Five Favorite Films

Praise This Director Tina Gordon's Five Favorite Films

The writer of cult classics Drumline and ATL explains how musicals shaped her filmmaking instincts and how she flipped pop songs into gospel.

by | April 6, 2023 | Comments


Tina Gordon

(Photo by Nykieria Chaney/Getty Images)

For filmmaker Tina Gordon, bringing vibrant, compelling characters to the big screen has been her life’s work. Before sitting in the director’s chair for her 2013 debut feature Peeples, Gordon penned cult classics like Drumline and ATL. Now with her third feature film, Praise This, she once again puts music at the center of her story.

The story centers on a young woman named Sam (Chloe Bailey), who is uprooted from her life in Los Angles to go and live with her aunt, uncle, and cousin Jess (Anjelika Washington) in Atlanta. Angry, grieving, and determined to follow her dreams of becoming a professional singer, Sam reluctantly finds herself in the competitive world of Atlanta’s gospel praise team choirs. This new focus might be precisely what she needs to heal her spirit.

Ahead of the film’s debut on Peacock, Gordon spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about her Five Favorite Films, bringing Praise This to life, and why musicals have been the foundation of her journey as a filmmaker. “It’s funny doing a musical, because I realized [they were] my gateway into really loving films,” she explained. “They were mainly musicals. And I can’t sing a lick. The character Jess in this movie is me. I don’t know what piano bar I would be wasting my life away at if I could sing even a note, but that’s where I would be.”

Stormy Weather (1943)


One of my earliest memories was watching Stormy Weather at my grandmother’s [house]. I remember eating cereal on the floor. I saw Lena Horne; she looked like my Aunt Eloise. It has some racial stereotypes, but that was common at the time. [Stormy Weather] broke so many stereotypes at the same time. And [Lena Horne] was holding her own with Cab Calloway. And I just thought, “OK, yes.”

The Sound of Music (1965)


As an only child, just seeing all those kids, potential siblings, in my mind, I thought, “Oh wow, that must be great.”

The Wizard of Oz (1939)


I loved The Wizard of Oz. It was the first time I understood how each character along the road had a journey. It was my first understanding as a kid that, “Oh, characters have arcs. They have things that they need to figure out in this journey.” I loved that clarity on the journey of The Wizard of Oz.

The Wiz (1978)


When I saw The Wiz, I lost it because I thought, “Oh my God, it’s Black Wizard of Oz,” and how different it was. It was conceived with layering in our culture. So that was a huge influence for me in understanding, “Wow, you can just showcase our culture, and you can take classic story arcs and layer us into this and weave it into that.”

School Daze (1988)


It was the first time I saw an HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities], like the one I grew up with my family going to. I thought, “Oh my, oh gosh, this is amazing to see the fraternities, sororities, and Black college president.” You can see it in Drumline, right? I’m back there.

Chloe Bailey and Tina Gordon on the set of Praise This (2023)

(Photo by Jessica Miglio/©Peacock)

Aramide Tinubu for Rotten Tomatoes: What about Praise This really drew you into the narrative? What kind of nuances did you personally sprinkle throughout the script?

Tina Gordon: Since Drumline, I knew that I wanted to return to a musical genre and could not figure out what it would be. I also had been circling the idea of doing a faith-based story, but I’m not a preacher, and I wanted it to be funny. I didn’t feel like I could have a preacher’s point of view on something, but I knew I could bring a faith-based movie that would be real and funny. So Will Packer Productions came to me with this idea.

It’s so strange about the creative process; you can just tell. It happens in an instant where you’re like, “I can make characters for this film.” I wanted to do a gospel movie for a new generation. We’ve had great gospel movies, but this time I thought, “OK, I want it to be real. I want it to feel like a little sinner, a little saint, funny, and authentic to me. Never be too preachy or ratchet; ride the middle.” So that’s what got me excited. With most movies or scripts I write, it’ll happen very quickly. If I struggle too much to come up with characters or even the revisions I want to make, it’s usually not the right project for me.

Chloe Bailey and Anjelika Washington in Praise This (2023)

(Photo by Jessica Miglio/©Peacock)

RT: The dynamic between Chloe Bailey and Anjelika Washington’s characters Sam and Jess is so fantastic because they are so different. Can you talk about writing these young women?

Gordon: Thank you for noticing that. One of my proudest moments in the movie is just showing Black female girlfriends, [who are] also cousins. In our community, cousins, at least for me — I’m an only child — are very special to me. So there’s a lot of me in Jess with the sister/cousin as an only child. But I wanted to show just opposite types of young girls, young ladies, and in a faith context and have fun with the awkwardness of Jess, the nerdy, goofy part of Jess, and her total opposite sister/cousin, played by Chloe. So it was just an opportunity for me to show Black girl warmth, sisterhood, and support, and just a little friction between them as they grow up regarding their values and faith. It’s a dynamic that I’m excited for audiences to see. And I’m excited about Anjelika and Chloe just as actresses.

Drew "Druski" Desbordes, Jekayln Carr, Kiara Iman, Anjelika Washington, Ilario Grant, and Chloe Bailey in Praise This (2023)

(Photo by Jessica Miglio/©Peacock)

RT: Praise This is amazing at turning super popular songs into beautiful gospel music. Can you discuss that process?

Gordon: The gospel tradition in the Black community is strong, so if you’re going to make a gospel movie, you better come with it. And I knew that I wanted it to be edgy. So some of my choices were picking rap and pop songs that you would not think about flipping to gospel. But the idea is sometimes to show some heavy song lyrics, some ratchet lyrics, and some dark moments, and flip them to something inspiring, funny, and ironic.

I pored through hundreds of songs with my music supervisor, Derryck “Big Tank” Thornton, until we matched the right songs and personalities of those songs with the praise teams. So a lot of times it came down to A, first creating personalities for all the teams, and then thinking, OK, if we have the Promise Ring Tones, this unattainable girl group, you’ve got to flip Beyoncé and Meg [Thee Stallion]. Or if you have Prodigal Bros, which are meant to be a wink about fraternity guys who have no idea how sexy they are because they praise the Lord, let’s flip an edgy song for them into pure innocence and love of the Lord. So it involved going through a ton of songs and then pairing them with the team’s personalities.

Chloe Bailey and Quavo in Praise This (2023)

(Photo by Jessica Miglio/©Peacock)

RT: What was it like working with real-life musicians Chloe Bailey and Quavo?

Gordon: I knew I wanted Chloe from the beginning. That was my first choice for Sam. A, because of her voice. B, because there’s a boldness when she performs and a vulnerability to her as a young woman. After I met her, I knew this would be the perfect Sam. Chloe stays at the intersection; she keeps me asking, “What is she doing next?” So that’s the kind of performer I wanted. And then Quavo was just a surprise. He was my first choice. I wanted a rapper with bravado on stage but vulnerability and emotional intelligence, and Quavo, the person, is like that and just very smart. Then I got them both to sing, so it was amazing.

Praise This is available to stream on Peacock on April 7, 2023.

Thumbnail images by: Everett Collection, ©20th Century Fox Film Corp.

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