“Token” Black Actors of the 90’s

Posted on April 4, 2018 at 7:32 am

On The Undefeated: Interviews with Black Actors who played “token” characters on television in the 1990’s, from “Seinfeld” to “Dawson’s Creek.” Important, moving, and infuriating.

n the 1990s, the wealth of black representation on television could lull you into thinking (if you turned the channel from Rodney King taking more than 50 blows from Los Angeles Police Department batons) that black lives actually did matter. But almost all of these shows were, in varying ways, an extension of segregated America. It’s there in the memories of the stars below: There were “black shows” and there were “white shows.” If you were a black actor appearing on a white show, you were usually alone.

For some of the most visible black actors coming of age in the 1990s, it’s clear that along with the triumphs came isolation, blatant racial stereotyping and biased casting calls. As for “crossing over” to the mainstream, in the mostly segregated worlds of Seinfeld, Frasier, Melrose PlaceSaved by the Bell: The New ClassFelicityV.I.P.Buffy the Vampire SlayerDawson’s Creek and more, blacks were usually relegated to bit parts or were there for a short time. The Undefeated sat down with eight of these talented women and men. These are their stories. This is history.

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Interview: Ser’Darius Blain of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”

Posted on April 2, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Ser’Darius Blain plays Fridge, the high school football player whose avatar is Kevin Hart in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” one of the best family movies of 2017 and now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. I got to ask him some questions about acting and being in the film.

Copyright 2017 Sony Pictures

If you could pick any avatar of any game to represent you, what would you pick and why?

If I could pick any character from any game to represent me it would be Ryu from Streetfighter. He’s so cool and walks with so much still confidence.

In “Jumanji,” what did Fridge most need to learn from the game?

In Jumanji, Fridge most needed to learn to trust in himself and his own intelligence. He also needed to learn true teamwork and that nobody was judging him but himself…he gained huge lessons through friendship.

What is your favorite scene in the movie?

My favorite scene in the movie is when Jack Black discovers his… anatomy and had to relieve himself in the woods.

With “Jumanji” and “Charmed,” you’ve worked on two projects with a lot of fantasy and special effects.  What is most fun about that and what are the challenges?

The most fun about working with special effects is that you have to really rely on your imagination to build the scene. You can’t actually see how what you’re doing will fit in ultimately and You look silly while doing it but when you see the finished product it becomes something amazing! Like getting mystically sucked into a video game and turning into green jungle dust.

When did you first realize that you wanted to act?

I always knew I wanted to act but I was really afraid to desire something that seemed so unrealistic and a long shot. I was a kid memorizing entire movies and TV episodes but I didn’t take it seriously until I was about 19. Then I moved to New York and took it head on. Best decision I ever made.

What actors have inspired you most?

Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Derek Luke and Leonardo DiCaprio inspired me the most. The rawness balanced with charisma that they all bring to the screen is awe inspiring. I want to be like them when I grow up.

What’s the best advice you have received about acting?

The best advice I’ve received about acting is “to be as uniquely and unequivocally YOU as possible. YOU are special. YOU are interesting and if you’re real, people will find it interesting.” -Della Reese (to me at 22 years old)

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The Looming Tower Explores the FBI and CIA Before 9/11

Posted on March 8, 2018 at 10:32 pm

Hulu’s new series, “The Looming Tower,” is based on Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction book about the US intelligence agencies in the years before 9/11. His focus is on the rivalry between the heads of the FBI and CIA operations investigating Osama Bin Laden and the rise of Al-Qaeda and how their unwillingness to share information made it impossible to prevent the attack. In the series, adapted by “Capote” screenwriter Dan Futterman, Peter Sarsgaard plays CIA Analyst Martin Schmidt, a fictionalized character, and Jeff Daniels plays John O’Neill, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s counterterrorism operation, who was killed on 9/11 in the World Trade Center.

I interviewed Wright and the actors. On Rogerebert.com, my interview with Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard, and Wright talked about the personal and professional animosity that kept the investigators from cooperating and why now could be the time for a deeper look at what happened.

For the MPAA site The Credits, I talked to the actors, including Tahar Rahim and Wrenn Schmidt about the characters they play.

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Most Valuable Players: Actors Who Appeared More than One Top 2017 Film

Posted on January 19, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Copyright Sony PIctures Classics

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothee Chalamet, Sally Hawkins, Lucas Hedges, Alison Brie, and Caleb Landry Jones are among the actors who appeared in more than one 2017 awards contender. Some are well-known actors we are seeing in a new light, like Bob Odenkirk, or well-known actors who just keep being great like Nicole Kidman and Robin Wright. Others are reliable stalwarts like Stuhlbarg, Tracy Letts, and Bill Camp. Others seem to have come out of nowhere to astonish us, like Chalamet and Jones. Indiewire has a great gallery of last year’s MVPs.

Copyright Fox Searchlight 2017
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Interview: Charlie Plummer on “All the Money in the World”

Posted on January 4, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Copyright 2017 TriStar
Charlie Plummer stars in “All the Money in the World” as John Paul Getty III, grandson and namesake of the wealthiest man in the world. When Getty III was kidnapped at age 16 in 1973, his grandfather refused to pay the $7 million ransom. In an interview, Plummer (no relation to Christopher Plummer, who plays the flinty oil baron), talked about the challenges of the role and what he learned from director Ridley Scott.

For a story like this, based on a real-life incident, is your performance based exclusively on the script or do you do outside research about the people and the times?

I did do outside research. I don’t have a lot of experience and this is certainly the first time I played a character who was at all based on a real person. So I did take full advantage of that and I did do as much research as I could. But I also didn’t want to overwhelm myself with research because I wanted to do my own interpretation. I thought if I was going to do it, it would really have to come from who I am as well. I then spoke to Ridley to really see his vision of the character and who this person was at this time in his movie; that was also really important for me. So I think all of those components really made up what my performance ended up being like.

Your character is somebody has had great wealth around him but he himself has not been super privileged because his grandfather would not give his mother any money. How did that affect him?

That was one thing that I think really sparked my interest. This guy who has this status, this name and what that means and when he walks into a room he knows that all people are talking about him is if he’s this person but then he goes home and he doesn’t have all of that wealth. By the end of the film you see who he is when he does have all this wealth.

What’s interesting for me is at the start of the film where he doesn’t have it, though. He just has the name, the status. And so there is that emptiness inside of him. He had a certain emptiness in him and one that couldn’t be filled by status or wealth . John Paul Getty III got into this argument with a friend of his, actually the night he got kidnapped. He was drunk and they were fighting and the friend said “You’d be nothing without your name. No one would even care about you.” I think that that really does weigh on him in terms of who he is as a young person. At that age he was surrounded by these accomplished people, whether they were in politics or the arts, and really the reason why he was in those rooms was because of his name.

What was it like to inhabit the 70’s and what surprised you about that era?

Ridley is such a master for so many reasons and he had such a point of view on this decade and on this time. Janty Yates who did the costumes for the film and Ferdinando Merolla did the hair — all of that makes it a lot easier to slip into who that character was at that time. Janty was really the first person other than Ridley that I got to share ideas about the character with and so that was such an important relationship throughout. When that’s the first thing you see, it does have an effect on how the audience receives him and what they think his life has been like and so it definitely had an effect on my whole process. When you’re walking around and you see all the cars and the clothing and and it it all so iconic and it’s right at your fingertips — it really helped me slip into what that character was going through. At the end of the day it is not about the era. It is really is just about these people and what’s going on internally for them and that is certainly what it was for me.

What did you learn from your director, Ridley Scott?

I learned so much from him. Just being around him you learn so much and that was certainly the case for me getting to just be on set with him you and seeing how he speaks with people and how he works in his own environment I think was such a learning experience. Every time I see him he always asks what I’m doing and what I’m working on next. The way he is so interested in everyone and everything and the way that at age 80 how he’s still working as much as he is. I just saw him and immediately he started talking about the next thing he’s doing. For a young person especially that is such an important lesson to always keep moving forward and always keep fighting to learn and grow. He is such a good example of that.

Originally published in HuffPost

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