“‘Trey knew ‘I couldn’t just plug him in by happenstance; I have to plug him in on purpose, and it’s going to change the way that I write this movie and I need his input. So, we have to write this thing together, so it is reflective of a young Black man’s experience and not just someone who happens to be Black,’” Brown said.
Blackness is showcased in Waves without it being the sole driving force for the narrative, allowing the film to eschew common Hollywood tropes. Both major story arcs of the film revolve around two interracial relationships, yet the differences in races aren’t the defining quality of each relationship. We get only get brief glimpses of Tyler’s time in prison, as the film shifts its focus to his family’s struggle with coming to terms with the new reality they were thrust into by Tyler’s mistake. This is atypical of a film industry with a history of lauding and rewarding films of Black bondage while treating other types of depictions of Blackness with relative disregard.
As the film’s title suggests, there’s this beautiful ebb and flow to the character development where a character the viewer thought they had a good read on suddenly changes, crashing expectations. Brown plays Roland with enough emotional rigidity of a father whose only focus is to develop his son into a great athlete, but not too much where his vulnerability in front of his neglected daughter is both believable and a heartwarming departure from the stoic Black father image that has permeated mainstream entertainment and Harrison’s own personal experiences with his father. Tyler’s sister, Emily (Taylor Russell), tries to reconcile the feeling that her brother was evil for his act with the innate forgiveness that defines family while navigating a love life after a trauma-induced identity crisis. It would do a grave disservice to readers, viewers and the film itself if we did not stress how Russell steals the show on Waves—the film could be the 25-year-old’s breakout performance.