Backdrop Detroit

Jan 2, 2002 at 12:00 am
Detroit is rarely seen in Hollywood movies, or as the setting in a major novel. Novelist and screenwriter Gary Hardwick, a native Detroiter, wants to change that.

Hardwick wrot last year's The Brothers — a love story told from a black male point of view — that was supposed to be set in the city, but once shooting started, it was moved to California. "Detroit is a venue that's not exploited enough," explains Hardwick. "Certain cities are always featured in movies and it gets to be tired."

Actually, Hardwick has written several books with Motown as the setting, including Supreme Justice (Morrow) and Double Dead (Dutton); it’s the movie industry that has not accepted Detroit as a big-screen backdrop.

His new project from USA Films, Deliver Us From Eva, is scheduled to hit screens next summer. It also was supposed to be set in Detroit, but once the shooting started, another city was found to be more appropriate. "I had to change the setting for Eva," says Hardwick. "But I’ll get there."

Hardwick describes Eva as a romantic comedy similar to a Julia Roberts-type movie. "In a Julia Roberts movie, she is always desirable. And there are emotional, psychological and social misunderstandings that she has to find her way through."

Eva, played by Gabrielle Union, is a meddlesome sister-in-law who grates on her brother-in-laws’ nerves. To get her out of their lives, they contrive to introduce her to Ray, a handsome lothario played by L.L. Cool J. He is supposed to make Eva fall in love with him and relocate, and then he’s supposed to dump her. But there’s a twist. The brother-in-laws get something they hadn't planned: Ray falls in love with Eva — and remains in town.

Hardwick laughs and says that the brother-in-laws realize that Eva with love in her life is actually worse than Eva without love.

"Everyone knows an Eva," he says. "Eva's an icon and we've never seen a black female icon. Black women are slowly evolving into complete, total human beings on-screen and this movie is a step in that evolution."

Hardwick says that black female characters have progressed from being the maid to the leading man’s girlfriend, but Eva is a true starring role for a woman. "We haven’t had a role like that since Stella" (in How Stella Got Her Groove Back).

Although Eva will be a brown-tinged actress, Hardwick doesn't believe that should stop white moviegoers from enjoying the film. That whites don't support black films is Hollywood's fault, says Hardwick: "Hollywood makes the assumption that blacks will go see anything. Whites will go see anything too, if they’re not made to believe the movies are not for them."

In his other project, the novel Color of Justice (Morrow), Hardwick’s protagonist is white. Danny is a white cop who lives black — socially, politically and even psychologically. He is trying to solve a series of grisly murders with one common link: All of the victims are light-skinned blacks. The book is set in Detroit and is due in bookstores in January.

"Danny comes full circle and he’s the quintessential character," he says. "I know black people will like Danny — we’ll see if white people like him."

Hardwick says that portraying Detroit is important to him because he grew up in Detroit and, "Part of who you are is where you grew up."

Hardwick, who says he never gives his age, graduated from Cass Technical High School, attended the University of Michigan and received his law degree from Wayne State University. But for professional reasons he resides in Los Angeles.

"It’s tough when you’ve lived somewhere all of your life and you have family, friends, your favorite restaurants and places where you buy hats. LA is great — it just isn’t Detroit."

A sunny California resident since 1990, Hardwick has made new friends and found new restaurants, but he still comes back to the "D" to buy hats.

The Motor City expatriate is currently writing and directing his first independent film, Radio, a comedy that will give audiences a peek into the lives of a morning radio crew for 24 hours. Shooting starts in March; Lil’ Kim and Mos Def have signed on, with cameo appearances by Snoop Dogg and Nelly.

And although Detroit takes center stage in his novels, Hardwick says he is not going to stop until his hometown gets its props on the movie screen. If he can combine a Julia Roberts-type character and Motown, he just might have everything figured out. Curtrise Garner writes about styles and trends for Metro Times. E-mail her at