Starring: Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaraah Abrahams, Rami Malek and Elvis Nolasco
Rated R Drama/Fantasy/Horror
In Spike Lee’s remake of the critically-acclaimed Black independent film, Ganja and Hess (1973), the storyline is centered upon Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams) and his struggle with addiction. However, in his instance, the substance he needs is blood because he is a vampire.
A successful and wealthy African-American anthropologist, the focus of his research is centered upon the Ashanti, an African ethnic group whose accomplishments led them to be one of the most powerful empires in world history. One of their culture beliefs and practices, according to Dr. Green’s research is consumption of blood would lead to immortality.
One evening at Green’s lavish and culturally-appointed mansion in Martha’s Vineyard, he and a museum colleague, Lafayette Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), are discussing Hess’ research. Soon after dinner, Lafayette appears to be having a type of bizarre mental breakdown. Although it seems that the anthropologist allays his issues, soon after, Lafayette attacks Hess with an Ashanti ceremonial dagger and then commits suicide. Hess, surviving the wound, has an unusual urge and that is to drink the blood of Lafayette. This need is presumed to have been brought on by the weapon’s history and power and Hess quickly realizes that he is a vampire.
Hess desperately tries to balance his life with this new addiction when a new issue arises: the arrival of Ganja Meda (Zaraah Abrahams) to his home. Even though she and Lafayette were no longer married, she is still worried because she has not heard from and he owes her money. Before long, Hess and Ganja become lovers. However, when she discovers Lafayette’s body, truths must be shared if the new couple are to survive … literally.
How will life turn out for both Hess and Ganja in this version of the classic? Viewers must see how these two compare!
Receiving mixed reviews by critics, Da Blood of Sweet Jesus was actually financed by a crowd-funding campaign that Spike Lee started. The reason for this unusual approach to getting a film made was because he felt that no motion picture studio would support its development. Having set a goal of $1.25 million dollars needed, Lee ultimately raised 1.4 million dollars from contributors, including Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh, whose works include Traffic, the Oceans trilogy, Che, Contagion and The Laundromat, donated $10,000.
Due to the low budget, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was filmed in only sixteen days, on locations between New York City and Martha’s Vineyard in Duke’s County, Massachusetts. Also building upon the essentiality to be innovative was one of Lee’s approach to gaining possible tracks to include for this film. He solicited, via social media, submissions from unknown, unsigned artists. The soundtrack to the film was comprised of a variety of new and established artists, including Jasiel Ace, Siedah Garrett, Bruce Hornsby, Illegalize and Milton Nascimento.
Spike Lee’s decision to make Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was in tribute to Bill Gunn (1934-1989), the pioneering actor, novelist and playwright who wrote and directed Ganja and Hess. Lee has championed his inspiration, stating that he “… embodies the spirit of independent film … Bill Gunn is one of the most underappreciated filmmakers of his time.” Lee worked diligently to remain true to Gunn’s script, as Scott Foundas wrote in his review of Lee’s version for Variety, “… at times, scene for scene, shot for shot”. In Lee’s high regard for the oft-overlooked trailblazer, he also gave Bill Gunn credit as a co-writer of Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.