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Christine Swanson Brings Miki Howard’s Story to Life

Back in the early 2000s, filmmaker Christine Swanson was on the fast track to success. Her short film, Two Seasons, had been a semi-finalist for a Student Academy Award and was also picked as an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival. A recent MFA grad from New York University’s prestigious Tish School of the Arts, Christine’s film career was primed for big things, until fate stepped in. She fell in love.

After meeting the man who would become her husband, Christine’s life took a big turn when she discovered that she was pregnant. She soon found herself as mom to a growing family (she has 4 children), but kept herself in the mix in films by lending her support to screenplays like Woman Thou Art Loosed and directing the indie classic, All About You and its sequel All About Us. However, the demands of parenting soon won out and she decided to push pause on her promising career to focus on being a wife and mother full time.

Over the years Christine never lost her passion for filmmaking and so when an opportunity came in 2015 for her to direct again, she immediately stepped forward. Her comeback film, For the Love of Ruth was a ratings success and earned an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Directing. Now, she’s following that up with Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story, an upcoming biopic that will launch TV One’s Unsung film series.

JET recently talked with Christine about her upcoming film and how she’s balancing her career with the needs of her family.

JET: So tell us about the Miki Howard Story?

Swanson: The Miki Howard Story was the brainchild of D’Angela Proctor’s (Head of Programming at TVONE). It’s the first feature film from the very popular Unsung series. TVONE decided to do the Miki Howard story first because her episode was one of the highest rated in the history of the series at that time. Also, Miki Howard has a loyal fan base that love and appreciate all that she has contributed in the music industry. I got to spend a lot of time with Miki to get a sense of who she was/is and to get a sense of the direction in which the movie should go. We have a stellar cast including Teyonah Parris as Miki Howard, Gary Dourdan as Augie Johnson, Darius McCray as Gerald Levert, Vanessa Bell Calloway as Josephine Howard, LisaRaye as Sylvia Rhone and Indira Khan, who plays her mother, Chaka Khan, in the movie.

JET: What kind of challenges did you face bringing someone’s real life to the screen?

Swanson: It’s always difficult to encapsulate the breadth and scope of someone’s entire life in one single movie, especially someone as complicated, gifted and brilliant as Miki Howard. She’s lived such a rich life in her short 55 years. We tried to tell a lot of Miki’s story in a TV movie but Miki’s life story could be a truly riveting mini-series. Her story is equal parts compelling, shocking, mind blowing, heart crushing, humorous and inspiring. Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story will have everyone on the edge of their seats with the fascinating life of this truly extraordinary, living R&B legend. Teyonah Parris, who plays Miki, gives an awe-inspiring performance, both delicate and raw at the same time. Teyonah shows such range, nuance, and depth in her performance. She channels Miki Howard. It’s scary almost.

JET: You’ve worked on a wide range of projects as a director/writer. Do you have a favorite genre that you like to work in?

Swanson: I have worked as a feature film director and screenwriter. One of my favorite genres is the romantic comedy/dramedy. I’m a big fan of Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers and James L. Brooks. However, over the years, I’ve evolved into more dramatic storytelling and I have written and directed a wide range of films so I have a lot of range and interests in terms of storytelling. I think my kids would love to see me do a superhero movie though.

Christine Swanson

Christine Swanson

JET: You recently returned to the work in Hollywood after a long absence to raise your family. What has that transition been like?

Swanson: I took about 15 years off to raise our beautiful children. Last year, I jumped right back in and directed three cable movies back to back to back and it felt like I was home, where I was always meant to be, doing what I was meant to do. Transitioning back has been smooth sailing creatively. Logistically, however, it’s a bit more work juggling the amount of projects I’ve been approached to write and/or direct. I never stopped being a storyteller, even if I took a break. I’m always a filmmaker at heart!

JET: Now that you’re back working, what kind of projects can we look for you to make?

Swanson: This fall I will team up again with Teyonah Parris to direct “Buffalo Soldier Girl” which is an epic feature film about Cathy Williams, the first black female buffalo soldier and an American patriot. This film will be a badass Western/war movie with a superhero bend. We start production this Fall in Texas.

I am also developing several projects including the Ava Cherry Story. Ava Cherry is a remarkable black woman who dated David Bowie in the mid 70s and helped him explore his soul side and out of that urging, Bowie created the “Young Americans” album.

Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story airs on Sunday, June 12  at 7 p.m.