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Tribeca First Look: The Cast Of OWN’s ‘Greenleaf’ on the Series’ Expansive Foundation & Arresting Narrative

April 23, 2016
OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network

I grew up in a two-religion household. Whether I was reading, cooking, or playing with my sister, my father’s prayers to Allah were often heard in the background. I can see him now; his freshly washed feet stepping gracefully on his prayer mat, his body folding deeply as his forehead touched the ground. The ritual of it all, his hands open, palms faced up, and his voice murmuring Arabic was always soothing to me. However, on Sundays, my mother dressed my sister and I up in lacy socks and velvety dresses, and the three of us drove across town to worship at a small Black Catholic church on the West Side of Chicago. This was the same church she’d attended as a girl. I can recall the scripture moving me sometimes, but it was always the songs that I looked forward to the most. By the time I hit puberty, we’d pretty much stopped attending church altogether, but my father’s faith remained a constant for him. As an adult, I’ve gone several times to one of the bigger churches in Harlem, but my attendance certainly hasn’t been regular.  I’m not sure what it would take for me to return full-time.

OWN’s new scripted original series; “Greenleaf” is the story of woman’s return to the church and to her home. Away for many years, Grace Greenleaf heads home to Memphis, Tennessee following the death of her sister, Faith. She is quickly enfolded back into the Greenleafs household as well as their powerful mega church. Yet, Grace’s reasons for running away have persisted in her absence. Commanding and unwavering on the outside, the Greenleafs desperately try to cover the many cracks that could fracture their world, before Grace takes a sledgehammer to them; watching them splinter spectacularly.

Written and created by “Six Feet Under” scribe Craig Wright, and starring Merle Dandridge as Grace Greenleaf, Lynn Whitfield, Keith David, and Oprah Winfrey in a recurring role, “Greenleaf “ will debut on OWN June 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Though I am eager to share my thoughts on the first episode, I will have to wait until we get closer to the debut. Until then, here are some highlights from the cast and crew, including director, Clement Virgo, and writer, Erica Anderson discussing the show at the Tribeca Film Festival.

On Creating “Greenleaf”

Oprah Winfrey: I’m really excited, Craig [Wright] and I met when we were doing the series “Belief”, and we had a conversation about not just his background as a writer, but the fact that he spent a lot of time as a minster in a church. So, we had this conversation about church and what Black church in particular means to [the Black] community. We started going back and forth about it. He said, “That sounds like a series.” And I said, “I think it is”, and that’s how it started. Being able to do this series is a dream come true for me because, when I first started this network five years ago, every word that was written about OWN was the narrative of struggling network. Our team got together and had the dream of being able to do this kind of scripted television. That was really founded, because my friend Tyler Perry called me and said, “Listen I can write a series for you, and I can direct it, and I can do it cheaply, and I can help you start the idea of doing scripted.” So it is because of the foundation that Tyler laid for us at the network that we’re able to move into a “Greenleaf” and to come later this fall, a “Queen Sugar”.

On Story Itself

Craig Wright: What I keep telling people about this show is that, it’s not a soap, it’s not a sermon, it’s story about a women who returns home because she misses the family and the faith that she left behind. It doesn’t purport to be a portrait of any specific church or any specific community. It’s a story about a lost faith and an attempt to get it back by setting things right. And, it’s also about the obstacles and challenges that come in your way when you try to fix the system.

Merle Dandridge: When I first saw the script I was completely compelled to it, because I felt like I understood it. I know this world, and I felt like I understood these people. GG speaks to a question that a lot of us have in our hearts.  We’re searching for how to express ourselves spiritually these days and/or if [we’ve] been in some way wounded by the actual institution of the church. People are looking for their own path or they’re looking for the way they want to get into God. I think in some way, we are all looking for that, so I was very moved by it.

Continue reading at Shadow and Act.

Image: Greenleaf/OWN