How One Local Filmmaker Debuted First Film and Comic Book During Pandemic

An African American director with a beanie chats with a tall man in a white tank top and with an Afro
Behind the scenes of "Love Conquers All." Janell Grace and Kris Sutton. Photo courtesy of Janell Grace.

Love Conquers All, a comic book and movie co-written by filmmakers Janell Grace and Malik Glass, is a story about Kennedy, a man reconciling his issues with trauma and grief after the passing of his sister. The 30-minute narrative short film opens with the word “Isolation” and continues to follow protagonist Kennedy, played by Kris Sutton, and his mental health journey in processing grief. Oakland, where the film was primarily shot, is the backdrop for a young man who is also trying to navigate a relationship with his girlfriend Rose, played by Bay Area based actress Jyoti Swamy. Interlooped into the fictional narrative are segments of men discussing their challenges with mental health. 

While Grace is originally from Southern California, Grace said she wanted to film in the Bay Area specifically because of movements that influence young people started in Oakland. “The Black Panthers started here. A lot of movements happened in the Bay Area. I feel it in the air that the Bay Area is the land of the intellectuals, as well as the creatives.”

The film is Grace’s first and was directed by Grace and Glass, who were college classmates and student athletes at Augustana College in South Dakota. With the directorial support of Sacramento-based production company Hidden Temple Media and filmmaker Pedro Garcia, the dream of creating a film became a reality.

An African American man with short hair directs film behind a video camera
Co-director Malik Glass behind the lens on the set of short film “Love Conquers All”

Glass explained the duo began the script in October 2019 while he was in Minnesota. He and Grace communicated regularly to create the vision that would become Love Conquers All.

The COVID-19 pandemic created both a challenge and an opportunity for the filmmakers. “It was interesting actually because the first day we did [the table read] was right before everything shut down, so everybody was there and I was the one online watching everybody,” Glass reflects. Afterwards, the table reads were online for the entire cast and filming was delayed.

As part of their pandemic pivot, the film creators decided to create a comic book, which helped with fundraising efforts. The comic book version of Love Conquers All also made the story more accessible to a younger audience. The comic book, illustrated by Eli Beaird, was released in October 2021 and has been sold at events, including a booth at Oakland’s Black Joy Parade in February, and at Marcus Books in Oakland.

Three pages of a comic book featuring African American characters talking about relationship sand mental health, titled "Love Conquers All"
Panels from “Love Conquers All,” a comic book written related to the short film.

Then came another challenge: the two original actors cast to play main characters Kennedy and Rose dropped out two weeks prior to shooting, which was scheduled to begin in July 2021. Grace, using social media, was able to find two new actors who were tasked with learning their lines in a short period of time.

An African American man and African American woman talk while sitting in park
Kris Sutton as Kennedy and Jyoti Swamy as Rose in short film “Love Conquers All.”

Grace explained how her day job as a case manager in transitional housing for the houseless influenced the shape of the protagonist.

For a number of years, Grace worked with Black and brown youth and also previously worked with formerly incarcerated individuals. Seeing the impact of trauma through generations through the youth Grace formerly worked with, and her own journey of loss, has shaped her understanding of mental health. “It put a lot of things in perspective to me, pertaining to the history, the legacy of my family, and the roots of where we came from understanding trauma,” Grace said. “Multi-generational trauma is a real thing.”

To build the character Kennedy, Grace said she took a little piece out of youth she worked with: “Their insecurities from their concerns, to their anxiety, to the trauma, and a little bit to their joy, to show what young men deal with, we pinpointed the lack of guidance from being a boy and how that shows up as being a man.”

Grace also experienced her own grief with the loss of her sister in 2020. “Understanding grief is a part of the healing process,” Grace said. “So many of us like to sweep it under the rug, when actually that’s not a healthy thing. The healthy thing is the process and you know to let those emotions out.”

Raising the awareness of mental health also alleviated the financial barriers for the creators. The film is partly funded by some Bay Area mental health organizations including Turning Point Community Programs, PRC (formerly Positive Resource Center), and The Hume Center.

The short film premiered in May 2022 at Ciel Creative Studios in Berkeley, with cast and crew in attendance. The filmmakers plan to take the short film on tour to San Francisco, Puerto Rico, Atlanta and in film festivals. 

Check Love Conquers All for updates on future screenings. The creators are in the works to release a second portion for the comic book, anticipated to be released this September. 

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Black Voices in the Town’ is funded by The African American Response Circle Fund. In 2020, the Brotherhood of Elders Network in partnership with the East Bay Community Foundation established the fund in response to the impact of COVID-19 as a public health crisis for African Americans who live, work, and worship in Alameda County.

Author Profile

Brandy Collins is a writer and public services advocate born and raised in the Bay Area. She is a 2019-2020 cohort graduate from the Maynard Institute for Journalism, a correspondent for Oakland Voices, a blogger and the funny one in numerous group chats. She is concerned with civic engagement and leadership development toward making public works more efficient for the people. Brandy is full of Scorpio magic and self-proclaimed Professional Aunty. Follow her on Twitter @msbrandycollins or Instagram @story_soul_collecter.

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