MIAMI - With nearly nine films to his credit, not to mention music videos and commercials, Haitian-born Robenson Lauvince is confident his latest bold and ambitious work will boost the Haitian film industry and the community as a whole.
Saturday's Miami premiere of his highly anticipated film "Married Men" came in the wake of President Donald Trump's remarks last week in which he allegedly used a vulgar word to describe African nations and Haiti.
Trump's comments inflamed the Haitian-American community. Hundreds rallied in Times Square in New York City Monday to denounce racism, and Haiti's ambassador to the U.S. said the president's recent comments about Haiti "hurt the country."
But those who gathered at downtown Miami’s historic Lyric Theater - many of whom emigrated to the U.S. as children or in their early teens to seek a better life - were upbeat, despite Trump's alleged remarks.
Haitian star Junior Rigolo has a small role in the film and spoke during a press conference in Fort Lauderdale on the eve of the premiere.
"I don’t think it’s a black-and-white thing with Trump, it’s just how he is,” Rigolo said. “So if you’re going to get angry about what Trump said, you’ve only just begun being mad. It’s not going to stop. Every day, there’s something new. So, for Haitians — we need to stop going on social media and posting ‘I am Haiti,’ because that’s just for show, (it’s not reality). We need to instead mount a movement to show the world who we really are.”
"Married Men" centers around Juno Rene, a therapist who seems to have the perfect marriage until he meets a woman who he is willing to risk everything for.
The film, featuring some of Haiti’s most popular musicians and actors, drew out Miami A-listers who made it known they came out to support and promote their country’s best talent.
On the red carpet, Lauvince was thrilled that his five-year labor of love was finally going to be seen by hundreds of fans who purchased tickets and stood in line for hours in cool temperatures.
“I’m super-duper happy and excited,” he told VOA. “I think that what’s happening tonight is not only meaningful to me but also to the Haitian movie industry. We need this. Haitian film needs this to move forward.”
Asked about the dozens of fans who arrived early to stand in line, Lauvince said there’s a mutual need that exists. “At the end of the day, this is a Haitian film, and it represents all Haitians who are making movies today and all Haitian movie fans. I’m glad they are here.”
Among the local VIPs in attendance was Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime, the first Haitian-American elected to the commission.
“As a community leader, I put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the millennials because honestly, the fact that most of them grew up in the United States and fit so comfortably into the American culture means they have tasted the benefits of entrepreneurship and mix that with a thirst to advance as Haitians. There are more opportunities here in the U.S., so we’re counting on them to take Haitians to a higher level in the future,” he told VOA.
According to Monestime, Miami-Dade County invested millions to restore the Lyric theater, which had fallen into disrepair.
Flav Athlet, the heartthrob best known as one of the lead singers of the popular Haitian Konpa band Gabel, says the lead role was a huge responsibility. He credits his critically acclaimed performance in his movie debut to the crew that surrounded him.
“The director Robenson did a fantastic job, and also the whole team, Belgamee (productions). I hope people admire the character I play (Juno Rene).I think some will hate him, but I hope some admire him as well. There are a lot of good lessons in the movie, so I think people will receive it well,” he told VOA.
Actress Belindja Eustache plays Chanel in the movie — a woman married to the main character’s best friend, divorce lawyer Gabriel Jobert, whom she constantly cheats on. Eustache was impressed with Robenson's methodology.
“The experience was very different,” she said, “because Roby was serious. It was on set at that time, and he was not playing. And I’ve been in previous stuff, but it was never this on track.”
WATCH: Belindja Eustache talks to VOA?
Haitian musician J. Perry, whose romantic ballad “My Way” featuring Nyanda is heard in the movie, was also in Miami. Hours after the news of Trump’s statement about Haitians, he took to Instagram to post a passionate message: “Unity is Power," he began in all caps. "Let’s all work together so other countries will stop humiliating us.”
“I think what’s happening tonight is a great example of what I was talking about in my Instagram post. Look at this amazing Haitian event. This is how Haitians should continue working so that other countries can see what we can do. There’s a song that goes ‘You’re just blah blah blahing.’ I think when a person is talking, don’t waste time answering. Let your actions be the response because when you respond, you may not realize that one day, you may need that person in the future. So, I think we shouldn’t curse. We shouldn’t get angry. We need to be the best Haitians we can be around the world.”
Despite some technical issues at the beginning of the movie, the cast of "Married Men" was given a standing ovation after the final credits rolled.