Robert Townsend is taking fans inside the fevered moments that led to the making of a cult classic with his Making the Five Heartbeats documentary. The Temptations inspired film was Townsend’s dream project. Townsend used the goodwill he amassed from 1987’s Hollywood Shuffle to bring the film to life, but the process wasn’t seamless.
“I’ve got the scars to prove it,” said Townsend in one of the film’s voiceovers.
Despite casting himself in one of the singing-and-dancing leads, Townsend actually couldn’t dance and he had to constantly hide that fact throughout filming. He also had to dodge studio penny pinchers determined to slash his budget and calm actors whose off-screen attitudes rivaled their on-screen counterparts on his way to getting the job done.
Some of the documentary’s most impactful behind-the-scenes moments take place before production even begins. Fans can see Niecy Nash, Jussie Smollett, and Don Cheadle standing in line at open call auditions trying to get their big break in Townsend’s film.
It’s hard to believe now that it has become legendary in the Black community, but the film’s initial reception wasn’t great. It wasn’t until The Five Heartbeats was available for purchase as a home video that it became the stuff of can’t miss BET reruns.
The documentary chronicles Townsend’s disappointment and eventual triumph at seeing it become one of the most quotable pieces of Black media ever created.
Find out more about the making of the the film you and your aunties love in Making the Five Heartbeats but when you get to the theater remember, “Can’t nobody sang like Eddie King, Jr!!”