In mainstream Hollywood, certain social topics are almost taboo. They struggle to receive feature film treatment. But writer and director Chyna Robinson’s No Ordinary Love is a powerful reminder that the movie industry shouldn’t shy away from tackling complex and significant subjects.
Starring DeAna Davis, Lynn Andrews III, April Hartman, and Eric Hanson, No Ordinary Love centers on two women experiencing betrayal and manipulation by their husbands. Eventually, they begin plotting to find a way out. Robinson delicately captures the slow-burn destruction relationships plagued by domestic abuse experience and how coercive control can be just as damaging as physical attacks.
“We very intentionally describe this film as a romantic thriller,” Robinson explains. “It was essential that there be an authenticity to telling the stories of these women and display the emotional roller coasters they’re on as they both experience these relationships with men they love. This film is very different from a documentary in that we’re telling two compelling narrative stories that intertwine. It’s also much more complex than previous Hollywood big-screen treatments where there’s a ‘monster’ physical abuser, and she needs to escape or fight back. Through my research to write this film, I came to understand just how complicated domestic abuse truly is.”
Telling Stories at a Young Age
Robinson recalls telling stories as a kindergartner and recruiting other kids to be part of different performances for parents. In third grade, she entered and won her first writing competition. While at Texas Christian University, earning a double major in English and RTVF Production, Robinson crossed paths with a film producer who would become a mentor. He invited her to be part of his production crew on several films, experiences that significantly impacted her growth as a filmmaker.
After college, Robinson began writing and directing for stage productions. During a touring stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for one of her shows, she learned of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Up to that point, Robinson had never heard the story. Her inner instincts screamed a film needed to be made, although well-intentioned colleagues advised against it. Period films are notoriously challenging to make, but Robinson was undeterred.
Her efforts became the short Greenwood: 13 Hours. It focuses on a WWI veteran and his teenage son who risk everything to defend their home while desperately trying to stay alive during the deadly onslaught on Black Wall Street. During production for Greenwood, Robinson searched for a house built in the early 1900s. One that was still in good shape to use for scenes. A chance encounter through Zillow introduced her to Tracy Rector, whose home was perfect. Unbeknownst to either of them, this connection laid the groundwork for what would become No Ordinary Love.
The Power of a Feature Film
Rector is the past board chair for SafeHaven, a nonprofit in Fort Worth, Texas, whose mission is to end domestic violence through safety, support, prevention, and social change. She thought a new film about domestic violence, one by a woman, was crucially needed for present-day audiences. Rector reached out to Robinson with a proposal. She would fund and help produce the film if Robinson acted as both screenwriter and director. The filmmaker agreed.
What followed was a complete immersion into the world of domestic abuse. Robinson interviewed the President and CEO of SafeHaven, women in the shelter who had recently fled dangerous situations, and men participating in domestic violence offender classes. She also shadowed a prosecutor during a domestic violence homicide trial and read countless materials about cycles of violence.
The result is a powerful film that causes audiences to invest in the primary characters’ survival. It also educates viewers about the variety of ways abuse occurs between partners, something both Robinson and Rector hope will have an impact long after moviegoers exit theaters or turn off their screens.
“We want viewers of our film to walk out having a better understanding of what domestic abuse looks like so they can recognize it in personal relationships and their communities,” Rector explains. “At SafeHaven, they found many women who were victims of domestic violence homicide had not sought out the services they offer or how they can help them. And the SafeHaven hotline often receives calls from people worried about a loved one they feel may be in a dangerous situation. Domestic abuse is about control, and it’s imperative everyone learns to recognize that.”
Meaningful Discussions and Future Plans
Recently 1091 Pictures picked up No Ordinary Love for distribution, with the film to be released in theaters, on digital, and video on demand. Robinson and Rector are in the process of developing an educational curriculum that pairs with the film so it can screen at colleges and universities across the United States, with meaningful discussions taking place afterward.
Robinson is currently working on pre-production of a Sci-Fi Fantasy she has written and will be directing. It’s no secret we can expect more great work from her. She has been recognized during SXSW as a Female Filmmaker to watch and featured at the American Black Film Festival.
No Ordinary Love
SafeHaven 24-hour hotline 1-877-701-7233
National Domestic Violence hotline 800-799-SAFE (7233)
Written by Erin Prather Stafford
Images provided by Integrated PR