Filmmakers celebrate the life and legacy of musical virtuoso Joseph Bologne

ByNzinga Blake, Alan Huijsmans and Jessica Dominguez OTRC logo
Friday, June 16, 2023
Filmmakers celebrate musical virtuoso Joseph Bologne
Stephen Williams, Stefani Robinson and Kelvin Harrison Jr bring the story of little-known musical prodigy Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges to life.

Filmmakers Stephen Williams, Stefani Robinson and Kelvin Harrison Jr. step into the Storytellers Spotlight to talk about their professional journeys, as well as the collaboration behind bringing the little-known story of musical prodigy Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges to life.

From family members, books and hometowns, the filmmakers and lead actor in the movie, Chevalier, drew inspiration from these sources and more as they evolved as storytellers, writers and filmmakers.

"The thing that inspired me I think to be a storyteller was my grandmother," said Stefani Robinson. "I spend a lot of time daydreaming or sitting, thinking and creating various scenarios in my mind that sort of shook me apart from where I was when I wasn't feeling maybe stimulated enough."

"I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, small island in the Caribbean, but with a big impact across the cultural landscape of the world," said Stephen Williams, director of Chevalier. "Stories were an ever present part of my life growing up there."

"What inspired me to be a storyteller is growing up in New Orleans. My mom had a friend named Adela Delta, the storyteller. And she would just tell these little short stories," said Kelvin Harrison Jr. "I think that was one of the first moments where I was like, this is kind of fun, that different characters, different voices going on."

Stefani Robinson wrote the script of Chevalier, a story she read about when she was a teenager. At the time, Robinson says this story already felt cinematic.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. was chosen to play the lead role in this movie, which was directed by Stephen Williams.

"I got the script and the email and I was just blown away by his story and just the ways definitely Robinson wrote that narrative," said Harrison Jr, who is a trained musician himself and deeply related to the life story of Joseph Bologne.

"It was really important for us to tell a story that acknowledged the fact that people of African ancestry are heterogeneous. They're not a homogenous group. They're not a monolith," said Williams. "They're as rich and varied and multifaceted as any other group of people. And so it was great to have the opportunity to tell a story about a protagonist who did things that are, you know, and excelled at aspects of creative and athletic endeavor that were kind of outside the common."

Chevalier is now streaming on Hulu, and with this accomplishment the trio feels honored to have had the opportunity to introduce this multi-talented, classical music composer, violin virtuoso and more, to a worldwide audience. One of the goals through this production is to invite Bologne into conversations of modern-day classical music.

"Learning about Joseph and writing this movie, and doing the research, like sort of, as you sort of uncover all these stones, there's so many other amazing people of color. There's so many amazing women, there's so many amazing other marginalized people that we just don't know about, said Robinson. "So it's sort of an exciting idea to try to excavate these people."

The process of writing the script tool about seven years and included more than 20 drafts, says Robinson.

"So the heart behind Chevalier to me is probably I mean, this word keeps coming to mind is liberty," said Robinson. "The deeper idea for me is probably self-liberation. That is I think what the movie is about let's Joseph's journey or his foray into self-actualization. This is who I am, and I'm liberating myself from preconceived notions."

Harrison Jr. says he cried when he read the script because it felt so powerful and the musical connection was profound.

"I feel really just blessed to be able to be a part of this movie that not only is very educational, but it's a fun movie to watch," said Harrison Jr.

Searchlight Pictures' Chevalier is now streaming on Hulu.