jay-ellis-like-cotton-twines
Facebook

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Web

More on Vibe

Getty

Viola Davis, Jharrel Jerome, Tiffany Haddish Among All-Star Cast For ‘Good Times’ Live

Following the success of live reboots of The Jefferson's and All in the Family, earlier this year, ABC is bringing back another classic sitcom for a special holiday addition of Live in Front of a Studio Audience.

Good Times is the latest Norman Lear sitcom to be rebooted with an all-star cast that includes Viola Davis, Jharrel Jerome, Tiffany Haddish, Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Andre Braugher, Saturday Night Live alum Jay Pharaoh.  Additional cast members include Jerome’s When They See Us co-star, Asante Blackk, and Jamie Foxx’s eldest daughter, Corinne.

Davis and Braugher will portray James and Florida Evans, while Haddish will play neighbor, Willona Woods. Pharaoh is set to take on the role of the couple’s eldest son, JJ. Blakk will play JJ's younger brother, Michael Evans, and Corrinne will portray their sister, Thelma.

Patti Labelle and Anthony Anderson are billed to sing the Good Times theme song. Jerome’s role in the production has not yet been revealed.

Oscar winner Marisa Tomei and Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson will reprise their roles as Edith and Archie bunker for the latest live rendition of All in the Family. The weekly sitcom, created by Lear, premiered in 1971 and birthed the spinoffs, Maude and Good Times.

It’s unclear which episodes of the '70s sitcoms will be brought back to life for ABC's holiday special.

Live in Front of a Studio Audience airs on Dec. 18 at 8 P.M. EST.

Continue Reading
Photos By: Gareth Cattermole/Lars Niki/Gregg DeGuire/Steven Ferdman

Beyonce, Billy Porter, Cynthia Erivo And Eddie Murphy Snag Golden Globes 2020 Nominations

The nominees for the 77th Annual Golden Globes have been announced. Harriet actress Cynthia Erivo has been nominated for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama." Comedy legend Eddie Murphy snagged a "Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy" nomination for his role in Dolemite is My Name. Hustlers star Jennifer Lopez has also been nominated for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture."

Entertainer and entrepreneur Beyoncé joins Erivo in the "Best Original Song - Motion Picture" category as their "Spirit" (The Lion King) and "Stand Up" (Harriet) singles go head to head. Speaking of The Lion King, the live-action film has also been nominated for the "Best Motion Picture - Animated" category. Billy Porter has been added to the "Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama" ballot for his award-winning role in FX's Pose.

As for the networks and platforms with the most nominations, Netflix came out on top with a total of 17 nominations, HBO snagged 15 nods and Sony Pictures Releasing has taken home 8 nominations. You can see the full list of nominees here. Among the major snubs are Ava Duvernay's award-winning film When The See Us and HBO's hit series Watchmen starring Regina King.

Hosted by Ricky Gervais, the 2020 Golden Globes ceremony is set to take place at the Beverly Hilton on Sunday, January 5 and air at 8 pm EST on NBC.

Continue Reading
(L-R) Cast of Upn's 'Moesha'—William Allen Young, Yvette Wilson, Shar Jackson, Ray J, Brandy, Marcus T. Paulk, Lamont Bentley, And Sheryl Lee Ralph—celebrate the 100th episode of the comedy series.
Getty Images

A 'Moesha' Reboot Is On The Way

Moesha is returning to television as a reboot.

Former castmates Brandy Norwood and William Adam Young joined Sheryl Lee Ralph at her 29th Annual DIVA Foundation event over the weekend (Dec. 1) to confirm the rumor of the '90s sitcom's return to the small screen.

“We would like to know, would you like to do a ‘Moesha’ reboot?” asked Lee alongside Young. Brandy responded with a smile, “Yeah, absolutely. I’m here for it. I'm here to solidify that we’re gonna bring Moesha back.”

Moesha aired on UPN—once known as the home network for other popular black sitcoms like Girlfriends, Everybody Hates Chris, All of Us and One on One—from 1996 until 2001. During its 6-season run, the series followed a middle-class black family through the lens of an ambitious and ever-learning Moesha Mitchell, a teenager going through what many teenagers go through while living in South Central Los Angeles. The comedy-drama series was also known for its musical guests which included Big Pun, Dru Hill, Mary J. Blige, Silk, Soul 4 Real, and Xscape.

No word on what the reboot will be called, whether production has begun or if other former castmates Countess Vaughn, Marcus T. Paulk, Shar Jackson or Fredro Starr will be involved.

Unforgettable Fact: Moesha worked at VIBE Magazine as a gofer at the beginning of Season 5.

Continue Reading

Top Stories