Sylvie’s Love recently received an Emmy nod for Outstanding Television Movie, and this installment of Filmmaker Spotlight is dedicated to its writer and director, Eugene Ashe. The period piece is only the sophomore feature endeavor of the 55-year-old filmmaker, who transitioned into the movie-making business after exploring other careers.
The New York City native studied at Parsons School of Design before working at an interior design firm but didn’t find it to be exciting work, according to an interview with The New Yorker. In the 90s, he joined an R&B group called the Funky Poets, whose claim to fame included landing “How Can You Leave Me Now” on the Free Willy soundtrack. Ashe went on to write music for film and TV and even became a New York restauranteur with Playa Betty’s on the Upper West Side and Réunion Surf Bar in Hell’s Kitchen.
His feature film debut, however, came in 2012 with Homecoming, a tale of five friends from college who reunite for Homecoming weekend almost 20 years after graduating, coming to terms with their past and present. The film was adapted from his 2010 off-Broadway play and produced through his Seven Letter Word Films production company.
Then came Sylvie’s Love, a 2020 Sundance darling that Amazon swept up for an eventual holiday season release last year. The story takes place in ‘50s and ‘60s New York and centers on the relationship between a young woman named Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) and Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), an aspiring saxophonist who takes a part-time job in her father’s record store. The official Amazon synopsis details how from there, “their love ignites a sweeping romance that transcends changing times, geography and professional success.”
It was important to Ashe to tell a love story set in that era. “We generally see [Black characters] only through the lens of the civil rights movement if we’re handling subject matter that deals with Black folks in the ’60s,” he shared during an interview with TheWrap. “So, I just kind of wanted to do something a little different.” The film’s writer and director expanded on the idea during a Screen Rant interview. “I wanted to tell a more personal story and really kind of highlight and focus on our humanity,” he added. “And what more of a human emotion is there than love?”
When it came to his two leads, who also produced the project, Ashe encouraged them to take a deep dive into films from that time period in order to play it right. Asomugha relayed to the Sundance Institute how “Eugene made us watch, like, 300 films from way back so we could really get the characters down.” For his part, Ashe shared that language has a big effect on his own suspension of disbelief when watching films. “It always takes me out of the moment when I see a period piece and someone is like, ‘Yeah, my bad,’” the filmmaker asserted. “That wasn’t being said in 1962.”
Ashe’s careful attention to detail helped him successfully pull off an Old Hollywood-style film with an important purpose behind it, earning an Emmy nomination for Sylvie’s Love along the way. There’s no news yet on his next project, Ashe’s teaser Tweet from earlier this year suggests that another script may already be in the works. Come September 19 when the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards air, you can find out how his second feature film does in the Outstanding Television Movie category. Whether or not Sylvie’s Love wins an Emmy, though, we think its filmmaker has certainly earned his spotlight.