From filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green (MONSTERS AND MEN; upcoming KING RICHARD), along with the Academy Award-winning writing team behind BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (Diana Ossana & Larry McMurtry) and Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg, JOE BELL tells the intimate and emotional true story of an Oregonian father who pays tribute to his gay teenage son Jadin, embarking on a self- reflective walk across America to speak his heart to heartland citizens about the real and terrifying costs of bullying.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
In the Spring of 2013 working-class father Joe Bell quit his job at the plywood mill in the small Western town of La Grande, Oregon and walked out the door of his family home. Carrying only the barest necessities and a heart weighted with regret, he started on foot to New York City, where his son Jadin had dreamed of starting a new life. It was a trip Joe never expected to take, a trip he wasn’t entirely ready to take.
Jadin Bell was 15 years-old when he died by suicide after the trauma of intense, daily bullying by his classmates. The only openly gay student at his school, he made a big impression on those who knew him best. Jadin was a kind, creative and fun-loving young man, a high school cheerleader and a lover of fashion and photography.
To honor Jadin, his father took to the heartland road, while reeling with raw emotions and his own baggage of shame, shortcomings and guilt. His son gone, Joe hoped to find on his trek other small town LGBTQ teenagers and families who struggled in silence or shadow, and share with them his story — Jadin’s story — so that even one family might learn greater acceptance and be spared the remorse that consumed and propelled Joe.
What Joe did not foresee was the vast impact this lone act of endurance, of reaching out in places where too many were in hiding for being who they were, would make. The more he walked, the more he experienced the kindness of strangers and forged connections with people just like him, as well as with people nothing like him—which, in turn, brought him closer to truly seeing Jadin for who he was for the first time.
This is the journey followed in “Joe Bell,” based on the emotional, true father-son story. As the impassioned and psychically wounded Joe, Mark Wahlberg, who is also a producer, reveals an unseen side—that of an ordinary man doing the hard work of reckoning with himself, grappling with the costs of his mistakes and prejudices, while stumbling towards the hope of redemption.
Mirroring Joe Bell’s expansive journey, the team behind the film combines diverse perspectives. The screenplay reunited Diana Ossana and the late Larry McMurtry, who adapted Annie Proulx’s story “Brokeback Mountain” into a groundbreaking, Oscar-winning movie. Like that story, “Joe Bell” is an elemental love story, this time a family’s love story, complicated by the world we live in. Taking up those complications with a keen sensitivity is director Reinaldo Marcus Green, a rising voice who debuted in 2018 with the acclaimed drama “Monsters and Men,” and helmed the coming “King Richard.”
“From the minute I read the script I thought this was a timely story that needed to be told,” says Wahlberg. “Joe Bell is a man who didn’t understand certain things about the world until he was faced with them in his own life, as a father. As a parent myself, I know how much fatherhood can change a man. This is a story told from the heart of a man who walked from town to town to reach other families. It shows how a series of small steps can add up and make a big difference for anyone who needs to know they are loved and accepted.”
Exploring that idea felt especially needed, says Wahlberg, in the times we’re living through, teeming with the dangers of misunderstanding and anger. “In this time when there is so much division, a story like this shows people can still come together when they try to listen,” he says.
Producer Riva Marker adds: “Joe and Jadin’s story is about unfinished business. What wouldn’t most of us give for one extra minute with a deceased loved one? I would give anything for one more chance to tell my own father how much I love him. We all have regrets, some of us have deeper regrets than others. Joe began his journey as an expression of mourning and an attempt to quite literally exorcise his demons. But it came to be just as much about acceptance, love and appreciating each other while we’re here.”