By: Sonny Pinkney
Over a year ago, Director, Writer, Producer & Actress Nikia ‘Naj’ Johnson began the concept of writing the movie script to the film ‘Just Us’ which touched on some of her encounters over the course of her life.
“In July of 2016, I wrote the first version of it, and it was based on some things that I experienced in real life and then as I revised it about 3 or 4 times it turned a little bit more into fictional than reality, but, it was on my mind and I started writing.” Johnson said.
The Howard University alumna, who aspires to submit ‘Just Us’ into the Philadelphia Film Festival along with some other film festivals says it was very important to highlight successful black marriages that could be seen on film.
“I know quite a few people, who are happily married that are African-American couples; and I feel like, it’s not seen often and even within this film—nobody’s marriage is perfect… no one’s perfect–we do identify that. Loyalty and Family [is] highlighted in the film than anything else.” Johnson revealed.
Philadelphia native Marquis Valdez plays the role of ‘Devon,’ the youngest of three brothers says working with Director Nikia ‘Naj’ Johnson was amazing and working on-set with the other actors seemed like working with relatives.
“It was a great journey, I think we were all learning during the process. It was fun, it felt like a family atmosphere. She was a great director—she wrote an amazing script; so, throughout it all, I had fun.” Valdez said.
Johnson wanted to highlight the importance of African American marriages and stable relationships on film because it’s not emphasized that often by the networks or movie studios.
Kenji Butler, who plays Andrea and is married to Marquis in the film echoed—Johnson’s sentiment pertaining spreading a positive message on African American relationships and marriages in film or television.
“It’s very important to show that as an African American we can achieve and be everything as everyone else can. The film as [Director of ‘Just Us’] Naj [Johnson] said it’s not that all marriages aren’t perfect, but we have loyalty—we have family and that’s important too.” Butler said.
“The real black marriages and black couples in relationships don’t get spoken or told about, it’s always the same baby mama drama type of situation. It’s always good to highlight the positivity because the negativity will get out there for free.” Marquis Valdez shared.
Some of the challenges that Johnson faced as the director was: ‘time management and scheduling’ because the film was shot in three different states (Philadelphia, Chester (Pennsylvania); New Jersey and Delaware) in various locations.
The oldest of the three brothers [in the film] Angelo, portrayed by Kevin Moore feels that its essential for Hollywood and the studio executives to portray positive images in films because in real life, Kevin, who has been acting for fifteen years is the oldest of four siblings off-screen.
“When you get a certain age and certain things start to happen and it doesn’t involve acting—acting you’re on film. I heard Denzel [Washington] say were just actors; we’re aren’t firefighters; weren’t doctors; were just actors.” Moore said.
“There are other things in the world that we need to pay attention too, and it shapes our reality—from a socioeconomic standpoint that I think everyone needs to pay attention too and the media has a way of depicting black people. So, I found my focus now is to do only films depicting black people in a good light.” Moore added.