Brampton’s Director X on swapping gender and race for an updated tale in ‘Robyn Hood’

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Published September 26, 2023 at 1:16 pm

Brampton Director X Robyn Hood Drake Kendrick Lamar
Brampton's Director X, born Julien Christian Lutz, poses on the black carpet for The Legacy Awards in Toronto, on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. The creator of a revamped version of the Robin Hood tale has little time for critics who object to its focus on a young Black woman. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

The Brampton creator of a revamped version of the Robin Hood tale has little time for critics who object to its focus on a young Black woman.

Director X, born Julien Christian Lutz and raised in Brampton, made his name as a genre-pushing music video director for artists including Drake, Future and Kendrick Lamar.

But with his new TV drama “Robyn Hood,” Lutz says he’s seen social media critique and indignation he’s seen over multiple changes to the centuries-old English legend: it’s set in a modern-day city, the new female folk hero Robyn leads a masked hip hop group called “The Hood” and her main adversaries are crooked cops and land developers.

It’s also a predominantly Black cast, led by London actress Jessye Romeo as Robyn, although the villains in the first episode appear to be mostly white.

As a result, Lutz says people seem to expect his show to be about racial tensions or social justice, but he insists there was never an intention to “promote any specific message.”

“We made a modern-day Robin Hood and this wasn’t to push anything in particular,” says Lutz. “It was not to show the world how evil and racist it is; we’re not doing any of that stuff.”

The Brampton filmmaker wades into episodic television on the heels of winning the Trailblazer Award at the recent Legacy Awards, which celebrate Black talent in Canada.

“Orphan Black” screenwriter Chris Roberts penned eight hour-long episodes set in the fictional city of New Nottingham. Scenes were shot last summer in Toronto and Hamilton.

Lutz says he simply wanted to make a fun show about a group of young superheroes, and that storylines about police corruption just reflect the world we live in.

“Are some people unaware of how the world works?” Lutz says in a virtual call.

“Police abuse their power outside of race. I guarantee we can go anywhere in the world to find the most homogeneous society, and I guarantee police mess around and abuse their power.

“Some folks will work hard to see things that aren’t there or try to make something that it’s not, but there’s only so far I can have a conversation with someone that doesn’t recognize how reality works.”

Reminiscent of the visual techniques he’s generally used as a music video director, “Robyn Hood” integrates choreographed music videos fusing U.K. and Toronto hip-hop beats to the costumed group rapping and dancing in step.

Lutz says actors were chosen for their talent and chemistry, with little consideration given to their race. Before casting, he says he actually imagined Robyn’s group as mostly Latino. The character of music producer Alan A. Dale was going to be white, but the role ended up going to Black actor Idrissa Sanogo.

The rest of the cast includes Canadian actors Nakyeem Provo as Little John, Ksenia Daniela Kharlamova as Much and Jonathan Langdon as Tuck.

Instead of Sherwood Forest from the classic legend, the story is set in the apartment highrise of Sherwood Towers. Robyn is the daughter of an activist mother and she becomes a vigilante who riles corrupt police officers and steals from profit-hungry property developers in the neighbourhood.

Lutz acknowledges that certain themes within the show, such as police brutality and classism, might suggest political commentary to some viewers. However, he says he just wanted to reflect reality.

“We’ve always had female heroines in science fiction that has always pushed the envelope forward on society,” he says.

“People have been very reactive when they assume that this show could be going down a certain road.”

“Robyn Hood” premieres Wednesday on Global.

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