How ‘Waves,’ with Sterling K. Brown and Renée Elise Goldsberry, brings parental fears for black teens to life


Sterling K. Brown and Renée Elise Goldsberry play the despairing parents of a spiraling teen in “Waves,” the breathtakingly emotional new family drama from writer-director Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha,” “It Comes at Night”).

It wasn’t a stretch for either actor to find the fears that drive their characters, Ronald and Catherine, who from the outside have a great life with a thriving business and high school-aged kids with promising futures: Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) and Emily (Taylor Russell).

Visiting the L.A. Times studio at the Toronto International Film Festival, where “Waves” premiered after its bow at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado over Labor Day weekend, Brown and Goldberry revealed the personal relationships and parental anxieties they carried into the movie, a story partly inspired by Shults’ own experiences, and one that took on deeper layers when his ensemble was cast.


Brown, who won an Emmy for his work as another patriarch on the NBC family drama “This Is Us,” has two sons. He described parenting as “a role that’s impossible to negotiate without fear” — even more so given the additional pressures and dangers many young black men face today.

“You want to give your children, and I would say especially your sons, a particular kind of armor, because you’re preparing them for a world that can be difficult and harder on them than it is on others,” he said, “where the latitude for mistakes is not the same.”

Goldsberry, who won a Tony for her work on Broadway’s “Hamilton,” has two young children. “I’ve always been watching the world. But even as a black woman, our experience is very different from that of a black man,” she said.

“The closest you get to understanding it is when you have a son. So I’ve always been looking at the world with this little cute boy, thinking every day he gets older, this world is more dangerous to him. That informed my ways of loving Tyler in the film, and loving Emily, thinking what it means to be the daughter in this family.”

“Waves” will be released by A24 on Nov. 1.