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Mahershala Ali’s will be gearing up for his dream role. The Oscar-winner is set to portray boxer, Jack Johnson, in an upcoming limited series on HBO.
According to Deadline, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are behind the six-part series titled, Unruly. The film is based off the book and PBS documentary, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.
Unruly is described as an “unapologetically Black, no-holds bar” depiction of Johnson’s rise and fall. Ali previously portrayed Johnson in the 2000 boxing film, The Great White Hype.
Nicknamed the “Galveston Giant," Johnson became the first Black boxer to win the world heavyweight title, paving the way for the likes of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and more.
In 1913, he was convicted of violating the Man Act for allegedly picking up prostitutes. Despite the fact that Johnson's committed the offense before the Act went into effect, he was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to a year in prison but he skipped bail and fled to Canada with his girlfriend, Lucille Cameron. Johnson remained in exile in Canada and later in Europe, Mexico and South America before returning to the U.S. in 1920 and serving out his one-year sentence. He died in a car accident in 1946.
Johnson received a posthumous presidential pardon in 2019.
White actors have a long history of voicing black characters in a notoriously diversity-deficient industry, but the recent uprising over America’s racism epidemic has resulted in a change of heart for Family Guy, The Simpsons, and Netflix’s Big Mouth.
Mike Henry, the voice behind Family Guy character Cleveland Brown, says that he will no longer voice the Black cartoon character. The character landed a spinoff, The Cleveland Show, which aired from 2009 until 2013. The animated series featured Henry in the lead role, along with Sanaa Latahan as the voice of Brown's wife, and Reagan Gomez-Preston and Kevin Michael Richardson as their children.
On Friday (June 26), Henry tweeted that it’s been “an honor” to play Brown for the last 20 years, “But persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role.”
It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years. I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role. pic.twitter.com/FmKasWITKT
— Mike Henry (@mikehenrybro) June 26, 2020
Ahead of Henry's announcement, The Simpson’s released a statement announcing that the show will “no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.” The long-running animated sitcom was called out in the 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu, over its stereotypical depiction of the character, Apu, who was voiced by white actor, Hank Azaria. In February, Azaria finally decided to stop voicing the character. “Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore. It just didn’t feel right.”
Earlier in the week, actress Jenny Slate announced that she will stop voicing the Black character “Missy” on Big Mouth.
“At the start of the show, I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play ‘Missy’ because her mom is Jewish and White — as am I. But ‘Missy’ is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people,” Slate wrote on Instagram. “I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed, that it exited as an example of white privilege and unjust allowance made within a system of societal white supremacy, and that in me playing ‘Missy’ is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions.”
Read Slate's full statement below.
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Kendrick Sampson And Channing Godfrey Peoples Talk 'Miss Juneteenth,' Black Love's Portrayal And More
As many organizations and people around the county celebrate the 155th anniversary of the remaining Black slaves' freedom, Queen Sugar writer and director Channing Godfrey Peoples delivers a new drama film, Miss Juneteenth.
Starring Little Fires Everywhere star Nicole Beharie (as Turquoise) and Insecure fan-favorite Kendrick Sampson (as Ronnie), the feature film follows Turquoise, a former beauty queen and hard-working single mother named who strives to encourage her teenage daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) to take part in the annual Miss Juneteenth pageant while navigating love and loss.
Ahead of the film's debut, VIBE correspondent and host Jazzie Belle sat down with Peoples and Sampson—who are also Texas natives—to discuss how the film beautifully paints the characters' love story, what the celebration of Juneteenth truly means to them and the Black community, and what they hope viewers take away from the insightful and relatable film, especially in today's fight against institutionalized racism.
"My hope is that this story will be amplified because it's another Black story about the humanity of Black folks," said Peoples. "And then it will open doors for more human stories about Black folks to be told."
"I love our culture. I love the way we sound. I love the inflections that we have. I love our accents and how they're different than white folks," added Sampson. "We have to think really about what that [Juneteenth] pageant means and what we are exemplifying within that pageant. And what Juneteenth actually means, and if those are cohesive. What are we fighting for in liberation?"
Watch the full interview between Jazzie, Kendrick, and Channing above. Also, see excerpts from their conversation below. Vertical Entertainment's Miss Juneteenth is now streamable on-demand i.e. Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime, FandangoNow.
On what Juneteenth means to them
Kendrick Sampson: Juneteenth is a reminder that when we fight, we win. We have to take on abolition as a framework for activism that if one person is in bondage, we all are in bondage. It wasn't ever about the person who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. No oppressor ever just benevolently gave us something because they woke up one day and said, "All right. We're going to give y'all back y'all freedom." It was hard fought for like hardcore radical people that were willing to put their bodies on the line and not just allies, but accomplices.
I grew up knowing July 4th, Independence Day, was bullsh*t because our people weren't independent. What independence were we celebrating? And so Juneteenth is my favorite and it's got a lot more flavor and culture.
Channing Godfrey Peoples: It [Juneteenth] was a fabric of growing up. Is was a fabric of my childhood...For me, commemorating Juneteenth was always about acknowledging our ancestors who Kendrick's talked about who were slaves in Texas getting their freedom late. And Kendrick talked about the themes in the film. And I think I really wanted to portray thematically that Turquoise is on this journey finding her own sense of freedom, by coming to terms with her own past later in life.
On the inspiration behind playing Ronnie
Sampson: I understood who Ronnie was and I thought it would be an honor to portray a Black man from Texas that was different than Nathan because Nathan is from Houston on Insecure. And, that was an honor, especially dealing with mental health issues and such, which I'm hugely passionate about. But just all of us have trauma. I know Ronnie, I got brothers that are Ronnie. And I wanted to honor Ronnie. I wanted to have the chance to show that nuance. I wanted to show that the humanity in it is that, again, you can't be a Black man person, trans, woman, sister, whatever, cannot be Black in America without experiencing a level of trauma and having generational trauma inform how you operate.
On the portrayal of Black love on-screen
Peoples: I think one of the things that I love about Turquoise and Ronnie's relationship is the thing that they have in common. You can feel their history, you can also feel their baggage, but what they have in common is their love for their daughter. And you're seeing them act that out as parents in different ways. Like another question I was always asking was how did these characters parent, and that was driving the decisions for the film. How does Turquoise parent? How does Ronnie parent? And at different moments...you're seeing the yin and yang of that, the positive and negative of both. Both are just trying to love this child.