Atlanta is the backdrop for BET’s new film, ‘Open’

BET’s film about open marriage is set in Atlanta and stars Essence Atkins and Keith Robinson
BET’s film about open marriage is set in Atlanta and stars Essence Atkins and Keith Robinson

BET’s film about open marriage is set in Atlanta and stars Essence Atkins and Keith Robinson

It’s hard to really know what percentage of Americans are or have been in open marriages or relationships. But, judging by the TV and film projects that continue to touch upon the dynamic, the numbers seem to be rising. Last year, in his respected blog “All About Sex,” Michael Castleman penned the post, “Open Relationships Are More Popular Than You Might Think,” asserting that as many as 4% of 2.8 million U.S. couples may participate in what is clinically known as “consensual non-monogamy.” So, it shouldn’t be surprising that BET is joining the conservation with “Open,” a film premiering Saturday on the network that was filmed in Atlanta.

Billed as “a romantic drama that showcases the alternative perspective of open relationships,” “Open” stars Essence Atkins, recently of the Atlanta-based drama “Ambitions” on OWN, and Keith Robinson who plays Miles in “Saints & Sinners” on Atlanta-based Bounce TV. Set in Atlanta, whose high female to male ratio among African Americans has been well-documented and discussed, Atkins’s character, Wren, a successful entrepreneur who owns her own bakery business, takes a preemptive strike against the heartbreak of infidelity, which, as a child of divorce [Atlanta’s own Jasmine Guy plays her mother], she sees as inevitable. So, in hopes of guarding herself emotionally, she asks her architect husband, Cam, played by Robinson, for an open marriage. The arrangement truly gets complicated, however, when Wren breaks one of the main rules and begins seeing her high school boyfriend, Mars, (Matt Cedeño, Ignacio and Cristobal on “Ambitions” and “Power” respectively).

Seated with Robinson in a secluded location inside the W Hotel Midtown days before the film’s BET premiere, Atkins, a divorced mother of one, explained that the story itself resonated with her. “I just really identified with the rationale of Wren and why she would propose such a thing and why she would think that this is the way to go to somehow keep her marriage from falling apart, opening it up to allow them to be with other people,” she said. “I just had a real appreciation for her journey. I also thought that it was important to talk about this because this is something that does occur, and I think, if you haven’t done it, which I believe that most people probably haven’t, you’ve at least considered what the benefits might be.”

Via phone Cas Sigers-Beedles, who wrote “Open” which is also her feature directorial debut, cosigned Atkins’s assertion. Although the longtime Atlanta resident is married and has never been in an open relationship, she said she and her husband have definitely discussed monogamy.

Cas Sigers-Beedles, Writer and Director of “Open.” Contributed by BET

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"I've had lots of conversations about monogamy," she shared. "You know, is it possible to stay monogamous and what happens when people step outside of their marriage and how do you forgive? So that's kind of where we started because the story is still a love story about forgiveness because, although the main characters are in an open relationship, [Wren] still doesn't abide by the rules, which basically is infidelity. If you set these rules, you still have to abide by the rules. So I took that approach because I think that's an approach almost everybody can relate to. And so I just approach it from this space of unconditional love and forgiveness because being married that is a very, very, very hard thing when trust has been broken."
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The married Robinson shared that “getting over my judgment about the character and situation of open marriage” was a challenge at first, especially given his deep Southern, religious and family background. “I’m a church Bible Belt kind of guy who comes from a two-parent home,” explained the Augusta grad of Lakeside High School and one-time UGA student. “My parents have been married for 53 years, so this was like so left and such a quiet, hush, hush conversation [for me].”

Ultimately, however, Robinson, who worked with Atkins as one of her love interests on her hit 2000s sitcom “Half & Half early in his career, said he understood that Cam and Wren’s open marriage “is just an honest effort of trying to make something last beyond the normal parameters, so to speak.”

For Sigers-Beedles, who is partnered with actress and director Terri J. Vaughn in Nina Holiday Entertainment, the film’s driving production company, “Open” is very aligned with their mission of telling more layered stories featuring black women. So, for her, Robinson’s sense of innocence was very key to this complex and largely unexpected story wrapped around a nontraditional marriage.

“In [a film about] an open relationship, if you already start off with a man with a couple of women, women automatically are going to judge him as a dog,” she explained. “But Keith has such an innocent look and such an innocent quality about him, you got to like him… You just want to believe he’s good.”

Keith Robinson as Cam and Essence Atkins as Wren in “Open.” Contributed by BET

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Like Sigers-Beedles, truly exploring the dynamics of love and commitment in a different way greatly appealed to Atkins, who is also one of the film’s producers. “In talking about this kind of taboo subject, I wanted to discuss it in a way that wasn’t sensationalist, but that was actually real and grounded and [explore] what it might look like, and what the pitfalls might be and what the seeming benefits would be.”