Celebrating 25 Years of The Five Heartbeats

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West coast contributor Patrice Harris celebrates 25 years of The Five Heartbeats!

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) & 20th Century Fox celebrated the 25th anniversary of The Five Heartbeats at WGA Theatre in Beverly Hills at the end of Black History Month.

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The event was a star-studded, yet intimate soiree, with everyone from Robert Townsend, writer, producer and director of the legendary film; Keenen Ivory Wayans, who co-wrote the film with Townsend; actor Bill Dukeand other notable stars in the film including Leon, Hawthorn James, David McKnight, Deborah Lacey and Larry Jenkins.

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Among the crowd were aspiring filmmakers, actors, writers, WGA members, Fox executives and fans of the film who wanted to spend their Friday evening watching the classic movie one more time. Also in attendance was Eric Monte, writer/creator of Good Times, Cooley High and What’s Happening!

For those who have not seen The Five Heartbeats, it is loosely based on the lives of recording artists The Dells and The Temptations. The classic film depicts the rise and fall of a Motown-inspired R&B group — The Five Heartbeats — as told through Donald “Duck” Matthews, played by Townsend.

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Before the screening, Robert humbly presented his long time friend and colleague Bill Duke with a birthday cake as the audience sang “Happy Birthday.” In true legend fashion, Bill dropped a few jewels and inspiring words for the audience before leaving the stage.

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An inspiring Q/A moderated by actress Ashley Blaine Featherson followed the screening. During this session, Townsend and Wayans shared stories behind their 38 year friendship (they first met while in line in New York City to perform at an improv theater).

Admitting that neither one of them went to film school, Wayans believes that this is what gave them the confidence to create their own work. Keenen says, “we were too dumb to know it couldn’t be done and supported each others insanity.” The two also shared stories from the making of The Five Heartbeats, plus Townsend and Wayans first collaborated film, Hollywood Shuffle, which Townsend financed via credit cards. But “not American Express because you have to pay them back,” he joked.

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We learned that The Five Heartbeats is the fourth film to have been made and released by a black production team, following Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have it, Hollywood Shuffle and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. In addition, it is the first black studio film, thanks to FOX.

As far as what they are doing now, Townsend continues to be forward thinking in his creative process and has projects he is currently developing. Keenen points out that there is a paradigm shift in the industry right now and encourages artists to pay attention to it. He says that he is currently doing just that and thus teaching himself new skills.

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He advises artists to “create when you’re inspired. Then you’ll make something that’ll last 25 years.” Boom!

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