Just in time for Thanksgiving, “Devotion,” the new film from filmmaker J.D. Dillard based on the life of U.S. Navy fighter pilots Jesse L. Brown and Tom Hudner, has hit theaters. Boasting memorable performances and centering around Brown’s heroic life and story, the film has received positive critical reception.
TheGrio caught up with Majors — who portrays Brown — and co-star Christina Jackson to break down the film and what they hope audiences will glean from finally hearing this often untold story of one of America’s greatest military heroes.
Brown broke a major barrier in the U.S. Navy when he became the first Black pilot to complete the basic flight training program. His unlikely bond with Lt. Tom Hudner, a white fighter pilot, is documented in the book on which the film is based, “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice.” Like many Americans, however, Majors did not grow up knowing about Brown, despite his historic contributions.
Majors first heard about the film while shooting “Lovecraft Country” three years ago. “I read the script and went, ‘Oh no. This is too much, is this real? Is this true?” he told theGrio, recalling his first time reading the script.
After confirming that the events documented in the script did indeed happen, the actor was blown away. “A new engine began to pump in me of like, ‘OK, this story has not been told before … this is going to be everyone’s introduction to this man’ and I took that extremely seriously,” he explained. “I thought, ‘What a blessing. What an opportunity.’ That’s when I first came to him.”
While the film features thrilling war sequences and aerial shots of the fighters, it is anchored by a powerful dramatic and romantic plot regarding Brown and his wife, Daisy. The balance of the two, Jackson noted, was essential to the film’s core. “J.D. [Dillard, director] has made it very clear that if the scenes at home are not as strong as the scenes in the air, then the movie is lopsided,” Jackson said. “If the scenes in the air and in the cockpit and on the ship in Daisy’s absence are not as strong … you have to walk this line of making sure that everything is not level, but that it all is leveled and that it all is heightened.”
Jackson recalled that when she and Majors filmed their scenes together, they would remind themselves as actors that these scenes were “for them” and they did not have to worry about anything else going on in the story. “For me, [that] took off a lot of added weight when you don’t have to worry about those things and you just have to worry about what’s in front of you,” she disclosed.
Meanwhile, Majors uses a particular word to describe Brown’s story. “I would say ‘Devotion’ is an epic,” he said.
“That’s the beautiful thing about it. It’s an epic about a folk hero, that is the balance of it … it’s a reminder that life is big. Raising a child and going to war, being in love with a woman, the woman loving you, fighting alongside another person, these are really big themes in the piece and they have to be held. That was our mission.”
“Devotion” is currently playing in theaters.
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