa Thompson right in the middle of a love triangle, and a tumultuous drama about a woman navigating a career in the ‘50s. She was impressed by her costar’s musical ability, which he learned specifically for the film.

“I just want to give a shout out,” Thompson said. “Nnamdi learned how to play the saxophone for a year and a half to play this role, which is such a gift for any actors to have to learn something new, but it is terrifying. So I’m just so proud of him for doing that in this role. I’m sure it really helped you get into the spirit of it.”