Tessa Thompson on the Power of ‘Sylvie’s Love,’ an ‘Irresistible’ Story of Black Love

In “Sylvie’s Love,” Tessa Thompson stars as an aspiring TV producer named Sylvie opposite Nnamdi Asomugha’s young musician Robert, who meet and fall in love in the New York summer of 1957. The 1950s and 1960s-set film — written and directed by Eugene Ashe — is a romantic tale of love found, lost and possibly rekindled, a story totally irresistible to the film’s stars.

“Selfishly, I grew up looking at old photographs of my grandmother when she would travel by train and seeing her in her gorgeous outfits with gloves and with her hat box. I thought a lot of what it was to be a woman at that time boxed by the confines of period and gender,” Thompson said at Variety’s Sundance Studio presented by AT&T. “I really loved the idea of working in something that was just really about joy and, if and when there was strife, it was kind of the real human interpersonal strife that you have … and I think there are so few stories being told like that nowadays.”

In addition to starring in the film, Thompson and Asomugha were producers on the project, leveraging both their celebrity and their personal passion for the story to hopefully make the film a success.

“It was going to be tough to get made regardless. For me personally, I said, If I don’t get involved, I don’t know how many people are going to get involved.” Asomugha recalled. “It’s such a beautiful story, but at the same time, very difficult to make.”

Though on-screen representation has made strides, the duo noted there’s still work to be done.

“You look at the ‘90s — there was so much representation for black people both in cinema and on small screens. I think we’ve actually regressed in some ways, and certainly in terms of black romance,” Thompson said. “Making a film like this that centers two black leads in a period piece, and not just in a period piece, but also in the tradition of the films made at that time, feels like revisionist.”

But on the other hand, Thompson warns against the narrative of a black romantic resurgence.

“I get worried about talking about the optics of a black narrative so much because I don’t want people to think this story is just for black people,” she said. “It’s an irresistible love story that all people can enjoy that has universal themes. It’s really fun and sexy to watch two leads fall in love regardless of their race.”

She continued, “So I hope that people don’t place it in a box. Because I think the point of the piece I think is to say that we should be able to be seen. And it would be a shame if the only people that are interested in seeing us are black people.”

Ashe agreed with his star’s points, acknowledging that there’s been “dearth of stories like this, specifically with black folks” told on the big screen. “The goal is really to show our humanity, and that’s what it’s really about, because it’s a universal theme, that’s your way in regardless of your race.”

“This is such a beautiful era with great clothing and great music … and so much of the music from that era is by black folks, but we haven’t seen it really translated onto the screen generally speaking when we see a period piece. It’s dealing with the Civil Rights movement or it’s dealing with the struggle aspect of it. And it’s nice to be able to lean into the romance of it and make this kind of lush, Hollywood-looking movie.”

Thompson added, “The truth is, when these films do well, it makes way for more films like this, and I think that there’s a wealth of stories — particularly exploring black love — that are waiting to be told.”

“Sylvie’s Love,” which was acquired by Amazon Studios after its premiere at the festival, also stars Eva Longoria, Aja Naomi King, Wendi-Mclendon Covey and Jemima Kirke.