Several months ago or so, I did an interview for another site with actor Harry Lennix, who all of you know, and was seen this summer in Warner Bros' huge Superman reboot, Man of Steel. But the interview wasn't about that; it was instead about Harry's upcoming indie projects, like the fascinating Mr. Sophistication, directed by Danny Green, in which he plays a Richard Pryor-like self-destructive comedian attempting a comeback, and his all-black version of Shakespeare's Henry IV, called H4, which has just finished post-production. And both of those are on top of 6 other pictures he's completed that are scheduled to be released next year.
Knowing Harry personally for many years, we really had more of a conversation than an interview; he is, as always, up front, totally honest and says exactly what he thinks. And that is so refreshing, considering how most people in the business are reluctant to speak out on anything, or be opinionated.
However, when the interview appeared on the other site where it was posted, it was severely edited, to put it nicely, and a lot of what he said was cut out, evidently fearing that Harry had stepped on some toes. Especially what Harry said about black imagery in the media and, in particular, Lee Daniels' upcoming film The Butler, with Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, about the long-serving butler who worked at the White House - a film that's currently in the middle of a court battle over the title, between The Weinstein Company and Warner Bros.
As you can read below, Harry is not too thrilled about the film:
Which leads me to asking do you constantly have to think about the image you are portraying as black man every time to do a role?
"I think about it every day and any time that a role is offered, and believe me lots of crummy roles are offered. But at this point people know better than to mess with me with a lot of these things. For example Lee Daniels sent me the script for that film he’s making now, The Butler, about the black butler at the White House. I read five pages of this thing and could not go any further. I tried to read more of it, and I’m not a soft spoken guy, but it was such an appalling mis-direction of history in terms of taking an actual guy who worked at the White House. But then he “niggerfies” it. He "niggers" it up and he gives people these, stupid, luddite, antediluvian ideas about black people and their roles in the historical span in the White House and it becomes… well... historical porn. I refused."
Well that’s not good.
"And people want to see these images so they’ll say things like: “It’s a very difficult movie to look at, but it’s great movie.” That’s a contradiction in terms. That’s a paradox. It can’t be that it’s a great movie, but it’s difficult to look at. You know what I mean? (laughs) Why would you put these images out there? But clearly the critics, many of them, love to see this kind of material and love to see us in these types of roles."
Because it feeds into…
"Because it feeds into the great lie that is being perpetrated by the most important medium, the most powerful export that the United States has to offer which is entertainment. The most powerful tool that they have and it has kept us in a place, men in dresses and things, raping their daughters and things. While any sort of aberrant behavior happens in any community, it has become normative in black cinema that we are these bestial, deprived people, and I refuse to play with that."
Well just keep fighting the good fight.
"I’ll never take part in it. They can kiss my ass (laughs). But it’s not going to happen."
That's my man Harry telling it like it is.