“Created Equal” had its world premiere on Thursday, June 15 at the 21st American Black Film Festival in Miami, Florida.
Directed by veteran actor Bill Duke, the film tells the story of Alejandra Batista, a nun 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.
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.
“Created Equal” is well shot and cast, with strong performances from veteran actor Lou Diamond Phillips, TV mainstays Aaron Tveit (Reilly) and Yohance Myles (as Willis “Silk” Thompkins), and Emmy Award-winning actor Gregory Alan Williams (“Greenleaf”) as Judge Watford.
Lead actress Edy Ganem (“Devious Maids”) delivers a solid performance as Sister Alejandra although, mostly due to writing and dialogue, she never seemed quite real. This would’ve been helped by better character development, so that the audience was really with her and her experience. We got more backstory of her lawyer Reilly, which made the film feel like it was more about him and his quest to win an impossible case, than Alejandra’s calling to serve.
What really stood in the way of this good film being great was that it clearly seemed like a vehicle to propel TV star Tveit into feature films. This overt attempt wasn’t helped by the stock dialogue, poor story development, and formal shooting style that made the film feel stiff, formulaic, and inauthentic. There was no backstory, no build up to the legal trial, and the stakes were unbelievably high from the very beginning. From that point, there really was nowhere for the film to go, although it settled into itself in the second act, when the case started and Lou Diamond Phillips appeared as Monsignor Renzulli, the lawyer in defense of the Archdiocese.
Phillips’ acting really grounds the film and is a nice counterpoint to Tveit, as the cocky upstart attorney looking to make partner. I was also quite impressed by actor Myles, who plays Reilly’s co-counsel. What really saved the film, though, was the extremist who tries to kill Alejandra, adding some original drama and suspense to a straight ahead legal thriller, although admittedly it made for an unlikely mashup of genres.
Overall, “Created Equal” is a good film, but not as great as it could be. Nevertheless, the performances and story are worth watching. And to its credit, it’s a Christian film that seems to have some crossover appeal to secular audiences.