Tosin Morohunfola (photo by Brian Paulette)
Now based in L.A., the Kansas City-trained actor and filmmaker has embarked on a feature-length film, featuring KC talent and a haunting local story
As he embarks on the most ambitious project of his career, L.A.-based actor and filmmaker Tosin Morohunfola remains true to his Kansas City roots, assembling an impressive roster of local talent for his first feature-length film, “The Pulpit,” a suspense drama based on a true story drawn from the region.
The son of Nigerian immigrants, Morohunfola grew up in Kansas City and graduated from KU, where he founded the “Multicultural Theatre Initiative.” He began his career on the Kansas City stage, moved on to Chicago, and has acted in television and film, including starring roles in Oscar-winning executive producer Kevin Wilmott’s “Destination Planet Negro” and in Wilmott’s more recent, acclaimed film, “The 24th.”
Morohunfola’s own successful turn to film began in 2016, with two shorts, “On Sight” (2016), a psychological thriller about police brutality, and “Endowed,” a story about protective fatherhood released the following year.
As a filmmaker, Morohunfola wants to pinpoint social injustice and what needs to be done to fight it.
“‘The Pulpit’ is a powerful and important story about advocacy, especially in a time in America when love and inclusion are being threatened by prejudice and violence.”Tosin Morohunfola
The decision before us all is either to “stand down or stand up for each other,” he says. Reflecting one of our region’s ongoing, frightening realities, “The Pulpit” is his answer to that.
The main character is Sarah Williams, a progressive, rural Kansas pastor and activist. Receiving death threats for her unpopular message of inclusion, she is forced to call in the FBI. Tensions explode as the terrorist danger escalates.
Morohunfola was exposed to this situation in 2019 when a good friend, a young Kansas pastor, called him in distress over just such a sad storyline. There had also been the 2014 case of another young woman minister from Wichita receiving threats of violence for marrying same-sex couples.
His friend’s tale stayed with him, and he felt he needed to tell it in a big way. “This film is a powerful and important story about advocacy,” Morohunfola said. “Especially in a time in America when love and inclusion are being threatened by prejudice and violence.”
Just as the setting of “The Pulpit” is local, Morohunfola is involving many Kansas City artists in the production. For the trailer, he turned to Walter Coppage, Donovan Woods, Kyle Dick, Alex Salamat, Spencer Lott, Garrett Kelly and Kaitlyn Davidson, joined by L. A. actor Emily Vere Nicoll. Produced by fellow locals Sam Findlay, Lydia Anderson and Chris Commons, the trailer is available at https://vimeo.com/697146810.
“Almost everyone went to an area school (either Blue Valley or KU) before beginning their professional careers,” Morohunfola said. “While there’s not really an “official” cast for the feature yet, I really want my KC fam to be in it. It’s a home-grown Kansas story, after all.”
Also joining Morohunfola on “The Pulpit” are Wilmott, Emmy-nominated cinematographer Chris Commons and Reverend Christian Watkins, pastor/activist/community leader (and Kansas transplant), who is also serving as funder liaison.
Launched April 18, a 30-day Kickstarter with an initial goal of $100,000 (total costs for the film are estimated at $2 million) raised $101,000. Funding has also come from grants, foundations and close family seed funding. Unrestricted donations can be made to www.thefilmcollaborative.org/fiscalsponsorship/projects/thepulpit. Many involved in the project are accepting bare-bones compensation, believing so strongly in the effort.
In making “The Pulpit,” Morohunfola will draw on the faith that has been a big part of his life and an extensive range of professional experience. He began his acting career at The Coterie Theatre and went on to the Unicorn, KC Rep, The Living Room and Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. In 2013, career opportunities took him to Chicago, where he added the Goodman, Court, Lookingglass, Northlight and Victory Gardens theaters to his resume and won “Best Supporting Actor” from the Black Theatre Alliance. When television came calling, he joined the casts of “Black Lightning,” “The Chi,” “Chicago Med,” “Chicago Fire” and “Run the World,” and appeared in a few network movies as well.
“The Pulpit” is scheduled to be shot this summer in an area outside Chicago that looks like rural Kansas. Advantageous Illinois tax breaks were a budgeting dealmaker.
We’re proud when area talents — Janelle Monáe, Jason Sudeikis, Paul Rudd, Kevin Wilmott, and now, Tosin Morohunfola — make it big, and even prouder when they somehow maintain their connection, demonstratively displaying their Kansas City roots, supporting local organizations, telling our stories.