After being retooled and recut following a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, Mark Wahlberg's latest film, now titled Joe Bell, is set for a release on February 19, 2021. The film follows a small town Oregon father who embarked on a cross-country walk to raise awareness about bullying after his teen son was bullied for being gay and committed suicide.
Wahlberg stars in and produced the film, which is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men), and written by Diana Ossana and Lary McMurty, who won an Academy Award for their screenplay to Brokeback Mountain.
Joe Bell, originally titled Good Joe Bell, tells the story of a working class father who's son died by suicide at age 15 after being relentlessly bullied for being gay. In an attempt to connect with his feelings and raise awareness about the dangers of bullying, Bell started a cross-country trek where he'd stop at churches and clubs to spread his anti-bullying message.
In October of 2013, the same year his son died, Bell was hit by a truck driver and killed while walking on the shoulder of Highway 40 in Colorado. At one of the stops on his trek shortly before his death, Bell told the crowd that he had always loved his son.
"My son didn't choose to be gay," he said, "My son was different at a very young age. He told his family he was gay because he knew they would accept him. I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek every day. I was proud of him."
"This is a story that is very important to me personally," said Wahlberg in a press release. "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." He continued, saying, "This is a story told from a very personal point of view, from the heart of a man who walked from town to town to reach families just like his, delivering a message of tolerance to people who often didn't want to hear it at first."
The film is being released timed with the new delayed awards season, and many are saying it's a career-best performance from Wahlberg. "It shows us how a series of small steps can add up and make a big difference for the people in this country who need to know they are loved and accepted," the actor said.
Joe Bell will be released in theaters February 19, 2021.