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Jay Ellis Discusses The Plight Behind Africa's Child Sex Slavery Shown In 'Like Cotton Twines'

Jay Ellis digs deep into the film's lesson as well as the oppresive religious regime targeting young women in Africa.  

Like Cotton Twines, directed and written by Leila Djansi, takes you on a trip to Ghana to catch a glimpse of what life is like for most underage girls who are forced to coexist as a Trokosi (a wife of the gods). The sexual religious slave practice is used in an effort to lift any crime a family member has done by sacrificing a family’s most vulnerable member.

To save her father from the crime he has committed, 14 year-old Tuigi (played by Ophelia Dzidzornu) is chosen to sacrifice herself. Yet amid the inevitable heart-wrenching life obstacle, Tuigi’s English teacher, Micah Brown (played by Jay Ellis) is here to save the day. Micah becomes fixated on the process of trying to save his student from succumbing to the socio-political trappings that are threatening her life path. The film creates an interesting dichotomy in relation to how westerners view old traditions of the eastern hemisphere.

“Trokosi is a form of modern day slavery, and when I came to America, I would hear Americans discuss racism, slavery, freedom, and civil rights,” Djansi told Hollywood Black Renaissance. “I wondered what an American would think if he went back to Africa. I also wondered if an American would realize that he would be an outsider if he returned to his origin. My goal was to mesh these two ideas together while telling the story of resilient women. I also wanted to explore the emotional journey of an African American with roots of slavery, and his reaction when unexpectedly faced with modern day slavery in Africa.”

Ellis, who's known for his roles on BET’s The Game and now most recently is starring in Issa Rae’s new HBO series, Insecure -- quickly jumped on the opportunity, considering the message behind the film. VIBE recently caught up with Ellis during the week of the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival, where the film premiered on June 2.

“It was kind of a no brainer for me,” he tells VIBE over the phone from Los Angeles. “It was an opportunity to tell a really amazing story, something that is super topical right now with child slavery, and also a chance for me to be able to film in Africa.”

Catch the full Q&A with Jay below where he discusses his experiences in filming Like Cotton Twines, the powerful message behind the film, and what he helps the masses learn from the motion picture.

VIBE: What was it like filming the movie in Africa?
Jay Ellis:
It was amazing. It was my first time in Africa so it was very spiritual—very emotional. It was an education. I think all the things we think Africa is like—it is some of those things; but it’s also so much more, and I think I was able to tap into that experience. It was really amazing.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about African culture?
I really picked up on how proud everyone was of their tribe; of their specific village; of where they come from and how related they are and how interconnected they are and keep in contact with each other. That was a really amazing thing to see.

Years and years and years of history of these kings of villages and how that fits into a higher political system as the country evolves, and that was really amazing to me. I think one of the biggest things I really took away from all of this was happiness. Everyone I met was so happy and so kind, and not knowing necessarily of their situation.

That puts a lot into perspective.
We would drive by these villages and they would have no electricity, no running water and they would have fire pits that everyone cooked off of or stayed warm off and that was the light for the village. As you would go into the villages, no one was worried about the price tag on something; no one was worried about labels; no one was tripped about traffic. It was really amazing to see that happiness can exist without all the material things that we come to associate happiness with.

What do you hope that the African American community in this country learns about their culture through this film?
I hope that the African American culture here learns that we are connected. Though we're thousands of miles away, and it may seem so far from us; it's really not. There's something just so spiritual. First getting off the plane and everyone has your skin color and then as you're seeing ads for toothpaste and deodorant and clothes, and everyone looks like you and there's so much pride to it. I just don't really know how to explain all the things that went through my mind at one time while being there. I hope that's what's taken from this is a connection and a responsibility to kind of go back and learn your heritage. See where your ancestry started.

This just broke out between takes yesterday....#Ghana #Africa #kidsareawesome

A video posted by Jay Ellis (@jayrellis) on

What are your thoughts on Micah’s character being perceived as a “white man” in the movie by the locals?
When I got there you actually immediately recognize it. So immediately by my accent, I was considered a white man. Just because of my accent, which blew my mind. They clearly knew I was not white but that is what I was referred to. Like little kids would point and say, ‘Oh, there's a white man mommy.’

It was so interesting to experience that, and to them honestly it's not about the skin color it's about the accent. The accent to them is that of a white man’s accent. So that was interesting in itself, but what you come to learn in a situation like what you're talking about is that the customs and the traditions of the western world are much different than that of these small villages and traditions that have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. They automatically equate that to something that the white man would do—a white man wants to be a savior, the white man wants to come over here and change things and doesn't want to let us have our customs and our traditions.

It's interesting and it's scary because what you realize Tuigi— not being a sex slave or not being a slave period—is a human being regardless of accent or race or western vs. eastern. That's a humanity thing no matter what the skin color is.

Were you aware at all of what was going on in Africa before being in the film?
I don’t know that I was as aware. I was definitely aware of what Boko Haram was doing and kidnapping the young children and the whole “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. I was definitely aware of that. It’s been like over two years now since those girls have been gone from that last huge Boko Haram raid where they took like 200 children. I was definitely aware of those things, I didn’t know though how culturally accepting and normal it was in some ways. I think that is what really caught me off guard is that traditionally, it was accepted and normal in quite a few places; it threw me for a loop.

If you could do anything for a group of people in Africa that are in a similar situation like Tuigi and you had all the resources to do it, what would it be?
I would end child slavery and slavery as a whole because it’s still going on over there. Servitude, indentured servants, slavery, it’s all still happening. And that’s a worldwide problem. It’s happening throughout Asia, in South America and the continent of America, and throughout the Middle East. That’s definitely something that I would want to end and abolish. No one should ever have to live through anything like that.

What was it like working with Ophelia?
I would tease her a lot (laughs) because she is a very pretty girl and she is very, very talented, but I would always tease her a lot because she’s always in her book. When I say that I don’t mean tease her because she’s in her book, I was just trying to make her laugh because between every single take she was down in her book studying and she already makes straight A’s to begin with.

So I would just mess with her every once in a while just to get her to smile. Just to get her to take a little bit of a break, but she’s fun. Ophelia’s super smart, she’s got a good head on her shoulders and she loves what she does and she did such an amazing, honest job of playing this character. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work with her.

Were there any scenes that were emotionally hard to film?
A couple of things were really tough. The one where Tuigi walks in the door to see Micah and she's been away at the shrine for a while and she's pregnant was really hard for me. Ophelia’s a beautiful young girl and an amazing actress and all I can think about was Ophelia, who in between takes or between set ups is talking about her exams that she needs to get back to. And how innocent she is and how full of life she is and how much she wants to do and accomplish, and she wants to move to America and act; all I can think about is her being ripped away from that. So that was really tough for me. That was a really hard day for me.

And the other one was actually in the slave dungeon, and I’m kind of wiping my hand against the wall; slaves were sold from that building that we were in, and you can feel something there. I don't want to call it a spirit but there is an aura; there’s an energy there that immediately puts you on edge and I cried that entire day. I probably lost five pounds of tears that day because I could not stop crying. I was crying between takes, I was crying at lunch. It was just hard to be there because you look out of these tiny cell windows and you see the Atlantic Ocean and you realize that millions of slaves were taken from buildings like this, put on ships on the ocean that was literally 15 feet away from them. It's the most pristine, cleanest, beautiful beach you've ever seen, and what should be something to be enjoyed and experienced is actually the thing that changed their lives forever, and changed history.

What are your thoughts about other movies made about slavery like Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation?
It’s important. The Nat Turner story is amazing because it's a revolution in its own way, it’s a small revolution. I do think there are different takes on slavery that have not necessarily been told, Nat Turner’s story is one of them. I got an opportunity to see it at Sundance and Nate and the entire team did an amazing job of telling that story. I think a way to change the narrative about these slave stories is to make sure we also tell the story 360 and not just from one perspective. Another TV show that’s doing an amazing job at that is Underground. It doesn’t always have to be the woe is me story, although that is part of the history; don’t get me wrong, that deserves to be there as well, but there are stories of those who fought for their freedom and who led revolutions, who led uprisings and escaped and helped others escape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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50 Cent And Kenya Barris Developing TV Series Based On 'The 50th Law'

Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson is teaming up with actor and director Kenya Barris to create a television series based on Jackson's New York Times bestseller, The 50th Law, co-written by author Robert Greene. The Power executive producer and black-ish creator will join forces to create an original show that will stream on Netflix. No word on its premiere date or who has been cast for the series.

In true, 50 Cent fashion, Jackson took to his official Instagram to celebrate and share the news. "Netflix now you know this is a problem, Kenya Barris is no joke," reads his post's caption. "And if me and you ain’t cool, you ain’t gonna make it. 😆Let’s work! 💣Boom🔥 🚦GreenLight Gang #bransoncognac #lecheminduroi #bottlerover"

Jackson will serve as co-producer by way of his G-Unit Film & Television company which has a hand in Starz's Power Book II: Ghost and ABC's For Life. Barris will work alongside his #blackAF co-executive producer Hale Rothstein for the pilot and show's script under his production company, Khalabo Ink Society.

Speaking of Khalabo Ink Society, Barris' and his company will have a hand in a couple of upcoming projects: Kid Cudi's upcoming adult animated music series, Entergalactic and MGM's upcoming biopic on the career and life of comedy legend, Richard Pryor.

Fif's G-Unit Film & Television imprint, more original programming is on the way: Power Book III: Raising Kanan premieres this summer and Black Mafia Family has begun shooting its series debut. His current shows —Power Book II; and For Life—have been renewed for another season on Starz and ABC, respectively.

Jackson and Greene's The 50th Law is a semi-autobiographical book that tackles lessons around fearlessness and strategy while including inspiring stories from 50 Cent's life and tales from notable historical figures. It went on to be a New York Times Bestseller in 2009.

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Photos by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images and Gilles Petard/Redferns

Questlove Is Directing A Sly Stone Documentary

The Roots' own Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson will be directing a documentary about the life of Sly Stone, founding member of legendary funk band, Sly and the Family Stone.

The untitled feature film "follows the story of the influential artist, king of funk, and fashion icon Sly Stone, a musician who was breaking all the rules at a time when doing so was extremely challenging, even dangerous. The pressure of explosive mainstream pop success and the responsibility of representing Black America forced him to walk the fine line of impossible expectations."

“It goes beyond saying that Sly’s creative legacy is in my DNA," said Questlove in a press release. "....it’s a black musician’s blueprint....to be given the honor to explore his history and legacy is beyond a dream for me.”

“Sly’s influence on popular music and culture as a whole is immeasurable, and what his career represents is a parable that transcends time and place,” expressed Amit Dey, Head of MRC Non-Fiction. “Questlove’s vision, sensitivity and reverence brings the urgency that Sly’s story and music deserve, and we’re excited to be working with him to bring Sly’s story to life.”

The project will mark the four-time Grammy Award-winning artist's second directorial project (see his Sundance award-winning Summer of Soul) by way of his Two One Five Entertainment production company. Award-winning actor and rapper Common will serve as an executive producer via his Star Child Productions along with Derek Dudley and Shelby Stone via ID8 Multimedia. Derik Murray and Brian Gersh of Network Entertainment will serve as producers with Zarah Zohlman and Shawn Gee as producing partners.

The film's official title and release date has not been announced.

Earlier today in partnership with BET Digital and Sony Music's “This Is Black” Black History Month campaign, an animated music video for the group's 1968 hit single, "Everyday People." Revisit the classic song down below.

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FX's 'Hip-Hop Uncovered' Shows How Big U, Deb Antney, Haitian Jack, Bimmy & Trick Trick Hustled The Game With Street Savvy

Rarely do the strong survive long enough to tell their story in their own words, so bear witness to some of the most notorious deal makers and street shakers in FX's new docu-series Hip-Hop Uncovered. Hailing from hardcore locations all over the map, California's Eugene "Big U" Henley, Queens, New York siblings James "Bimmy" Antney and Deb Antney, Detroit's Trick Trick and Brooklyn's infamous Haitian Jack, represent the mind and the muscle of the rap world's background boss section, where the real money and moves are made.

After last week's two-episode debut (Feb. 12th) of a six-episode season, we have the cast member's thoughts on what it was like taping the show and why they participated in the series. Remember, these storied behind the scenes executives are normally in the background, but are now telling their important stories that weave their importance in the industry that shapes the world...hip-hop.“A true dime is steel-heavier than a dollar.” Watch Hip-Hop Uncovered Fridays at 10 pm ET on FX.

Deb Antney: "By doing the show, it was very therapeutic. I’ve opened up and let you get a glance of what is in my Pandora’s box. I’ve shed pounds, even inches. I’m truly grateful I’m here to tell any part of my story. Now get ready for my book Unmanageable Me.

The show allowed me to showcase my truth the way it needed to be told. The Debra Antney way!

Being Debra Antney was not always glitter or gold. Like most, I went through some things. I was defiantly a product of my environment, it made me who I am today! I always knew how to get myself to the top and that’s exactly what I did. Thank you for being a part of my journey."

 

 

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Big U: "I loved filming this show. It brought up so many memories going back to the house I grew up in, remembering those special moments with family. It was fun to sort of relive my past, but the best part was really seeing my evolution. I’m such a different man today than I was back then. I feel good that the world will get to see the person I’ve become. I did it because for the first time, I knew I could be in full control of my own story, especially since I’m an Executive Producer on the series."

 

 

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Trick Trick: "[Taping the series was] weird as f---!! Because, I’m not used to that type of attention. I’m very private, but oddly enough, it was somewhat... refreshing!

[I did the show] because Big U called.”

Bimmy:

"Well, I choose to do the series because I was told who was involved from the cast to an all-Black production. Taping was like me living my past all over again and we show[ed] the world how we really lived and the things we went through."

Haitian Jack: "Taping the series, to me, was definitely a great experience.  Everybody that was on there, [producers] Oby, Rashidi and everyone else were very polite to everyone and we got everything we asked for.  When you have a crew like that, it makes it really easy for you to work with it.

[I did the show because] I like when they started to say, 'Let’s dig back into the past,' because that’s what my life is all about, the past.  The fact that Big U came up with it and hit me up with it is another reason because I respect what he is doing out there with the kids and his foundation. So I didn’t mind teaming up with him and everybody else, Deb and Trick Trick, Bimmy. I think we have a great cast and I’m proud to be a part of it.  I think we did it because we all knew where hip-hop came from because we lived it.  We wasn’t just some people who just popped up out of nowhere and started blogging about it. We were there.  We watched the deaths, we watched the lifetime prison sentences.  We lost a lot of friends to death and prison. We all lived it.  They are going to get a good account of what went on in the 70s and 80s."

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