'The Under Shepherd' Takes Controversial Look at the Black Church

Tene' Croom | 4/4/2012, 10:58 p.m.

The latest foray into movie making by nationally syndicated morning DJ Russ Parr is astounding. He wrote and directed his fifth movie entitled, The Under Shepherd. It's sure to have people, particularly those deep in the Black church, saying a lot more than amen. For example, this one scene from the movie illustrates what I mean.

"You're a fraud and an insult to this church (First Baptist Church) and God." Deaconess Carter, with controlled anger, deftly portrayed by Vanessa Bell Calloway, said to the Rev. Lawrence "LC" Case. He's played by Isaiah Washington, whose character was a doctor in the ABC network drama, Grey's Anatomy. Looking at her straight in the eye, with an air of self righteousness, Rev. Case replied, "I am God."

It seems Parr was destined to write this story. His mother took him to the Black church as a young child. However, it was not a good experience he said. "I was really invested into the church and the church I was going to. Then I started seeing things that didn't make sense. My mom, who was a very religious woman, pulled me out of the church. She thought I was losing myself."

Politics also had something to do with why he felt the need to make this movie explaining, "It was the 2004 election and I had a Republican friend of mine say, hey I'll tell you a little secret when the election is over. We're going into a lot of swing states and buying off the Black ministers and giving them talking points."

Parr said he did research and found something out six months after George Bush won the presidential election. "I saw evidence of what he said. A lot of these pastors would donate money to their church. A lot of these pastors would put it in their pockets. Then he started to see a lot of the pastors were under federal indictment."

Parr was quick to point out the pastors were not all Black. There were White pastors involved in corruption too. After looking at the situation he said, "That encouraged me. There's a story here."

But he says he held back when he wrote the script. "I didn't want to go too far with it. I didn't want to get into the Bishop Eddie Long stuff. (Long was accused of sexually abusing several teenaged male members of his church.) I wanted just enough on this man's plate that it was real and honest and very believable."

Being Rev. Case wasn't easy especially when he was extremely verbally abusive to his wife Cassandra, played by Malinda Williams. So much so that Washington said he needed to take a break after filming one intense scene. "I stormed out after every take. I think I maybe did two takes. I almost walked back to my trailer. I think the wardrobe person asked me where was I going. I said I hate Russ Parr. (laughing) I told them I'm not being difficult. But, if you don't get it in this take, I'm not doing this again."