Within 48 hours of release Uncorked became the #1 movie streaming on Netflix. I had the opportunity to participate in an exclusive conversation with the film’s writer, director, and producer hosted by Jack and Jill of America. I appreciate the film so much more after going Inside Uncorked with Prentice Penny.
Inside Uncorked: The Inspiration
Prentice Penny is an award-winning television screenwriter and producer with popular works that consistently change the landscape of Black Culture on-screen including Insecure and Girlfriends. But when it came to his first movie, Penny wanted to control the voice and tone of his work. “When you’re writing for television you have to mimic someone’s voice. I was offered opportunities to write for movies, but most of them were for sequels.” Penny wanted to bring his own voice and perspective to his debut film.
Inside Uncorked: The Story
Uncorked is a story of the everyday life struggles between a father and son. Louis, a hardworking restaurant owner who took over his father’s business, struggles because his son doesn’t seem committed to it. Elijah, a young urbanite who dreams of becoming a sommelier (wine expert), feels pressured to do what his father wants him to because it’s expected. “This movie is about Black men who are three dimensional in ways that don’t involve rap music or basketball.” He wants to share a story that highlights Black family life outside a special occasion or holiday. “This story was told on a regular Tuesday.”
Why wine you ask? While at a wedding Paris, Penny decided to explore the wine scene and expand his own horizons. “I figured if I don’t l Iike wine in Paris, then I just don’t like wine,” he chuckled. Using wine as a backdrop for a movie that’s really about relationships accomplished a goal. Penny introduced the subject to some who may feel the same way he did.
Louis, the father character, is based on Prentice’s own father, who took over their family business in Los Angeles. Penny chose barbecue as the family business for his script. In order to maintain authenticity the setting could only be one of a few places. Because this was a Black family story Memphis was a great fit.
This location also supports the “clash of culture between things that seem low class and high class.” It is a metaphor represented by the clash between father and son. Sommeliers are rare among all cultures, even more, Black Culture. And barbecue is overly familiar. Prentice believes Black Culture adds swag and flair in undeniable ways. “I never want Elijah to feel like he has to stop being authentically Black,” he says. “The wine shop scene was the first scene I wrote in the movie. I didn’t want viewers to be intimidated by the wine.”
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Louis, portrayed by Courtney B. Vance, is a reflection of Penny’s own father. Elijah, portrayed by Mamoudou Athie, is loosely based on himself. And their relationship struggle is very much like the one he had with his own father. Prentice’s dream of writing for television and movies is 30 years on the making. When he was a teen the only mainstream Black male screenwriter was Spike Lee. His dream seemed as unlikely to his father as Elijah becoming a sommelier did to Louis.
Sylvia, portrayed by Niecy Nash, is the quintessential Black woman. A nurturer, caretaker, and loving wife and mother, she is the translator between her husband and son who Penny says “speak different languages.”
In his quest to maintain authenticity in the Black family experience Penny was adamant about two things. “I never wanted [Louis and Elijah] to say I love you. [Louis] just showed it [with his actions].” He also intentionally departs from the overworked, underappreciated wife who thinks her husband is inept or incapable roles. “[Louis and Sylvia] love each other and they like each other.”
Inside Uncorked: The Premier
Prentice is grateful for the support and positive response people are giving to his debit film. “It was supposed to premier at South By Southwest (SxSW),” which he believes would have given the film a credibility boost.
Instead it debuted on television during the greatest global pandemic in a century. People across the world were looking for something to watch and chose Uncorked. In his own words it is very surreal. His wife Tasha summed it up saying that she feels extremely blessed to see a dream she know he’s had his whole come true. “God has a way of working things out.”
Going inside Uncorked with Prentice Penny is the equivalent of the post-show segment Insecure: Wine Down. And now we know where that came from too.
What else do you want to know about Prentice Penny and his film directing debut Uncorked?