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Interview: Miki Howard, Teyonah Parris and Director Christine Swanson Talk TV One’s ‘Love Under New Management’

June 9, 2016
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There are some songs that when played, take us back to a specific time or place.  Miki Howard’s “Come Share My Love” reminds me of my childhood; riding in the car with my mother while Miki’s stunning voice smoothly glided out of the radio. For years, I never knew much about the songstress herself. However, when TV One’s “Unsung“ episode surrounding Miki Howard aired in 2010, I along with the rest of the world, was enraptured not just by her stunning music and success, but also by her turbulent personal life.

As a result of the overwhelmingly positive reception surrounding Ms. Howard’s story, and in celebration of Black Music Month, TV One is debuting their first ever Unsung-inspired biopic, “Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story”. Directed by Christine Swanson, and with Teyonah Parris starring as Miki Howard, the film is set to premiere on TV One, Sunday, June 12 at 7pm ET.

Along with Parris, the star-studded cast includes, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Gary Dourdan, LisaRaye McCoy and Darius McCrary as the late Gerald Levert.  Leading up to the film’s premiere, I got the opportunity to chat first with director, Christine Swanson and then with Teyonah Parris and Ms. Miki Howard about the film, creating a special bond, surviving and the music that runs throughout the story.

Aramide Tinubu: Ms. Swanson, I’ve admired you since your feature film debut, “All About You”. You’ve done amazing projects in the past with TV One, but “Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story” is different because it is biographical. What was that experience like for you, and how did you come aboard the film as director?

Christine Swanson: I was hired by the network to direct the movie. This kind of biopic based on someone’s life who is living is obviously a little intimidating. Then when I actually met Miki Howard, that was a little intimidating.  She’s just this music icon in my opinion, because when I was growing up, Miki Howard was the soundtrack to my youth.  Just interfacing with that pivotal person from your youth, added to the fact that I had to tell her story, was kind of nerve wrecking on a number of different levels.  Mostly, I just wanted to honor her legacy properly in a way that was pleasing to her.

AT: Oh certainly.

CS: Then of course, when you’re doing a movie for a network you have to please the network. However, you also have to have a specific directorial vision. Just balancing all of that was a very fun challenge. It was difficult, but it was really a delight for me, because I’m a director and I love story telling. To tell Miki’s story the way we did… the movie doesn’t do justice to her life. We come close to showing what a breath of fresh air she is. However, there was a lot more of her story that I wish I could have told, like in a miniseries or something.  But, I think we packed a whole lot in a short amount of time.

AT: Oh yes, you really did. You got those thirty years that were essential to understanding Miki personally, while getting a grasp on the trajectory of her career. You just discussed navigating your way through your particular vision, what TV One wanted and what Miki wanted. How did you decide what parts of Miki’s life were most important to show and which parts to leave out?

CS: Let’s just say that the story wrote itself in terms of everything that’s in there. It’s all from Miki Howard. Her initial story was based on a self-published unreleased autobiography. It was used as source material for the script. When I received the script, I was kind of perplexed about how to approach it, but I knew that I had to talk to Miki. So initially when I met Miki Howard right out of the bat, we spent over fifty-hours just talking on the telephone.  In talking with her, it was as if someone stuck a syringe needle in my vain. It was as if someone had shocked me with a potent dose of Miki Howard. That became the inspiration that I used to infuse her story. I just felt like I was a conduit for her story. I balanced all of it by knowing that I wanted to hear Miki’s voice. I was always like “Who are you? Tell me about yourself. You did this, what did you think about this? How did that turn out? How did you get here?” Just getting all of that from Miki was really the main motivation and the main driving force behind the story. It’s all Miki. If you talk to Miki she would say that she loves this movie because every bit of it comes from her.

AT: That’s wonderful, it’s such a privilege, to be able to tell your own story.

CS: I know, and that was my only goal. I was like if Miki ain’t happy then I failed. And you know, the network was very supportive in telling a really good biopic because this is their first, and they wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be their last. They said to me, “Whatever you need, just make a good movie.” Because of that, they gave me they best actress on the planet right now.

AT: Yes, Teyonah is amazing!

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Image: TV One