Trina's Screen Test

Miami's hip-hop queen makes a movie with a message

Depending on how A Miami Tail turns out, Schwab and producer White also may sell the films to theaters, pay-per-view, and cable television. But then again they may not. For Schwab it doesn't really matter. "Direct-to-video has a stigma that is unfounded," he insists. Harry Potter and 8 Mile notwithstanding, the average theatrical release hits a few screens in a few cities for a few days and is seen by a few thousand sets of eyes. "Blockbuster's active customer base is 50 million people," Schwab argues. Or as White clarifies: "More people will see you on video than will ever see you on a movie screen."

Relying on the parade of video-rental customers who head straight for the new releases, Schwab doesn't even bother to advertise the films he distributes. But inside the store, he lures that Blockbuster customer by prominently featuring rap stars like Trina. "It serves as a kind of hip-hop seal of approval," Schwab laughs.

But does following such a strict commercial formula stifle a director? Not really, says Melvin James, who with West Palm Beach producer Roderick Powell approached Schwab with the Miami Tail project. An earlier independent film made by James and Powell called Honeybee (female boxers who are sweet as honey but sting like a bee) was acquired by Maverick for distribution after it was completed. This time the pair went to Maverick first. "[Direct-to-video] is just another medium, from a creative standpoint," James says. "Hollywood follows a certain pattern determined by box-office grosses. Because direct-to-video is more accepting, African-American filmmakers can tell different stories." And the modern adaptation of Lysistrata is certainly a different story for the hip-hop world: Instead of serving up sex, the women are holding out. Instead of gangbanging, the film ends in peace and love.

The movie has personal resonance for Trina, who was propelled into the world of rap in part by the murder of her boyfriend Hollywood (Derek Harris), half-brother of fellow Miami superstar Trick Daddy and dear friend of rap impresario Ted Lucas, head of Trick and Trina's label, Slip-N-Slide Records. Sitting in her trailer waiting for lunch, Trina says she sees A Miami Tail not only as a way of "breaking the ice to get into acting" but also as a way to send an important message to her community. "It's good to tell women that they can stand up for themselves, and to let people know that when you're into violence, you're taking a life," she says. "You're not repossessing someone's car; you're taking a life."

Trina is not the only one who sees the movie as the next step in her career, but opinion is split on how well the just-say-no-to-sex-and-violence strategy will actually work in Liberty City. "Oh no," laughs Carol City's Lady T, one of several local comedians who landed roles in A Miami Tail. She and her comedic colleagues regularly appear on programs like BET's ComicView, and they've had walk-on roles in Hollywood movies and music videos made in Miami, but for all of them this is their first speaking part in a film. Director James has actually incorporated their stand-up routines into the movie. "I represent the ovaries," crows Lady T, "and I know none of these young ladies would go along with that."

"I don't think the girls would ever have the heart to try these things with these crazy guys," agrees Liberty City native and reformed convict Henry Clay (he learned standup in prison), better known as the World's Wildest Black Comedian (WWBC). Clay plays Cornbread, the neighborhood drunk, while younger comic and Miramar resident Dexter Angry plays his sidekick, a womanizing wino known as Red Beans.

Angry thinks it's the fellas who would foil the plan. "The guys around here be, 'All right, then I'm going to Broward. They got women up in Broward.' But unfortunately Red Beans don't have a car. It's kinda hard for him to relocate."

Pausing to sign autographs for a gaggle of neighborhood kids, Trina's labelmate Money Mark insists the strategy would work. "Yes, yes, capital Y-E-S," exclaims the muscular, tattooed rapper. "Excuse my language, but that's the power of the pussy. P.O.P. Some women use it the right way. At the end of the day, a man wants to make money and feel like he's number one with the ladies. If women did that, the men would go crazy."

Rapper CO, Money Mark's partner in Tre+, says it really doesn't matter if A Miami Tail's fantasy could ever come true. He's happy the script shows urban couples aspiring toward love, not war. "Usually urban stories are so violent," says CO, who grew up with Money Mark in Carol City. "It's nice to see them put a love twist. Just to show there's love in the city no matter how you tell it, whether it's A Miami Tail or Gone with the Wind."

And that's a sentiment Doug Schwab hopes you'll take home with you, direct-to-video.

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