Though racial issues and lack of unity are unrelenting all over the world, music can be a unifying force. Craig Lamar Brown, writer and director of the film “Between Mercy and Me,” uses the power of music to help open a conversation concerning race relations within the Church.
“I thought the best way to tackle something that can be a challenging conversation in church was through music. The music had to be for God, of course, but it could be a centerpiece of the film to bridge the gap between Black and white,” Brown said.
“In a lot of cases, no matter your race or gender, [music] can be the one thing that unifies people, like in a concert or in a worship service or at a baseball game.”
‘Heaven on earth to me’
“Between Mercy and Me” is about Hugo and Mercy, two musicians — one Black, one white — who were brought together in the midst of a community tragedy. During their budding friendship and newfound musical partnership, racial issues are highlighted and addressed, both in their own relationship and in their increasingly gentrified community.
Brown knew from the beginning that music had to be woven into the entire story. Not only do the couple and community change through the course of the film, but so does the style of music — moving from the Black church using gospel music and the white church using a contemporary style to a blended version of the two.
In fact, even though he’s now seen the movie thousands of times, Brown still cries at the scene portraying this change.
“Here’s God’s people — Black, white — worshiping the same God. That’s heaven on earth to me, and it doesn’t stop with Black and white. It’s all of His people,” he said.
“That’s the reason I’ve learned to do that — to show that our differences can create beauty.”
Each scene’s music was very intentional and was written specially to emphasize the character’s feelings in the moment.
Throughout the production, Brown continually asked himself and his team, “What is [this character] feeling in this moment? How can we best take a song and make the audience member feel this moment?”
Part of that emotional tie-in was developed through his partnership with the film’s co-writer and co-star, Andrea Summer VonAllmen. VonAllmen played Mercy and wrote all of the music for the soundtrack and score.
“You can’t just sit in a theater and watch a two-hour movie and someone just talking at you from the screen about race,” Brown said. “I wanted something that was captivating and emotional — that could help drive conversation and give people time to process in between scenes.”
The idea for “Between Mercy and Me” started back in 2020, a time of major civil unrest and race riots. Brown noticed that the Church wasn’t leading by example and failed a lot during that time. Many Christians looked like those who were unchurched.
“God calls us to love our neighbor and consider others better than ourselves. Then here we are, tearing each other down,” Brown said.
“That doesn’t represent the Kingdom at all. I wanted to bring forth something that would unify the Church but also challenge us as believers to have healthy, productive conversations around race. That’s how I got the idea.”
One pivotal scene involves a police officer and his treatment of Hugo as opposed to his treatment of Mercy. Though it could be mistaken as a judgment against the police force as a whole, this is far from Brown’s intention.
“I love law enforcement,” he said. “There are certain emotions that a Black person could feel in those moments. That’s it. I just wanted to highlight the feeling — how a Black man can feel in a moment dealing with law enforcement.”
Though Brown’s race is Black, he didn’t shy away from showing the flaws he sees in the Black community. He admitted that this was uncomfortable but felt it was necessary.
“We really experience our own brokenness. In order to move forward, we need to expose our weaknesses,” Brown said. “We need to take down the walls to move forward, and sometimes it’s not easy.”
‘God is love’
While making the film, Brown learned how fierce God is about unity and loving your neighbor.
“It’s really cliché: God is love. Love everyone. But it doesn’t always look like rainbows and butterflies or going through a field picking flowers. That’s not all God is,” Brown said.
But along with that fierce aspect of how serious God is about this issue, there’s also grace.
“He wants us to come to a place of understanding why He’s serious about this command,” he said. “I think that this what the Church is going to continue to work out in the future.
“I’m glad to be part of driving that conversation.”
“Between Mercy and Me” was in theaters one night only for a June 20 Fathom Event. However, it’s still possible to access it and to continue the conversation.
Through July 20, churches can share the film by selling tickets to church and community members and showing it through the Faith Content Network. For more information, go here.
To access a discussion guide, click here.