Review: Bill Duke’s ‘Created Equal’

It was Thomas Jefferson that said:

“[that] all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Jefferson was of course referring to the ideology of creationism, but fundamentally his statement stands true to all those whether they practice religion or not. In the eyes of the law, we are all equal. Of course, it has been a struggle for many (and it still remains a struggle for many more across the globe) to even gain the basic human rights which allow them to be on par with others. There may be no great almighty being, but still the principal of treating your neighbour as your equal should still stand, and no one should ever be discriminated for the gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and class.

However, the recent #metoo and #timesup movements have proven that women are still facing discrimination on a daily basis, whether it be in the form of sexual and physical abuse, or discrimination in the workplace. Bill Duke’s film Created Equal is a film of this very moment, where women are on the cusp of finally destroying the class ceiling. That said, as we can see in Created Equal there is yet another ceiling that women are still battling to smash – the stained glass ceiling.

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The film follows young and devoted nun Alejandra Batista, who is desperate to become a priest in the Catholic Church. When she’s denied entry into the seminary, Batista turns to Thomas Reilly, an up-and-coming lawyer who files suit against the Archdiocese of New Orleans for sex discrimination without justifiable cause. Reilly seems reluctant to take her case on at first because he prefer to settle his cases rather than face a courtroom, and his mother expresses her frustration at him for even considering to go into battle with the Catholic Church, (“Women can’t be priests.” is something we keep hearing over and over with no one trying to give a solid explanation as to why this the case). Reilly is determined to help Batista as he sees her passion and determination, which is something he admires.

As the trial unfolds, and the legal proceedings begin to undermine the sacred Catholic Church teachings, an extremist concocts a plot to stop the heresy against the church by attacking Alejandra and threatening to kill her if she doesn’t back off. Her life becomes one of living out of safe houses, being bombarded by the press and being stalked. The church accuse of her being an attention seeker, and try to undermine her devotion to the Catholic faith. However, Alejandra is determined to see the trail through, but at what cost? Created Equal is very much a film about having a faith and a belief in a goal, and you do not have to be religious to be moved by this film.

The film is very much Edy Ganem’s as Alejandra. Ganem is of Mexican and Lebanese descent and has starred in the TV series Devious Maids. She portrays Alejandra as a sympathetic character, but she’s not a victim but a fighter. Alejandra is full of spirit, she’s feisty and driven, but she seems very down to earth. Ganem has some tender scenes with one of the little children she looks after, it’s a heartbreaking scene when they depart and Ganem really expressions so much internal feelings within her facial expressions. She is a very well developed character, who is good-hearted and kind. It’s a shame that there aren’t more scenes that feature just her and hopefully Ganem will score other major roles because she is a very talented young actress.

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Aside from a very strong performance from Edy Ganem, leading actor Aaron Tevit is also very noteworthy. Tevit is a trained singer who has appeared in Les Miserables (2012) and on Broadway in Grease Live. He is exceptionally good as the young lawyer, Tommy who when we first met him is a cocky womaniser who seems to be shallow and lacking depth. However as the film unfolds, Tommy becomes more empathetic and caring. He becomes protective over Alejandra and invested in her case, there’s lots at stake for him as well as he runs the risk of throwing away his chance at becoming partner.

There are some fairly good scenes between him and his mother (played by Jo-Ann Robinson) where they discuss her horror at the sheer idea of a woman wanting to become a priest in the Catholic Church, and it’s a shame that there are not more scenes like this. It would have been a nice touch to know more about Tommy’s past and what drove him to lose his faith as he was brought up as a Catholic.

The supporting cast are also quite strong, especially Lou Diamond Phillips who plays Monsignor Renzulli, who tries to fight the case on the behalf of the Catholic Church. Philips was awarded ‘Best Supporting Actor’ at the 2017 San Antonio Film Festival and he certainly deserves it, because he is mesmerizing to watch. Gregory Alan Williams plays Judge Watford and seems to exert a sense of authority in the courtroom, he makes a lasting impression. And Yohance Myles is also very good as Tommy’s colleague, Willis Silk Thompkins. Although the female supporting cast does seem to be lacking, and some of the female characters do not appear to be as well developed as their male counterparts.

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The overall visual look of the film is quite impressive, especially the movement of the camera and the establishing aerial shots of the city. It doesn’t seem to be limited by it’s budget, which was approximately $3million. Director Bill Duke has a long and well established career in the film industry starring in films such as American Gigolo (1980), Commando (1985) and Predator (1987) so he is certainly well adept for being behind the camera. Created Equal is a solid film which could have easily suffered had it not been in such capable hands.

Created Equal is a film which will leave you slight angry towards the Catholic Church and society for failing to allow women the freedom they deserve, it will spark debate and maybe even help change the rules of the priesthood. Certainly, it is very much a relevant film which reflects the demands for equality between the sexes. It’s time that we smash through all types of glass ceilings, whether they be stained or not.

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