Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

"Acting While Black" A Conversation With Harry J. Lennix

by Tambay A. Obenson
May 6, 2011 9:57 AM
15 Comments
  • |

An essay and ensuing conversation that I think touches on 2+ years of related discussions (and still ongoing) that we've had on Shadow And Act. The entire piece, recorded in 2008, is about 90 minutes long (thanks Jug for the tip):

  • |

More: Things That Make You Go Hmm..., Watch Now

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

15 Comments

  • Jug | May 9, 2011 10:21 AMReply

    @Carey-LMBAO Maaaan, you are really stirrin' that pot!

    BUT, I have to agree with you. Many of the films that are "Black Cinema" now have a gang of actors in them that are flat out not trained, or have taken classes to make them comfortable with basic camera technique, but not "Acting" classes. Like a Casting Director I know said, "Taking audition classes is not acting classes. That is the Cliff Notes of Acting, Acting for Dummies".

    Learning different styles, being exposed to them,stretching. Whether or not you do them in your career is one thing, but having been exposed to them gives you a greater respect for the craft as a whole and will undoubtedly come out in your performances (i.e. the fight to make different choices film to film, looking at scripts as a whole vs "what do I get to do" which leads to be better choices, knowing your instrument, etc).

    Yeah, I have to be honest with you. Playing a character from a certain time period is one thing, but that "black motif" in every movie because that's what "we like"..yeah that's bullshit. I can't stand it. And I think that's what he was calling out...he's done FIVE HEARTBEATS, COMMANDER IN CHIEF, AUGUST WILSON AND TITUS, so not much you can say to the man. He is unabashedly Black AND a Black Actor, but not playing "Black". Not that you have to do Shakespeare, but it's that ability to stretch beyond the confines of your seemingly relegated artistic space that makes you a better performer. And in that sense Carey, I agree with you, many of the "black stars" we have now don't do that. Whether it's a function of this BS idea "you don't have to study too hard for film work" or "not being challenged" or what, but it shows a lot in our films because it becomes concentrated. Same people in the same movies over & over it's glaring, vs the bad white actors spread out over tv & different movies.

    Like Lennix said "all the bad things happening in America, you see in our community first"...

  • Dankwa Brooks | May 9, 2011 1:05 AMReply

    Lynn et al as the video is quite long, I had to let the audio play while doing other things and I have to say EFF that Will Smith talk, let Lennix play Barack Obama if and when a movie is made. I couldn’t tell if it was Lennix or the President speaking at moments. Totally agree with everyone on that one.

    I found a lot of his comments unabashedly candid and frankly refreshing. I see so many of these Hollywood cats hemming and hawing when asked about someone’s work as to not piss off some future collaborator (producer, director or actor). I totally agree with him that ‘American Gangster’ was…not the best…LOL. It was horrible. I said it, might not get that call from Ridley Scott or Denzel Washington now, but oh well. LOL. I do think that if he was on ‘The Tonight Show’ he might have “hemmed and hawed” a little, but in this academic setting he was truthful and that’s what the students needed. I was also thinking this type of video was the kind that some exposé pulls clips from to prove that someone said contentious things in the past “From a discussion in 2008 Lennix said…”

  • CareyCarey | May 8, 2011 12:39 PMReply

    Agree Jmac... everybody! And, we can talk about why.

    Now let me holla a Jug while he stirs the pot.

    "Carey…are you startin’ somethin’?"


    Stop it jug. **evil grin**

    But let's do this again, for those who may have missed it.

    "BUT that goes to what he said about skill and training, if you are an artist of color and if more were trained and were good (like in the old days these cats studied at Howard University, Negro Ensemble in Harlem, Neighborhood Playhouse, Pasadena Playhouse, etc) the moniker “Black Artist” you know you’re about to get something special, and not what it’s regarded as now-untrained, cheap, unprofessional, buffoonish, etc"

    So jug, since you called my name, I'll be you straight man... aka, yo huckleberry. See, what I basically was say was most American black actors are only fit for "what it’s regarded as now-untrained, cheap, unprofessional, buffoonish, etc". Most of them look like actors "acting". A please, get them in a black flick and lord have mercy, it gets real "black" and ugly. Come on now, I know you know what I'm talking about. Don't be scared, say it right. We'll still love ya in the morning.

    NOw, I said it. So, now that you have me in the middle of the road... don't hurt me. *smile*

  • CareyCarey | May 8, 2011 11:47 AMReply

    Damn! Now that should be required listening for every actor, screenwriter, film critcs (even arm-chair critcs)and directors of the world. And, since I am coming from the perspective of a black man in American, I think this message should be heard by every POC.

    This was not only a brilliant analysis of the inner workings of the film industry and the "who, what and whys of black actors and black films, this was life's lessons 101.

    When I listen to conversations such as this, I wonder who see's themselves in any of the less than admirable "mindsets" mentioned/suggested/alluded to, and thus, consciously tries to change?

    Anyway, there's absolute too much to discuss in this post. A limit of 4000 characters who not do it justice.

    "Also, when will the time come that a person, who happens to black, can create or perform any kind of content if they so desire? Or is there always a societal component one must consider in doing “the work”? Isn’t that going to always make distinctions based on race, for better or for worse? And is that a bad thing? Just very interesting at what I agreed with as I was with the things that made me go “Hmmm”.

    Yep Jug, I agree, this post was jammed with a lot of "Hmmms", and I mean that in a positive way.

  • Cynthia | May 8, 2011 10:28 AMReply

    Wow...this was excellent! Would love to ask him more questions relating to black film and black Hollywood. And he was a former member of the Nation Of Islam...who knew?! I especially appreciated his honesty. Wish others would be as forthcoming. And yes Jmac...this should be a requirement for everyone to watch.

  • Jug | May 8, 2011 7:52 AMReply

    Carey...are you startin' somethin'? LOL

  • CareyCarey | May 8, 2011 6:59 AMReply

    "BUT that goes to what he said about skill and training, if you are an artist of color and if more were trained and were good (like in the old days these cats studied at Howard University, Negro Ensemble in Harlem, Neighborhood Playhouse, Pasadena Playhouse, etc) the moniker “Black Artist” you know you’re about to get something special, and not what it’s regarded as now-untrained, cheap, unprofessional, buffoonish, etc"

    Ut OOH, now we're really going someone. I am reminded of the 5 minute mark of this clip in which Lennix did 2 minute on an "actor" getting caught "acting". Now, we've talked about this issue many times, so I don't want to go too deep, but, looking at your above assessment, and my past criticism of many, if not most of the black actors we've been force feed, I understand why we're not in as many movies as we believe we should be.

  • JMac | May 8, 2011 6:48 AMReply

    Finally had time to watch the whole video. Great conversation, great points, and yes this brother needs to play Obama. Got the looks and the voice. I love that people utter Obamisms now - no one used to say "whole hosts of..." before he came on the scene. When Harry said it, I smiled.

    I'll go you one step further Carey - this should be required watching for everybody.

  • Jug | May 8, 2011 6:04 AMReply

    Oh yeah, I was just asking the question to ask the question. I get about the world we live in right now. Just when you venture into artistry, you seek to rise above that. The ridiculousness of many of the world's constructs, but being black in the back of my mind I always wonder about the okey doke, setting yourself up for disillusionment & pain at walking into situations with your white counterparts who have not "left their whiteness at the door" and ascended to some higher level of humanity. So when you do, and they say "oh you can't be down" because of your color, getting kicked in the teeth like that sucks! So what Harry is saying is why relinquish your blackness? Why not change the stigmatism of being a black actor to what you want it to mean, like saying "an Italian Chef". We know all of the wonderful delights we're about to receive but we also know it's not a "Japanese Chef" with all of those wonderful delights denoted by THAT description.

    BUT that goes to what he said about skill and training, if you are an artist of color and if more were trained and were good (like in the old days these cats studied at Howard University, Negro Ensemble in Harlem, Neighborhood Playhouse, Pasadena Playhouse, etc) the moniker "Black Artist" you know you're about to get something special, and not what it's regarded as now-untrained, cheap, unprofessional, buffoonish, etc.

    Yeah deep Q&A indeed.

  • Kelea | May 8, 2011 3:40 AMReply

    Yes, he NEEDS to play Obama!

    Hmm...this is very interesting. Will watch in full as soon as possible.

  • MsWOO | May 7, 2011 6:13 AMReply

    @Lynn: Funny, I thought the same thing about him playing Obama. Also, he and Chiwetel Ejiofor could play brothers - i.e. blood relatives, not black men (they don't need to play the latter).

    So much of what he said resonated that there's not really much I can say in addition. However, like Jug, there were some issues I didn't agree wholeheartedly with.

    I have absolutely no qualms describing myself as black (among other things), I do it all the time, even when white people are hesitant to do so. Hey, it's easier to describe me as the black chick in the corner of a room full of white folks rather than struggle with ways to identify me. But I don't totally get the umbridge many black people feel when, say, a celebrity chooses to describe themselves as just an actor, or whatever, rather than a black actor.

    Every individual has the right to define themselves and, at the end of the day, that's what it's about - seizing the RIGHT to self-definition rather than defining yourself according to the whims of others, no matter who those others are.

    Clamouring for civil rights without claiming your own individual rights is like owning a box of matches but suffering the cold rather than light a fire, or sitting in the dark rather than light a candle.

  • Lynn | May 7, 2011 1:26 AMReply

    He should play Obama in a movie. Lol

    Very informative.

  • SayNay | May 7, 2011 1:08 AMReply

    Wow! Thanks. This was definitely worth the 1 hour and a half of viewing time. I agree that it touched (very eloquently I might add) on many of the discussions and issues that are raised here at S&A.

    @Jug regarding the "can" and "should": Any actor of color can perform right now whatever they choose, it's only the perceived social impact of that performance that garners so much criticism. Truth be told we could easily spend days, weeks, months, and probably even years listing the negative images of white people, but because whiteness is the assumed default of human experience there is a "natural" counterbalance of positive, engaging, and humanizing portrayals that render exploration of those negative ones moot. How do people of color actually get to that point? That is the challenge. I think Tyler Perry, Precious, and all of the other images we consider to be contentious will be less so if we have wealth of images that speak to our individual experiences and identities as people of color.

    Overall I agree it would be nice to get to a point where we are solely judging people on merit, but we're just not there yet.

  • Jug | May 6, 2011 10:48 AMReply

    Tambay-And thanks, but a good actor friend of mine sent it to me & I was like "Oh Snap! This is S&A all day"

    Paying it forward :-D

  • Jug | May 6, 2011 10:16 AMReply

    WOOBOY is it long! LOL And that's saying something if I'm saying it :-P

    I loved his initial speech and agreed with most of what he said in the Q&A. Just wondered what people thought about his ideas on "someone can't tell me whether or not I was good". Isn't that the idea of art, to be able to go past the racial boundaries and judge each other on our merit, or in his case, the merit of his performance?

    Also, when will the time come that a person, who happens to black, can create or perform any kind of content if they so desire? Or is there always a societal component one must consider in doing "the work"? Isn't that going to always make distinctions based on race, for better or for worse? And is that a bad thing? Just very interesting at what I agreed with as I was with the things that made me go "Hmmm".

Follow Shadow and Act

Email Updates

Most "Liked"

  • Watch Trailer For the Quirky, Funny ...
  • Richard Pryor's Son Moves to Block Production ...
  • Review: 'The Purge: Anarchy' Has Little ...
  • Muna Otaru Takes Over for Nicole Beharie ...
  • Now Taking Your Questions for S&A Column ...
  • BET Moves Premiere Date for Ava DuVernay's ...
  • Watch Trailer For Spike Lee-Directed ...
  • Idris Elba in Talks Play Merlin-Like ...
  • Zendaya Coleman Explains Her Departure ...
  • Spike Lee Edits Footage of Black Man's ...