If there’s one thing Camille Tucker knows is true about the craft of creating stories for the screen, it is this: keep writing. Tucker says she strives to have “a couple stories in my head, a script-in-progress on my laptop, another ready to be printed out for a final tweak, and as many as I can in the hands of producers.” 

Tucker says it’s her love of storytelling that keeps her creating, as well as the knowledge that along with the scripts that hit, and the ones that miss, are those that reveal themselves in their own way and in their own time. When she considers the fact that her first produced script—about the struggle and rise of the renowned gospel singing group The Clark Sisters—almost didn’t happen, Tucker chuckles and says wryly,  “That’s why God has always been my best writing partner.”

Now, Tucker’s story The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel, has become a highly-anticipated Lifetime TV biopic premiering at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT), Saturday, April 11. The film gives a behind-the-scenes look at the joys, challenges, conflicts and sacrifices experienced by the sisters—and the entire Clark family—as their choir director mother, the legendary Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, sets them on the path to gospel music superstardom. The Clark Sisters stars Aunjanue Ellis as Mattie Moss Clark with the singing sisters portrayed by Christina Bell as Twinkie; Kierra Sheard in the role as her real-life mother, Karen; Shelea Frazier as Dorinda; Raven Goodwin as Denise; and Angela Birchett as Jacky.

Directed by Christine Swanson (Come Share My Love—The Miki Howard Story), The Clark Sisters is produced by Queen Latifah and Flavor Unit Entertainment, Grammy Award-winners Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott, and Holly Davis Carter (Preachers of LA).

Tucker, who developed the story on which The Clark Sisters biopic is based, shares “written by” credit on the film with Sylvia L. Jones. The fact that The Clark Sisters ultimately became a Lifetime Television production is a testament to the faith, talent and perseverance of everyone involved. 

Like many scripts in Hollywood that languish in development—or never get made at all—Tucker’s journey with The Clark Sisters began 15 years ago when she and colleague Sara Finney-Johnson (Moesha, The Parkers) joined forces on the project. Brought on by producer Holly Davis Carter, Tucker and Finney-Johnson were tasked with writing a treatment that captured the lives and careers of the five singing sisters and their musical, determined mother who guided the group through  setbacks and success. 

Although a lengthy script development process has become the norm in today’s Hollywood, timing and commitments to her own projects prevented Finney-Johnson from continuing work on The Clark Sisters. Now solo, Tucker moved forward in crafting the gospel group’s story through several more iterations until the project caught the interest of Lifetime and officially joined their production slate in 2017. Always one to make the most of time and opportunity, simultaneous to her work on The Clark Sisters, Tucker entered the three year screenwriting program at Loyola Marymount, earning her MFA in the discipline in 2018. Fast forward to 2019 where at long last, The Clark Sisters biopic began filming as a Lifetime production with Carter and a stellar new production team.

“Everything changed once Queen Latifah got the script and signed on as a producer,” said Tucker. Throughout the music industry, there’s tremendous respect and admiration for the Clark Sisters, who were instrumental in infusing gospel music with a ‘pop’ sound. The fact that Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliot wanted to be involved in this film is a testament to the sisters’ influence on all styles of music.”

Dramatizing the trials and tribulations of the Clark women was an opportunity that resonated with Tucker, especially because their story dovetailed her own professional and personal pursuits. Not only is Tucker an Associate Professor of Writing for Film and TV at Biola University in La Mirada, CA., she’s also an ordained minister through Truth and Love Christian Church in Carson, CA. 

“To have this story come to fruition as it has and when it did is an honor and a blessing beyond anything I could have anticipated,” said Tucker. “My family, my church family and university family are excited and looking forward to seeing the film on Lifetime. There is joy in that, and in being part of a film that speaks to my purpose and to my faith, as well. The Clark sisters—as people, and as a film—will always be particularly special to me.”

Tucker says she’s among those who have found solace, inspiration and encouragement in the gospels sung by the Clark sisters. The Clark Sisters biopic features several of the group’s biggest gospel hits in a story that chronicles how strength and faith helped Mattie, Twinkie, Karen, Dorinda, Denise and Jacky triumph over the challenges of illness, mental health, the pressures of success, departures of group members and the disapproval of conservative and influential church elders as the group moved ever-closer to national renown.

“Their music speaks to my soul and playing it during the process of sharing their story was a key to ensuring that the script was authentic to their experiences,” said Tucker, who added that the songs “Miracle” and “Is My Living In Vain?” are among her favorite Clark Sisters’ recordings. “Their music has truly taken the message of God and His love all over the world.”

The screenwriter points to her family and her faith as factors that help to keep her grounded and focused. Although the upcoming April 11 Lifetime Television airing of The Clark Sisters may feel like “overnight success,” Tucker is an industry veteran involved daily in the endeavor of writing what will become her next produced script. And if she feels any pressure in that regard, Tucker doesn’t let it show. How does she do it?

Borrowing a lyric from a Clark Sisters hit song, Tucker says: “It’s easy because up the road is eternal gain.”


Special To The Sacramento Observer