Alexandra Burke on ‘dream’ film debut with tender story of gender non-conformity and ‘Black love’

Alexandra Burke in Pretty Red Dress. (BBC Film/BFI Film Fund/Magellanic Media)

Alexandra Burke’s movie debut, Pretty Red Dress, had its premiere Monday night (9 October) at the BFI London Film Festival.

Burke, who plays aspiring singer-actor Candice in the film, was joined by co-stars Natey Jones (Travis) and Temilola Olatunbosun (Kenisha) as well as director Dionne Edwards, producer Georgia Goggins and choreographer Johanne Radebe at the event.

Pretty Red Dress follows the lives of Travis, his wife Candice and daughter Kenisha, after Travis is released from prison. 

After Candice and Kenisha walk in on Travis wearing a dress Candice had picked for a musical role, what unfolds is a tender story about Black masculinity, gender roles, dreams and what it means to be a family. 

Speaking about how she landed the role to PinkNews, Burke says: “It’s like a real dream come true, I don’t think everything has quite sunk in yet.

“The world will finally see this amazing piece of work, I just think it’s remarkable but I am scared.”

The entire film has an epic musical thread, with some wonderful tunes from Tina Turner underpinning the plot – and reflecting Candice’s drive and ambition. 

Alexandra Burke (L), Natey Jones (M) and Temilola Olatunbosun (R). (Getty/Joe Maher)

Alexandra Burke (L), Natey Jones (M) and Temilola Olatunbosun (R). (Getty/Joe Maher)

“I remember reading who Candice was about and saying to my agent, ‘she is me’,” Burke explains.

“I will never forget when I said ‘even if you don’t pick me, just know that she is me’.”

For Burke, this film is all about acceptance, overcoming obstacles and loving everyone for who they are.

The film explores how Travis and Candice navigate the shift in their relationship after he is discovered in the dress.

“I love who Candice is, what she is about, how hard she works, how much she loves her family, all her morals I stand for as a person. Candice came quite naturally to me.”

The film has so much to offer when it comes to bucking stereotypes, especially of what it means to exist as a Black man. 

“I came at it with the character [Travis] first.” Edwards tells PinkNews.

“I wasn’t necessarily thinking about the bigger themes of gender and sexuality, I just wanted to have a character I related to deeply on an emotional level.”

Focusing in on the idea of shame and society’s expectations, Edwards adds: “We’re all pretty weird. We all don’t fit into the things we are supposed to fit into. 

“I hope a lot of people relate to it, you don’t need to be a Black man interested in trying on dresses. It’s just about not conforming.”

When Jones first read the script he felt like it was an “amazing opportunity to play a nuanced part, which you don’t always find as a Black actor.”

Natey Jones as Travis in Pretty Red Dress. (London Film Festival)

Natey Jones as Travis in Pretty Red Dress. (London Film Festival)

“Travis, Candice and Kenisha all have different facets of masculine and feminine within them,” he continues, “and the film explores how each of them feel about that.”

“Travis comes across as a very masculine man, maybe because of the suppression of his femininity. In this film, Travis becomes free, free of the expectations and to be himself, however that manifests.”

For both Jones and Burke, there was a lot of “joy” and “Black love” when filming scenes together and as a family. They were able to create a family that “looks and feels real” because of the chemistry they had off-screen.

Olatunbosun, a new talent who plays daughter Kenisha cherished the journey her character goes on, especially when it came to her exploring her more “masculine” side.

“I love Kenisha’s masculine energy and that she is not afraid to show that,” Olatunbosun tells PinkNews. “Be who you are – that’s the whole point of the movie.”

Her sentiments were echoed by choreographer Redabes who adds the central message of the film is that “we are all different individuals, we are all human.”

You can buy a ticket for the BFI film screening here.