Director Brett Haley discusses the budding on-screen relationship between Kiersey Clemons and Sasha Lane: "It happens to be between two women who happen to be women of color."
Hearts Beat Loud is a love story about a father and a daughter (played by Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons) as they come of age in the summer before the daughter leaves for college. But love -- familial, romantic, friendly -- is abundant in the film: Dad and kid, single parent and single parent, man and barkeep.
Then there's young love -- blushing, effervescent, new love, the kind that can only happen as a teenager, the sort of love looked back on wistfully later in life -- between UCLA-bound pre-med student Sam (Clemons) and artist Rose (Sasha Lane), who meet eyes across an art gallery, nervous giggles leading to flirtatious banter. It's a sweet summer romance. It's also the rare onscreen relationship between two queer women of color.
"It was important that this just be a summer romance," director Brett Haley explains to ET. "It happens to be between two women who happen to be women of color, but I'm very anti using people's sexuality or gender or color of their skin as a plot point...That's not what this movie's about."
"Some movies are about how difficult it is to come out of the closet," Haley goes on, "or how difficult it is to be a person of color. And those have a place. This film is not about that, but it represents it -- I hope -- in a way that is refreshing and positive for all sorts of people."
And it's not about that. There is no larger narrative to Sam being biracial, except that her dad is white and her mom was black. There is no coming out here. (When Sam's dad notices she is acting distant, he asks, "Is it a girlfriend? Boyfriend?") There is no fear of what others think. It's just a budding romance amid balmy summer days, unfolding over jam sessions and bike rides through Brooklyn, with no conflict except that summer always comes to an end.
Hearts Beat Loud (which is now open in wide release), Haley says, is instead "about the creative process, about letting go, about grief, about allowing your child to be their own person, about friendship, about those connective moments that art and creativity can bring." That one of the central relationships is between women of color is just an honest representation of the world.
"The reality of it -- that there are biracial families, there are people who are queer -- it needed to be represented," he says. "Especially for a Brooklyn movie. Especially for the position that I'm in as a director, where I can easily just cast all white, straight people. That could have been very easy to do and no one would have blinked an eye -- but to me, it's not as interesting. It's not as real. It's not as human." In terms of straight, white men in in their early 30s, as Haley is, he adds, "I am not represented in this movie, and I think that's fine! I think that's a good thing."
That both Clemons and Lane are of color and openly queer themselves only added to the honesty that Haley sought, allowing him and co-writer Marc Basch to mine the actresses' experiences to flesh out their onscreen dynamic. In creating nuanced, diverse characters, the men only had to listen. "And [ask] the right questions," Haley adds.
"Saying, What about this rings true and what about it rings false and what can you tell me to help make it your experience? How can I make it more authentic?" he says. "And essentially what they told me more than anyway was, 'Brett, please just let us be. Let us just be in love. We don't want to talk about how we're into girls the whole time or how being a person of color is difficult, because mostly we don't talk about that. Mostly we're just falling in love.'"