In 1982, Samuel L. Jackson appeared along with playwright Eugene Lee and Denzel Washington as part of the ensemble cast in the original Off-Broadway production of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Soldier’s Play. More than 30 years later, Jackson is teaming with Lee again in the screen adaption of Lee’s Pulitzer-nominated play East Texas Hot Links. Jackson is set to co-executive produce the movie while Lee will adapt it for the big screen and serve as the director.
East Texas Hot Links tells the story of a small African American community in 1955 Texas. The play takes place during a single night in the Top o’ the Hill Café, where a “betrayal endangers the lives of the community.” Lee’s play originally premiered in 1991 at the Met Theatre in Los Angeles with Loretta Devine in a starring role. A review of the production at the time noted, “the performances are gripping, honest and filled with humor.”
Casting for East Texas Hot Links is currently underway with John Beasley star of TV Land’s “The Soul Man” in the role of “Boochie Reed.” Beasley also serves as a producer. The movie is scheduled to begin shooting next spring in Los Angeles.
In addition to East Texas Hot Links, Lee has written Fear Itself, Somebody Called: A Tale of Two Preachers, Killingsworth, The Rest of Me, the musical Twist, and Lyin’ Ass. He also has appeared on Broadway in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, and as a company member for the Kennedy Center’s 10-play cycle tribute to Wilson. His television credits include “Good Times,” “The White Shadow,” and “The Women of Brewster Place.” He is currently the Artist in Residence and Artistic Director of the Texas State University Black and Latino Playwright’s Conference.
Jackson has enjoyed a long career on the stage including 1990’s Broadway production of Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. Most recently, he starred alongside Angela Bassett in Katori Hall’s Olivier Award-winning drama The Mountaintop as “Dr. Martin Luther King.”
This Is Who We Would Cast In Disney’s Live-Action “The Lion King”
Earlier this year, amidst the news of a future Lion King live-action film, director Jon Favreau announced via his Instagram that James Earl Jones (Fences, The Great White Hope) will be playing Mufasa and Donald Glover will be playing Simba. This weekend, recent intel was released courtesy of The BeyHive Team that claims Beyonce is in talks to play Nala as well as overseer the entire film soundtrack.
If the rumors are true, that’s already three all-stars on board to make this Lion King movie the best we’ve ever seen; possibly Disney’s best live-action remake to date. In regard to the rest of the principal cast, here is whom we’d love to see in the film:
Scar – Leslie Odom Jr.
Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton): Every great villain is an anti-hero in essence and we know for a fact that Leslie Odom Jr. can play a villain or rather, the misunderstood bad-guy. After winning a Tony last year for Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Burr in Hamilton, Odom Jr. has released his debut album, welcomed to the world his baby girl Lucy, and is currently writing his first book, “Failing Up: How to Rise Above, Do Better, and Never Stop Learning.” You can also look forward to seeing Odom Jr. in Murder on the Orient Express, in theaters this winter.
Rafiki – Cynthia Erivo
Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple): I think we can all agree, Cynthia Erivo could play any and every role in a live-action Lion King film and it would be amazing! But to play Rafiki in particular- the wise old baboon who has the perfect song for every moment-would be a treat for us. Last year Erivo won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical, for her role as Celie in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple. After The Color Purple closed in January she has filmed Widows opposite Viola Davis and Andre Holland. She will also be starring as Harriet Tubman in the Seth Mann biopic, to be released in 2018.
Timon – Todrick Hall
Todrick Hall (Kinky Boots): It’s hard to think of fan-made Disney content without thinking of Hall’s YouTube page with all of his Disney mashups and music video remakes (“Beauty and the Beat” is a personal favorite). He knows his Disney, and to play the hyperactive fast talking meerkat, Timon would be perfect! Hall recently starred as Lola in Kinky Boots on Broadway and in June, wrapped up his national tour Straight Outta Oz.
Pumbaa – Tituss Burgess
Tituss Burgess (Jersey Boy, The Little Mermaid): Burgess would redefine Pumbaa’s comedic relief giving us that intuitive warthog with a big heart and high tenor. Just imagine the “Hakuna Matata” remix sung by Hall and Burgess with Beyonce’s oversight. Burgess currently stars as The Andromedon in the Netflix Original Series, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. He also recently bought the rights to the 1996 comedy The Preacher’s Wife that starred Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, and is writing the score and music.
Zazu – Daveed Diggs
Daveed Diggs (Hamilton): It’s a pity Zazu, personal advisor to Mufasa, didn’t rap in the original animated film. But, who better to undertake this in the remake than Diggs? Last year, Diggs won a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his dual role as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, and was dubbed the fastest rapper on Broadway rapping 19 words in 3 seconds in Guns and Ships. Since leaving Hamilton, Diggs has a recurring role on Blackish and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. He is also starring in the pilot Snowpiercer on TNT while serving as executive producer on The Mayor coming to ABC in the fall.
Michaela Coel Stars in London-based Musical “Been So Long” Film Adaption
Michaela Coel, creator, writer, and star of the BAFTA award-winning Netflix original series, “Chewing Gum”, stars in the London-based musical “Been So Long,” a film adaptation based on the 2009 stage musical by Ché Walker and Arthur Darvill.
Coel plays Simone, a young single mother charmed into a magical night in the city by a handsome stranger with a questionable past- played by Arinzé Kene (One Night in Miami). This modern day love story set in London’s “musical hot-bed” of Camden Town promises a soundtrack with a mix of RnB, Nu Soul and UK dance, as well as music from guest producers.
Coel is joined by an all-singing and all-dancing cast that includes George Mackay (“Captain Fantastic“), Ronke Adekoluejo (“Chewing Gum”), Ashley Thomas (“24”), Joe Dempsie (“Game Of Thrones”), Luke Norris (“The Duchess”), Rakie Ayola (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and Mya Lewis (“Olaf’s Quest”). It is Directed by BAFTA award-winner Tinge Krishnan (“Junkhearts”) and produced by the BAFTA-nominated Nadine Marsh-Edwards (“Bhaji on the Beach”) and Amanda Jenks (“The Girl”) of Greenacre Films.
Filming began earlier this year, shortly after season 2 of “Chewing Gum” was released on Netflix, and while she is making waves as a comedienne, Coel admits she is a stranger to musicals. However, Coel is no stranger to the stage and is quite theatrically and musically inclined having performed her one-woman show Chewing Gum Dreams in various theatres across London (2012-2014) before turning it into the hit series we know and love. She also wrote and recorded six of the tracks from season 1 of “Chewing Gum,” including the theme song.
Still, of singing and dancing on screen Coel shares, “It is a big stretch for me…I’ve never done anything like this in my life. It’s either going to be really amazing or just like, ‘What the f–k was that?’” (Screen Daily).
Either way, we’re rooting for her and can’t wait to see her on the big screen.
“Been So Long” made its rounds at the Cannes Film Festival in May and is set for international release in 2018. “Chewing Gum” season 3 is yet to be confirmed.
Denzel Washington is Bringing Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom To HBO
Part of the deal he struck with HBO last year to produce all ten of August Wilson Century Cycle plays, Oscar and Tony Winner Denzel Washington is bringing Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom –the second installment — to the screen.
Fences was the first of Wilson’s 10-play Century Cycle to make its way to the silver screen — arriving nationwide December 25 — and opened to rave reviews from critics and actors alike. The film adapted version garnered nominations for The Golden Globes, SAG Awards, NAACP Awards, BAFTA Awards, and what critics are saying a soon to be Oscar race contender. And after watching the film for ourselves, it would be a crime to have Viola Davis walk away empty handed February 26th.
The screenplay for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has already been completed, however casting and a release date has yet to be announced.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Wilson’s first of the Cycle Series to arrive on Broadway, tells the story of a blues singer and the effect racism has on her life and career through a 1927 recording session in Chicago, inspired by the real-life Gertrude “Ma” Rainey.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom opened at Broadway’s Cort Theatre in October 1984, playing 276 performances before closing and being nominated for a Tony Award. The production starred Theresa Merritt in the title role, while the remainder of the company featured Charles S. Dutton, Leonard Jackson, Robert Judd, Christopher Loomis, Aleta Mitchell, Joe Senaca, John Carpenter, Lou Criscuolo, and Scott Davenport-Richards. The play was revived in February 2003 starring Whoopi Goldberg and Charles S. Dutton.
Most recently Centre Theatre Group premired the Phlycia Rashad directed Ma Rainey, with Lillias White in the title role. Which got me thinking … can she just do it on screen because, well, it’s LILLIAS WHITE!
Who would you like to see in the title role? Sound off below!
Have The Tonys Been More Fair Than The Oscars?
Another Winter means more cold weather, hot chocolate, hopefully snow and — oh, another #OscarsSoWhite. Last year Broadway Black Managing Editor, April Reign, coined the term and last year instead of watching the Oscars, Black Twitter livetweeted “Coming to America” instead. I figure the same thing will happen this year (I vote we watch all six of Audra McDonald’s Tony speeches!). As #OscarsSoWhite grew more and more, more and more Black entertainers began to speak up against the Oscars. Most notably actress Jada Pinkett-Smith and director Spike Lee.
Jada wrote a tweet following the announcement stating, “At the Oscars…people of color are always welcomed to give out awards…even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating all together? People can only treat us in the way in which we allow. With much respect in the midst of deep disappointment.” She followed the tweet later with a video of her expressing this disappointment and calling all Black entertainers to boycott the show.
Spike Lee certainly agreed with her in his own instagram post and a Hamilton quote;
#OscarsSoWhite… Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let’s Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?! WTF!! It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday. Dr. King Said “There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It’s Right”. For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The “Real” Battle Is. It’s In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To “Turnaround” Or Scrap Heap. This Is What’s Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With “The Green Light” Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, “I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS”. People, The Truth Is We Ain’t In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White. (Cont’d)
There have been huge debates all over social media whether or not actors should boycott the Oscars or would it even make a difference at all. Similarly, should we even care about the Oscars or should we just make our own? Here’s the danger with that- I think society as a whole has often equated Oscars exclusively with whiteness when in fact it shouldn’t represent that. It should represent the best in film. Period. Point blank. I’d also add, we already have shows that recognize Black entertainers on the regular but even in our own communities we don’t respect them and some A-list black celebrities don’t bother to even show up.
For some, an Oscar simply represents the highest honor in ones film career field. While I am one who thinks that art is super subjective and already wary of awards in performances, it doesn’t diminish the fact that there are many performances from Black actors that were are “award worthy.” One place I’ve noticed Black actors having some achievement in is on the stage and at the Tony Awards.
I will never forget the 2013 Tony’s when four out the eight acting categories were given to Black men and women (Cicely Tyson, Patina Miller, Coutney B. Vance and Billy Porter). Or in 2010 when it was a Fences and Fela! takeover. Even when Audra McDonald became the first person in Tony’s history to win one in every acting category possible and has the title of having the most Tony Awards as a performer.
While this isn’t to say the Tonys are completely perfect and without fault, I think over the years the Tony’s has gotten better at being more inclusive. Their nominations are usually on the money, and I can guarantee you this year Black actors will be winning again. So what makes the Tony’s so different? What are they doing right?
Well for one, I think the theatre world is more diverse and open to things that differ from the typical white storytelling narratives. I also think because the voting pool is so small and the voters actually go to the shows, their nominations are much more valid. So why can’t the academy admit their current system is broken and find ways to fix it? Well Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs responded to the Oscar boycott saying they would look into what qualifies for membership to help diversify the pool, so I guess that’s a step in the right direction. My only problem with that is, how long will it last?
Broadway Black Exclusive #TheWiz Live Watch Party
Broadway Black presents an exclusive watch party for the lovers of theatre to share in the joy of the amazing one-night-only event of The Wiz Live on NBC December 3rd, 2015! Let’s enjoy this night of #TheWiz together with lots of laughs, love, & fun!
Ne-yo as The Tin Man
Elijah Kelley as The Scarecrow
introducing Shanice Williams as Dorothy
Amber Riley as Addaperle
Stephanie Mills as Aunt Em
Uzo Aduba as Glind The Good Witch
Common as The Gatekeeper
Chris Borrero, Olutayo Bosede, James Brown III, Ta’rea Campbell, Jessica Castro,Kacie Garland, Asmeret Ghebremichael, Frankie Gordils, Khadija Griffith,Tre Holloway, Antonio Hudnell, Carlos Irizarry, Marcus Paul James,Frederic Jean, Capathia Jenkins, Mykal Kilgore, Tamika Lawrence, India R. McGee, Antonio Moore, Maurice Murphy, Danielle Polanco, Malaiyka Reid, Eric Sanchez, Chris Silcox, Sherisse Springer, Ahmahd Thomas, Raphael Thomas, Elon Van Buckley, Alex Wade, Donald Webber, DaShaun Wesley, Xavier Wilcher, and NaTasha Williams.
GET YOUR TICKETS NOW BELOW!
Auditions in Black and White
Casting Director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd, in an interview given to Black Enterprise Magazine in 2012, suggests that there are some best practices with respect to auditions that naturally work in a Black theatre performer’s favor, and some rules that may take a little practice. Ms. Byrd’s first tip is that the performer be him- or herself. For the Black theatre artist, this means finding an internal balance with the drive that got you to the audition and an external balance given the need to stand out and get the callback.
Twinkie, who cast the late Whitney Houston’s last movie, “Sparkle,” as well as the films “Notorious” and “Stomp the Yard,” also encourages Black artists to know their craft. For Ms. Byrd, this means knowing your history and where the contemporary artist stands in relation to all those who came before. Ms. Byrd’s last piece of advice is for the artist to give him- or herself a break and acknowledge at the end of the audition that a best effort was given and to say “you’re welcome,” when thanked for coming in. Most artists stay in ingratiating mode and simply say, “no, thank YOU,” but Twinkie, who is credited with launching the careers of Laz Alonso and Michael Kenneth Williams, encourages artists not to gloss over the fact that “you’re welcome” is self-affirmation of a job well-done.
Actor Anthony Mackie has spoken on the “importance of being a Black actor and the importance of theater to an actor” in an article featured in the Guardian in 2011. After a turn on Broadway in “A Behanding in Spokane,” Mr. Mackie took a hit from Black writer and New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als, who stated candidly: “The sad fact is that, in order to cross over, most black actors of Mackie’s generation must act Black before they’re allowed to act human.” Mackie’s advice is to think beyond someone else’s definition of you as an artist because, “you can’t limit yourself.”
And then of course, there’s that ‘drops mic’ moment detailed by the NY Times blog in 2012, given to us by Lady Vi, Ms. Viola Davis, on the Tavis Smiley show, when he expressed “ambivalence” over the movie, “The Help.” Ms. Davis, with the dignity and humanity she brings to every role, illustrated why she should be allowed to write roles as well as act them. She offers: “That very mindset that you have, and that a lot of African-Americans have, is absolutely destroying the Black artist,” she said. “The Black artist cannot live in a revisionist place,” she added. “The Black artist can only tell the truth about humanity, and humanity is messy. People are messy. Caucasian actors know that. We as African-American artists are more concerned with image and message and not execution.” With that, Viola tells artists to focus on craft, as only someone who has been doing so for decades can.
Finally, a rule for the artist in us all, straight out of the mouths of babes as detailed on BlackCelebKids.com from an interview with Backstage.com. Yara Shahidi (Black-ish) brings us full circle with: “Never jeopardize who you are for a role.” Artists would be wise to heed these words of the successful young artist and not trade one’s “moral compass, or anything like that, to have a role.”