*Renaissance man Hill Harper has a new book, “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope, and Healing for Inmates and Their Loved Ones,” that is a follow up to his very successful
books “Letters to a Young Brother,” “Letters to a Young Sister,” “The Conversation” and “The Wealth Cure,” that chronicled his diagnosis with thyroid cancer and his journey to health. Harper is also a very talented actor. The first time I interviewed Harper was for the film, “The Visit.” Since that time he has also enjoyed a luminous career on TV. We talked recently about his books and acting.
You’re good at many things so why the literary route?
Different kinds of reasons. With my first book, ‘A Letter to a Young Brother,’ I figured it would be my only book I was ever going to write. What happened with that is a lot of young men would reach out to me. I talk at schools all over the country and a lot of young men would come up to me after my talks and say, ‘Hey, can I exchange e-mails with you’ and ‘Can I write to you?’ or ‘I need a mentor’ and I realized that many of these young men didn’t have mentors. So I decided to write basically a mentoring book. That’s what ‘A Letter to a Young Brother’ was. A lot of incarcerated young men and women sent me letters so my new book is an outgrowth of that.
What about those who think why deal with criminals?
Let’s be clear, all of us have made mistakes in our lives and I thank for the grace of God there go I. Who knows all the things that could go wrong where any of us can be in a situation where we could end up with a felony or incarcerated. That follows you for the rest of your life and so I wanted to write a motivational book that could help individuals break free of the cycle of recidivism and hopefully for those who aren’t incarcerated shine light on this issue.
Ever thought about using these situations to put in a movie?
The film you just mentioned, ‘The Visit,’ I played somebody who was incarcerated and dying of Aids. During and my research I met a lot of individuals incarcerated for a variety of things and I began to realize that writing a film and doing a book is two different things. This book is nonfiction and hopefully will change the individual reader’s life. With a film you hope to do something similar but just in a different way. read it.
Is there anything that hits home most for you with this book?
Yes. What stands out the most is a quote that frequents throughout the book where I say; you can’t be free if the cost of being you is too high. What that means is that for so many of us whether we’re behind iron bars, in prisons made of credit card debt, in a relationship or a dead end job you can’t be free. Many of us are saddled with costs in terms of our health care, in terms of our mental health, in terms of financial debt, etc. Hopefully this book will help in breaking free of either real prison or mental prisons.
How has the film and TV journey been?
The journey has been fantastic. I’m really proud of the characters I’ve been able to play. Certainly playing the character on ‘CSI’ as Dr. Sherman Hawkes is a wonderful stereotype-busting role. He was the smartest character on the show that all the other characters went to for answers. And now, doing ‘Covert Affairs’ is a wonderful opportunity because I get to play a character that is the complete opposite. Certainly we want to do more film projects that can hit home on a larger scale. I just had a wonderful film called ‘1982’ that played at the Toronto International Film Festival to a standing ovation. It’s an independent film from a young filmmaker named Tommy Oliver and it’s based on a true story.
Since the holidays are upon us, what is your Christmas wish?
I wish that we could shine a light on this mass incarceration issue and do something about it. We lock up more people in our country than Russia and China combined. There is no reason we should be locking up so many people. We should be doing more work as far as rehabilitation and ending the cycle of recidivism that we see. So my wish for the holidays is for all of us to become more conscious about this issue and better policies are put into place.
Feared ‘Captain Phillips’ Pirate Barkhad Abdi visualizes the role of Grio.
When I first saw Barkhad Abdi onscreen at the New York Film Festival, his performanace is so gripping and terrifying, you lose sight of the fact that you’re in the safe confines of a movie theater. Instead, the feeling is that of dread and being on that frightening odyssey with Captain Phillips aboard the Maersk Alabama cargo ship hijacked by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and three other Somali pirates in 2009 while en route to the Kenyan port of Mombassa.
Abdi owns the screen and strikes fear in every onlooker’s heart. What manner of man is this to take such control of your emotions that viewers have never set eyes on before? Simple, this is Abdi’s first role and he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. “I was watching TV at a friend’s house when I saw they were having auditions for Somalis to act in a film with Tom Hanks,” Abdi admitted. That announcement on the local TV station in Minneapolis brought out 700 hopefuls but it was Abdi who received the coveted part.
While traveling across the country and abroad with Hanks, who portrays Captain Phillips and director Paul Greengrass, Abdi took time out to talk to me via phone:
This is a controversial role. Did you have any reservations playing it?
I really didn’t have any reservation about doing it. It came out of nowhere. They came to my city in Minneapolis one day so I checked it out. I had no idea it would lead to this.
How do you get into this kind of mindset?
I was born in Somalia so saw the fighting, the guns, the bodies and the devastation. So while shooting the film I just put myself in his (Muse) situation. It was collaboration all the way. Paul was with me throughout the whole process. I was really nervous at the beginning but I just took it day by day and did the best I could each day. And Tom Hanks was very helpful; he’s nothing like you would think. He’s very humble and an amazing person. The day before my first scene with Tom, I didn’t get much sleep that night. I was quite nervous and Paul just said, ‘Take control and don’t worry about it!’ So I just believed in the character and became him.
How true to form was the scene about the Elders?
The Elders are very big in Somalia and are identified by the tribes. Because of the warring, there is no government or stability there. So these people parent the best way they can. Kids are used for all sorts of unconscionable crimes there. Criminals use kids for their own interests, including international organized crimes. So the Elders are the only ones the people trust.
Has all this success changed you?
No, but the people around me have changed. And when people around you change, you are forced to change
Since you started out with such a bang, what role would you like to do next?
I like storytelling. I always loved story telling as a child. My Grandma used to tell me stories and as I grew up, my Mama would read me stories and then I started reading stories. So as long as it’s a role that has a good story behind it, then I will be willing to do it.
Moms Mabley reeled in Whoopi
Comedian Moms Mabley reeled in Whoopi Goldberg with not only her humor but her wit and integrity. ‘Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ To Tell You,’ a feature-length documentary about the iconic stand-up comedienne, will had its world premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. It is directed by Whoopi Goldberg and produced by Goldberg, Tom Leonardis, and George Schlatter. It airs this week and the next on HBO. It also airs on HBO2 on Novemaber 28 and December 24th.
The idea of doing a documentary on Jackie “Moms” Mabley came about when Goldberg wanted to reprise Mabley’s material on stage but realized people weren’t familiar with her. This is a true fact and I can attest to. After watching the show, my daughter went to work the next day and told her co-workers about it and they had no idea of whom she was talking about—and she works a media conglomerate. Her co-workers commenced to go on line to look up Mabley. They found themselves consumed with laughter after reading some of her jokes.
“Moms Mabley has been a huge inspiration to me and so many others, but not a lot of folks outside of the comedy world know about her legacy,” says Goldberg. “There are a lot of us who wouldn’t be working today without pioneers like her. HBO gave me my first break on TV, so it’s only fitting that Moms has a home there now.”
Mabley tackled topics such as racism and sex, making her one of the first triple X-rated comedians on the comedy circuit. Her monologues touched on traditional topics such as family, as well as more controversial subjects that were typically avoided by comedians of the era, regardless of race, including infidelity, poverty, ageism, welfare and alcohol.
Making appearances and adding their comments about Mom are Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Quincy Jones, Kathy Griffin, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. In addition, archival footage showcases Mabley in a performance at the Playboy Mansion with Sammy Davis, Jr., and on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”
‘Almost Human’ AMC big push
Hoping to cash in on the run-a-way success of “Sleepy Hollow” that was shown to a primarily Black audience at AMC theaters before it aired, Fox TV network screened “Almost Human,” with Michael Ealy (Dorian), who is almost human, and Karl Urban (Det. John Kennex). The AMC crowd loved every moment of “Almost Human” but whether they flock to Fox to see it, only time will tell.
“Almost Human” takes place approximately 30 years in the future when being a cop has only become a more dangerous job than it is today. Following an unprecedented increase in the crime rate, every police officer must partner with an android. The series will follow the week-to-week missions of John Kennex, a detective and sole survivor of a devastating police ambush, and his robot partner, Dorian, as this buddy-cop duo solve cases and fight to keep the lid on dangerously evolved criminals in this futuristic landscape
Marie Moore is a syndicated veteran entertainment journalist who reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]
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