Carla Marie Williams Carla Marie Williams
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Introducing Carla Marie Williams, The North London Songwriter Penning Tracks For Queen Bey

With two Beyonce tracks under her belt, London-based songwriter Carla Marie Williams is ready to take on the world one song at a time.

Carla Marie Williams may not be a name you’re instantly familiar with, but as far as her words, you certainly will be. Having penned Beyonce’s gloriously politically charged track "Freedom," lifted from the epic Lemonade album, Carla Marie is a wizard with the pen. The rest of her songwriting résumé is equally as impressive, having worked under the British songwriting and production team Xenomania and now having formed her own writing collective New Crowd Media, Carla Marie has written tracks for the likes of Girls Aloud, Alesha Dixon and Kylie Minogue—alongside Queen B.

“I didn’t go to any special stage school or anything. I worked my way up, I was fearless about it,” she says during our 30-minute conversation. Carla Marie exudes this passion and hunger that not only is inspiring, but genuine; something that’s becoming rare in our social media age. Her 18-year-long career is peppered with lows and highs, but one thing remains constant: she keeps on going.

Inspired by the likes of Mary J Blige and Alanis Morissett and brought up on an R&B diet of Jagged Edge and Jodeci, Carla Marie comes from an honest place. Driven by social issues and a “rebellious streak,” where she wants “things to be right for people,” aside from writing "Freedom" and "Runnin" for Mrs. Carter, she’s also set up her own organization Girls I Rate, which champions female bosses in the UK music industry.

Now, with two Beyonce tracks under her belt, an ever-growing list of songwriting credits and now her own organization, the London-based "Freedom" writer is ready to take on the world, one song at a time. —Kamilla Rose Baiden (@KamillahRose)


VIBE: Your song-writing credits list is so varied. Can you describe your song writing style in three words?
Carla Marie Williams: I know! So varied. I would say I’m writing from the soul, singing from the heart. That’s where I’m at now. I feel I cross genres, I don’t have an exact style, but I would say soulful, definitely soulful.

You’re from North West London, how did growing up in that area give you experiences for song writing material?
It made me hungry. I wasn’t a songwriter when I lived in Harlesden [a town in North London], I was more into singing. Then later on, as I got a bit older, I moved into songwriting. I used to write poetry from young, it was a way for me to write about emotional things. Whether that was a break up between me and a boyfriend, or stuff home like my mum or dad, I just found myself writing poems about it. Then when I was around 17, I met this guy who turned my poems into a song. I read him some lines of my poems and he started playing the guitar and making a melody, I couldn’t believe it, I was like wow, that’s my song! It was crazy.

And before that, did you always keep poetry and singing separate?
Yes very separate, I never imagined them together. After my poem was put to a melody, I was invited 'round to make it a finished song and that was the start of my song-writing career, I was 17. I took all these poems I had and with a guitar, I made melodies and just put them all together. At the time I was also in a girl band. On my down days I used to sit and write songs. I would take them back to the girls and my manager and show him and he was like wow you’re writing songs, how did this happen? Nobody could believe it, when they were sleeping I was working. I would be up on the morning doing work. When they would go back to Glasgow and me back to London, I would be in the studio, writing recording and developing my craft.

Grindin’ from early, I love that. What sounds influenced you?
I’m so heavily influenced by Alanis Morissette. She’s coming from a political angle with her lyrics, which I love. Then Mary J. Blige, she’s more emotive and soulful. With the fusion of the two, I was just this rock-soul girl, with ambiguous lyrics and a rock-soul feel with the delivery and melodies. And that’s where it started.

So do you still perform as a singer?
No, I stopped performing many moons ago. When I started writing for Girls Aloud with Xenomania, I lost my voice for a year. I had severe muscular tension; I took that as a sign to focus on my writing. I was just starting to get more successful as a writer. So I decided to quit being an artist and to be honest, I found a lot of joy in writing songs, not having to worry about myself, what I look like, my sound, direction… I’m just given a brief, I deliver it, and then I can go home and watch EastEnders and Corrie at the end of it [laughs].

You make it sound so easy!
[Laughs] No… well for me, that’s how I equated my love for it. I love writing for other artists, getting into their headspaces and writing from their perspective. I realized that’s exactly what I love.

When you do write songs, do you write from the artists perspective or do you write from you own? And if it’s your own, do you find it weird someone else singing about your personal experience?
It’s a bit of both. For example, with Beyonce’s "Runnin’" that was from my perspective. I was at a very low point in my life, and I didn’t know where else to go or what else to do at that time. So "Runnin’" came from a personal place of searching. But at the same time, when Beyonce heard it and Naughty Boy, they both related to it. That’s the beauty with writing, people relate. But then with some of the other artists I work with like Girls Aloud, they’re a fun act, so I write and tailor songs to them. It depends on the person. If it’s a young artist, I have to write young stuff, not too mature. Then sometimes you have down days, when you just write for yourself, and then it fits an artist. But then if you’re writing with an artist in the room, you take on their persona and tailor it to them.

Now, moving on to Beyonce, you wrote "Runnin’" first, produced by Naughty Boy back in 2015. How did that come about?
I wanted to get back into writing songs after being part of the pop factory. And I started a writing collective called New Crowd. In the collective is Jonathan Coffer, the guy I originally started with, and Arrow Benjamin. I just set up a whole load of sessions. I set up a session with us all to write purely on the piano. That song ["Runnin'"] was one of the songs that came up on that, and Beyonce and Naughty heard it. It was a bit of a tug of war who wanted it, and then we all ended up on it.

That’s so crazy. Moving on to "Freedom" featured on the brilliant album Lemonade, how did that come up? Did you know you were writing it for Beyonce?
Yeah we did. She heard "Runnin'" and she really wanted to meet us and meet with me Arrow and Jonny. I went to L.A., I’ve never really been there to work before. I went and saw her A&R and he was like, Beyonce wants you guys to write for her, and he showed me an email from her with my name in it. I was like, oh my God. He was the first one to play me "Lose It All"—sorry "Runnin’"—because that’s what "Runnin'" was called before. When I heard her voice on it, I felt so emotional, like literally tears running down my face. I didn’t even try to get a record with her, and she took her own initiative to record it. She really is one of the best artists in the world. She wanted to hear more from us, and her team set up some sessions. I’m very pro-woman and pro-black, it doesn’t mean I’m anti-man or anti-another colour. And Arrow, he’s very spiritual, and Jonny is just a musical genius. And the three of us in a room just merged together and took it to the church.

You can really hear the church and I guess the connection you all have in that track.
Yes, Arrow and me have been friends for over 10 years. When we we are together in a room writing, we have this synergy, we just… it’s magic. He comes from the same place as me, I used to listen to Jagged Edge and so did he, and Jodeci and Mary J. We’re really like coming from a singing place. We’re trying to take it all the way. When you’re writing for someone like Beyonce, you know you can take it all the way as she is a vocal acrobat, so we started with an idea. We presented to her a basic idea, then we went back and forth for a bit. She’s very much about female empowerment, so we incorporated some of that into it and within 24-48 hours she had recorded it and the rest is history. She killed it; she’s a workaholic, she literally just goes for it.

Wow. So within like 48 hours the entire thing was done?
From the time she first heard it, she had already gone in and done her thing.

So did you know it was going to make the cut on the album?
Nope, no one knows, it’s Beyonce! I didn’t have a clue, I was in L.A., and I was asking my friend to get HBO so we couldn’t miss it. We had to borrow someone’s password to get online [laughs], it was so funny. Then it came up and we looked online, and we saw "Freedom" on it, we were watching the film, and we was like where is it—because it’s quite late down—then I saw it and was screaming.

That’s wild. Did you know Kendrick was going to be on it?
I heard through the grapevine, but I didn’t know until that day. It’s crazy, I heard whispers that Kendrick was on it and Just Blaze was producing. But I never heard. I heard the Just Blaze version, minus Kendrick. But you can never know, things always change, and then it came through. I’m just so happy we got to make such a legacy song.

It’s just a really fitting song and ties in nicely with so many of the movements happening across the world.
It has a real message and sentiment to it, and I’m all about that. I have my thing Girls I Rate, all bout embowering women in the UK music industry. I’ve been self-managed for about 10 years. I took on management for about a year and to be honest, it is tough, being a black woman in a male dominated industry. I started Girls I Rate on International Women’s Day, nominating girls I rate within the UK Music industry. And they nominated women they rated. It was really good to see women celebrating each other. We had a final even where 95 of us met on the Embankment, Channel 4 came down. There were just a lot of people in the UK scene there. Off the back of that, I’ve launched Girls I Rate Arts Academy for 16-25 girls who want to get in to the industry; I’m doing that with MOBO and Metropolis. I’m doing a song-writing weekender. The girls will have an opportunity to work with me for a weekend, sit with me in the studio, [see] how I write and craft a song. It’s going to be great.

That’s so fitting with the "Freedom" track, too. At the moment, both in music and a lot of other creative industries are realising that women and also women of colour need to be recognised, so it’s the right time for it.
Exactly, it’s all about supporting each other. It’s a vehicle, it’s about helping each other and building a great network of women within the industry. I used to be a youth worker, so I have this like social element built into me. I have this rebellious streak, where I want things to be right for people, things needs to be equal. I’m quite outspoken.

What is your personal favourite song Lemonade, aside from "Freedom"?
I love "Hold Up," I love "Sorry" and "All Night." Thing is I heard some of the songs before. The place we was coming from, she [Beyonce] wanted something more similar to "Runnin'." I’m Jamaican, and when I hear things like "Hold Up" I’m like damn, I could have written that! But you know, wasn’t meant to be this time.

Next album man!
[Laughs] Definitely. I’m also thinking Rihanna too. I would love a Rihanna cut man. I think it’s year of the diva. I would like to work with anyone from Jennifer Hudson to Pink. I would love to work with Kelis on her new album. Things with Brittany, icons like Gwen Stefani. I like working with icons and diva’s, the ones who can really sing. UK wise I love Rudimental, but I’m also a fan of the girls coming up from the UK like Ray BLK and Nao, Ms. Banks. I want to embrace the UK black girls coming through, it’s hard!

You’re so pro-women, it’s great!
It is great. Like it’s weird, everything makes sense now. I have the biggest advocate in the world saying the message I want to say for myself for women. It’s weird because even if you look back on my Instagram and Twitter, you’ll see me ranting on about women or black issues, and I truly feel passionate abut it. I’ve been in a mostly male industry, and when I was in the pop writing camp I was the only black person at the production company for three years. So to come through that, sometimes you sit and ask why am I the only one here.

I think sometimes people also forget about the songwriters. It’s good to see people now getting credited.
We create the music for these people, we’re their voice, we write for them, we create their vehicle. It’s weird because often a lot of girls don’t realise there’s other things you can be doing instead of being in front of the camera. You can still do things; feel satisfied and still get paid.

So, what else are you working on?
Ah, I’m not allowed to say! I work with so many high profile artists I sign so many disclaimers, I often find out on the day like everyone else. I’ve got something hot coming out in the next few months which is hot. I’m just happy I’m flying the flag for the UK. You know I’m a girl, I didn’t go to any special stage school or anything. I worked my way up; I was fearless about it.

Even in you music you highlight your ups and downs and you make them relatable for everyone.
Yes, it’s like a roller-coaster, you have to hold on through the ups and hold on through the downs, keep your vision in front of you. I always say, never put your eggs in one artist, if you can write songs do it, give the songs away! There are so many things you can do that amount to creativity!

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Matt Muse Raps His Heart Out On 'Love & Nappyness'

Matt Muse used to hate love songs. Last fall, the Chicago rapper asked his Instagram followers what they’d like to see on his next project, and they answered resoundingly with demand for more songs like “Shea Butter Baby,” a hip-house love song that was a highlight of 2018’s Nappy Talk. “I think love songs are mad corny, so I was like ‘Hell naw,’” he laughs over the phone. “But then I’m thinking, ‘They told you their answer. What is a way I can satisfy this desire?’” Muse then faced the challenge of delving into love songs without repeating himself or regurgitating cliches.

Love & Nappyness, Matt Muse’s new project, explores love from all angles: romantic, but also platonic, familial, even spiritual. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but Muse succeeds through sharp writing and soulful production. It’s the best work yet by a rising artist in Chicago’s fertile hip-hop scene.

The rapper born Dexter Matthews found inspiration for the album in his church’s annual Agape Festival. “The festival was everybody feasting together in the basement of our church celebrating love,” he says. Included in the program were Greek and Biblical terms for various kinds of love that provided a framework as Muse wrote his verses and eventually became subtitles for each track. “Love doesn’t just exist in this vacuum of intimate relationships. It actually exists in all these other ways too,” he says.

The South Side rapper was careful to avoid the corniness he sees inherent to the love songs churned out by pop songwriters for “anybody who can look good and sing well.” “The way I automatically combat that corniness is the nappyness,” Muse explains. “It’s real, it’s me, it’s genuine. Everything I talk about in every one of these songs is one million percent real to me.” The EP’s title is less an Al Green reference than a celebration of freedom from external expectations, symbolized by his natural hair.

On the project’s first track, “St. Matthew (Agape),” Muse raps directly to God. “Now me at 26, 10 years from you / But searching for a verse to keep the congregation moved / Guess we ain’t that far removed but I’m still stuck & still confused.” I’d recommend that!Though he grew up intending to be a preacher, he stopped believing entirely after processing the deaths of loved ones in his teens. His distance from divinity is the heart of the song, where he laments earthly racism and disloyalty while admitting his own mistakes. It’s a credit to Muse’s pen that he balances the heavy subject matter with moments of levity, like when he imagines that God will “probably reply ‘Same phone, who dis?’” Muse stresses that his lack of religious beliefs didn’t divide him from his churchgoing family. “I still be pulling up to the church sometimes, people don’t treat me any different.”

Muse continues his family’s musical tradition, as he explains on “Family, Still (Storge).” He raps that his “mom’s in twenty-something choirs,” while his father, stage name Big Ed, has produced house music and rapped all his life. (One of his songwriting credits, Barbara Tucker’s “I Get Lifted,” was recently sampled by a house tribute from a fellow Chicagoan: Kanye West’s “Fade.”) Muse’s music career was kickstarted by an eighth-grade graduation gift from his dad, a drum machine. His younger brother raps and produces as well under the name Syl Messi, a fitting name because “his room still be dirty but his beats be kicking.”

The song concludes with Muse harmonizing to Mon’Aerie singing a yearning melody: “Rest your head and your heart / I’ll keep the family near.” The Chicago singer’s warm vocals add extra flavor all over the EP. “If I’m the heart and brains,” Muse says, “she’s the body.”

Though he initially planned against featuring any guest rappers, Muse tapped Pivot Gang member Joseph Chilliams for a verse on “Myself (Philautia II).” The song shares a subtitle with “Ain’t No,” which is a dexterous boast like vintage Lupe Fiasco, but “Myself” is about self-love in a physical sense. “Love how you treat me baby,” Muse sings on the hook. “But first let me treat myself.” As the sugary sweet beat dissolves to drums, Chilliams raps “Looking in the mirror, I just gotta thank the lord / In love with myself just like Regina George.” Chilliams is familiar with showing his feelings, his humor and his Mean Girls knowledge, dating back to past projects like The Plastics and Henry Church. “Listening to Joseph Chilliams’ music was a huge inspiration for me to even be comfortable being as vulnerable as I am on this song,” Muse says. “To me, he embodies self-love in the way he raps.”

Muse addresses romantic love on “Love Wrong (Eros),” a sequel of sorts to “Shea Butter Baby.” If the fan-favorite track depicted puppy love, “Love Wrong” documents the same relationship later, as the two navigate disagreement and miscommunication. “Both songs are about the same real person. ‘Love Wrong’ is a more in-depth analysis of what her and I have experienced since being involved with each other,” Muse says. “The realities of it, like ‘Oh we gotta learn each other, this sh*t doesn’t just work overnight,’” he continues. The song ends on a hopeful note, as he chants “We gon get it right” like a mantra to get through the tough times. Muse is still seeing the woman who inspired both songs, after all.

Perseverance through discord and death is the common thread through Love & Nappyness, the same grit in the face of adversity that drives hometown heroes like Kanye and Common. Muse is releasing his latest work independently, and he passed up opportunities to play festivals in order to book the release show, his first time headlining. For him, the payoff has been worth it. “The whole theme of my year,” he says, “has been betting on myself.”

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6 Pop Culture Tributes In Normani's Jam-Packed "Motivation" Video

Since its release this morning at midnight (Aug. 16), Normani has been the name on everybody's lips. The former Fifth Harmony member dropped a video for her latest single, "Motivation," which shows off the 23-year-old's incredible dance moves and also pleasantly pays homage to some of our favorite visuals and pop-culture moments from the 2000s.

"Motivation" was produced by ILYA, and Normani revealed that Ariana Grande was one of the song's co-writers. The video was directed by Daniel Russell and Dave Meyers, who is as iconic (and throwback) as it gets. Take a look at a few moments the video pays homage to below.


106 & Park (0:00- 0:29)

BET's music countdown show is the basis for the visual. A teenage girl is shown running into her living room, and she is eager to see if one of her favorite music videos will be shown. To her delight, Terrence J and Rocsi announce that Normani's video will be playing.

Beyonce, "Crazy In Love" (0:30-0:42 and 2:43-3:08)

A given considering Normani's vocal appreciation of the Queen Bey. To start the video within the video, 'Mani is seen strutting down the street a la 'Crazy In Love' with denim bottoms and a white tank, serving us life on a silver platter.

She also served us sexy choreography in the rain, a likely homage to Bey's iconic video. The bedazzled outfit screamed 2000s, but there was no denying there was Bey influence for the scene.

Ciara, "1, 2 Step" And/Or Ashanti, "Happy" (0:45- throughout)

Normani storms into this scene with energy, which prompts everyone else to get in formation and dance with her, reminiscent of when Ciara showed us how to 1,2 Step. Much like in the homage, everyone rallies behind CiCi to have some fun.

This could also be an homage to Ashanti's "Happy." Videos in the 2000s were clearly all about dancing in front of houses, and with the synchronization of both groups of dancers, we could also lean towards Ashanti being a definite inspiration.

Jennifer Lopez Feat. Ja Rule, "I'm Real (Remix)" (1:42-2:13)

The 2000s were all about the basketball court too, and "Motivation" screams "I'm Real." The OG video features J. Lo and Ja playfully canoodling on the court, which is also what we see during Normani's take on the hit.

Britney Spears, "...Baby One More Time" (1:54- 2:05)

You can't deny that this particular scene has Brit Brit written all over it. The Louisiana native, who is a former dancer and gymnast, pulled out all the stops in her debut music video. Normani (a fellow Louisiana girl as well as a dancer and gymnast) pays homage in a very loaded way.

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Katherine Bomboy / Bleecker Street

The Devastation Of Delayed Justice And The Necessary Timing Of 'Brian Banks'

Anger is nothing but clouded judgment, and Aldis Hodge wants me to be clear on that. It’s a pleasant June afternoon and before the actor departs from the East Coast for his next film project, we’re chatting over the phone about the particulars of the infamous Brock Turner case. In 2015, the former Stanford University student, then 19, was caught sexually assaulting an unconscious 22-year-old woman behind a campus dumpster after a frat party. At the time of sentencing for his deplorable crime, his father wrote a letter to the judge presiding over the case, begging for a more lenient sentence than the prosecutor’s requested six years because “that is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

To say Hodge felt certain things when the judge okayed a gentler sentencing—Turner was given six months in Santa Clara County Jail but was released after three—would be an understatement. Like many with sense and empathy considered it, the meager “consequence” for his actions was a spit in the face.

“The judicial system failed that woman,” Hodge says sternly. “When [Turner] gets let off with a slap on the wrist for three months, then I have to question how does the judicial system look at the value of women. They're saying, ‘his life will be severely impacted if he's in jail.’ I'm sorry, it's supposed to be. Why? Because this young woman's life is now severely impacted forever. She can't escape that. Where is the real justice?” The passion manifesting in the inflections of his voice, however, is steeped in disappointment, not quite anger. “I speak with full clarity and understanding of the subject matter but I'm still quite disappointed because we have been let down as a society.”

It wasn’t lost on Hodge how similar this judicial fumble was to the case of former Atlanta Falcons player Brian Banks, whose infuriating story is the basis of the Bleeker Street film bearing his name. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why he auditioned for the lead role in the first place. Those familiar with Banks’ tale will know that in 2002, the then-17 high schooler and NFL prospect was wrongfully convicted of rape following a consensual sexual encounter on campus with classmate Wanetta Gibson. Although he maintained his innocence, she accused him of raping and kidnapping her, sued Long Beach Unified School District for lax security and an unsafe school environment, and eventually received a settlement of $15 million.

After being given 10 minutes to pick fighting the charges and risking 41 years-to-life in prison, or taking a plea deal and spending just over five years, he chose the latter with a no contest plea. Banks was sentenced to six years and a lifetime on the sex offender list, serving five and a year on probation (complete with an ankle monitor). With the eventual help of the California Innocence Project (who he had to convince to advocate on his behalf) he was exonerated a decade later on May 24, 2012 when Gibson recanted her story and admitted to fabricating the rape.

Brian Banks finds Hodge (Underground, City on a Hill, What Men Want) retracing the steps of the athlete’s redemption story from solitary confinement breakdowns to his rocky reentry to society on parole to the day his accuser, whose lie temporarily shattered his future, reached out to him on Facebook to “move past” that time.

Tucking away the pain of his ordeal took time, but in spending time with Banks, now 34, Aldis has developed a deep sense of awe and respect for Banks’ resilience and healing process. During the making of this film, in which Banks served as an executive producer, tough days were far from absent. Hodge can recall times when the flood of emotions were too strong to be kept behind stoic facades and focused eyes.

“There's a scene where I'm presenting my evidence to the C.I.P., showing them that this woman lied and they’re saying that I cannot present that in court. It's inadmissible,” he says, referencing Banks’ almost moment of freedom. After agreeing to talk to him in person about the incident, Banks and a neutral party secretly recorded her recantation. Unfortunately, because she did not agree up front to record the plain-as-day confession, her new words could not be used to free him. One could imagine the crushing feeling of defeat. “We talked about that before I shot the scene and were sitting there, two grown swole dudes in a hallway sitting on some stairs crying, going through the emotions.”

Here, Aldis Hodge talks about the feeling of retelling of such a heavy yet hopeful story, why it’s unfair to measure Brian Banks against the #MeToo movement, and why the time to take America’s flawed justice system to task—no matter the victim’s demographic—is right now.


VIBE: How much did you know about Brian's story before this project and did you find this project on you own or did someone seek you out? Aldis Hodge: I was familiar with it because of the juxtaposition of the case of Brock Turner and you see how it was handled versus how Brian's case was handled. I was quite frustrated with that, so when the story came up, I said, wow, this is really a grand opportunity to say something effective. Hopefully share a little light on the disparity when it comes to how we're treated in the judicial system versus how folk who don't look like us are treated.

What was that knee-jerk reaction when you heard the Brock Turner case? My personal take on that, first of all I was, "Who's judging the judge?" The judge failed us as a society when it came to not necessarily making an example out of this young man, but just doing what was supposed to be done right. Justice wasn't served. I was pissed off. I'm not even going to lie, I was pissed off. In life there are so many grey areas, but when it comes to cases like this, there's black and white.

We can point back to Brian's case where they had a bunch of evidence pointing towards his innocence, where he should've gotten the benefit of the doubt. He should've gotten a second chance. The judicial system failed him and they didn't give him a chance at all because of who he was, what he looked like, where he came from. That's how we as black culture in this country are continually treated by the government, by the justice system. That needs to change, which is another part of why I did this film. I believe it has something more to say than just “it's a great story about hope.” It's really a wonderful, beautiful story that, to me, inspires faith and belief in oneself, because what Brian did for himself is insane. He went into prison, came out smarter and far more educated than when he went in. He manages to achieve exonerating and clearing his name, then goes on to achieve the ultimate dream—being in the NFL. That's insane to me, the fact that he held so much faith in who he was and his value that he just beat down wall after wall after wall of doubt. [He] pushed forward to create experiencing the impossible.

That was miraculous. I mean, how many times do you actually hear stories like this? Especially the fact that he cleared his name just a month or two shy of his parole being up. If his parole had completed, doesn't matter what would've happened, he wouldn't have been able to clear his records. If he had stopped believing in himself a day or two, a week, a year, a month earlier, imagine what would not have ever happened for him.

I can feel the passion that you have, just as a person in the society towards it. Coming to the table with Brian to talk about how to embody this role going forward, was your passion matched in the same way? What did that look like for him? Is his stance more reflective, and has he moved past those raw emotions? My passion is not anger, it's disappointment. I do have a bit of reverence to allow people to understand the degree of severity of when it comes to these situations. My passions are very real because the fact is that this could hit me, this could affect me at any moment. When it comes to Brian, he's been through the anger. The very first question I asked him when I talked to him the first time we met was, “Hey man, are you angry?” He said, “No, I'm not. I've been through the anger, I want to put that to bed. What I want to do now is just live my life. Live the happiest best life that I possibly can. I want to live freely.” I think we both share the same passion, where we understand that people in positions are not doing the jobs that they are challenged to do, and that’s why we do the work that we do in ways that we hopefully can be most effective.

How did you prepare for the role emotionally? Initially I was trying to get my weight up [for the role]. I was thinking about trying to get a trainer and then after a while, I was like, nah, let me just Brian train me. Brian and I spent our time in the gym and that's where we started learning more about each others’ mentality, our work ethic, how serious we are about this. From there, when it came to being on set Brian was on set most days and the days he wasn't there was a conscience choice because he had a hard time dealing with certain situations. When we did the solitary confinement scene, he had to step away but we would talk and before every scene I would hit him up and be like "Look man, what were you going though in this time frame and where was your mentality on it."

Before watching the film, some of the critiques I saw when it first premiered at the L.A. film festival were, "It's a great film that came out at the wrong time.” They felt it was “bad timing" given the height of the #MeToo movement. Did you have any of those reservations? I can't compare my pain to yours, yours is equally as valid as mine is. I know that from a very basic and narrow and, to a degree, I would say emotionally immature perspective, people like to compare what this is and could be to the #MeToo movement. What they have to realize is as far as the victims for the #MeToo movement, they deserve their voice. They deserve to be represented, they deserve to seek justice. On the flip side of that, there are also victims who are in prison for crimes that they did not commit. I'm talking robbery, I'm talking rape, I'm talking drug charges.

With Brian's story, a judicial system has failed because they did not do their jobs. Brian had evidence. Basically, we have the scientific lab report that's saying it was literally no sex. [Brian’s] lawyer has this in her hand and she tries not to use this evidence right. She chose to say, I'm going to figure out how to win this case and not lose, so I'm going to go in there and tell you take a plea deal, not fully explaining the consequences of what pleading out means, because 97 percent of cases plea out as opposed to fighting for their innocence and their justice. We’re talking about a judicial system that has failed people on all sides, so there's no comparison or really parallel when it comes to the #MeToo movement. They deserve their respect and they deserve their placement. Out of respect for victims of the #MeToo movement, we don't ever bring that up because we feel like, who are we to ever in any capacity compare? That's not who we are, that's not what we do, and that's definitely not who or what Brian is. They deserve their justice. Brian, being in his position, also deserves his justice and what the audience has to acclimate to doing is seeing the full scope of the flaws within these situations.

Are you familiar with the Albert Wilson case? No. Please educate me.

A former University of Kansas student was sentenced to over 12 years in prison for an alleged rape, where there was no DNA evidence that they had sex. He and the young woman went to a club underage at the time, none of them were carded, and afterwards, “fooling around” happened that she alleges was rape but he says was not. The minimum for rape convictions in Kansas is 12 years, and he was recently sent to prison to serve out the sentence even though he maintains his innocence. The timing of Brian Banks coming out and sharing this message is interesting because of how similar the DNA situation is, provided his actual innocence. It makes you think about how hard it is to experience a redemption moment like Brian did. I think that anytime to address flaws when it comes to fighting for justice, is the right time. For people who think, oh is this the wrong time, no we are talking about a real issue that happens on a daily basis and the fact that we're bringing it to light... The right time is today, now, yesterday. It's always the right time to talk about anything that's going to fight for true justice.

When it comes to Brian's case he did all of his time. He was a couple months shy of parole being up when he exonerated himself. So he did a year in jail, he did five years in prison and then he did five years on parole, living that caged hell on the outside of prison. Brian didn't get any kind of break when it came to his sentence. He wasn't let off early, he wasn't handed a break really even with the C.I.P. If it wasn't for him really fighting for himself he would've been lost, lost to the system. I do hope for this young man’s sake, presuming his innocence, that he gets the help that he needs because it's out there. Hopefully this film sheds a little light on more people that need that help.

A frustrating thing is not knowing when, if or how an entity will advocate on your behalf and fight for you the way you want to fight for yourself. Like you said, Brian had to find a way to prove, "Hey, I'm worthy of being helped. What do you think should be the takeaways as far as advocacy, especially in fine line situations? The whole idea that you may likely be innocent but there could be a doubt that you're not and how that shapes the way people approach your situation. I remember when I first met Brian, in order to really take on this role, I had to believe him. If I was going to represent this man, for me this is not about a job opportunity or check. This is about what I’m personally putting my name behind and what I believe in. I had to believe him and I did. If you put yourself in a position professionally or charitably where you are able to and you’re supposed to help build the need, do the due diligence and do the work. Go out there and make yourself a bit more accessible. Granted, I understand there's a lot of people who might say "I'm innocent" when they're not and, again, if you do the work, you get as much info as you can. As much evidence as you can and just make yourself available for these people to find you so they can access you. There's a lot of people in prison who don't realize that they have access to more help on the outside. If they know they have more access, they might be able to actually help represent themselves in a position where they can clear their names.

I say if it's family and friends, do as much research as you can. We have access to more resources than ever in this particular age in time and reach out and find out these organizations like the C.I.P, the California Innocence Project. If not that, you might have to go do the work yourself, get a private investigator to go look at the location, the scene of the crime. Just like with Brian's case the DA, no one went down to investigate where the girls said that she was kidnapped. If they had, they would've known that everything that she said was a lie. Given the time of day, given the access, given the people that would've been around, there is no possible way that she could've been dragged, kicking and screaming down an open hallway with all these doors open and students in class. Regardless of what they would've found, the fact is again they didn't do their jobs because no one went down there to investigate the scene of the crime. The scene of the supposed crime, that is the biggest issue there.

Also, if you're put in a position to do a specific job you have to do, step up to the plate. Don't be lazy and don't play the agenda bias of I'm just trying to get from point A to point Z. No, you have people’s lives in you hands and you are committed to that.That is what you're doing is to help actually save some lives, so do that.

One of the interesting nuances of the film is the presentation of “Kennisha Rice” and the part she plays in setting Brian's life back. It’s very interesting that she was not presented as malicious, sneaky or intentional; her inconsistencies were driven out of fear from her mother’s point of view. Do you think it's something to take into account when looking at some of the people who make these accusations and wind up ruining people’s lives, And the way they're seen after that? With this film, our priority was not to demonize her. If we were going to show her, we were going to show her as a human being, given Brian's current perspective of not being angry and not wanting to demonize her, not get revenge on this woman, anything like that. He's free of that. We want you to come up with your own idea, if you happen to understand her and sympathize with the fear and maybe you've made the same terrible choice in the situation. That's on you. We don't want to direct how you see this person.

As far as what may come of this, if it's karma coming back at her, it's not karma that Brian threw out her. Brian is telling his story and he has to be honest of that. However, we have to accentuate the fact that they are flawed human beings and this is what can happen when you don't take responsibility for your own flaws. When you don't look at it yourself and understand the power you made holds in the situation, these are the mistakes that can happen. We are not trying to get people to hate this character because that would contradict the entire journey that Brian as been on. We don't want you to hate anybody. We’re over that. Focus on the faith. Focus on the happiness. Focus on the belief and the fight that Brian had to fight for who he was in his value and maintaining his innocence knowing that he was still worth something.

What do you hope unsure audiences take away from this film and this very real story? I caution against my selfish ambitions when it comes to that question. I just hope people take away hope and belief in themselves and the power that they will, when it comes to actually helping someone else who maybe in need, I hope people answer the call if every they are or feel called to do so.

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