Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Naomie Harris discusses playing a black female police officer lead in 'Black and Blue' movie


A chat with Naomie Harris, Tyrese and director Deon Taylor on their new movie 'Black and Blue'


The new movie Black and Blue centers around a conflicted black rookie policewoman (Alicia West played by Naomie Harris) who accidentally captures corrupt officers killing a young drug dealer on her body cam. The rest of the film is dedicated to Alicia's mission of exposing the cops with the footage, all while fighting to survive their wrath and that of the people she grew up with, most of whom are unwilling to help her due to her occupation. 

The problem: the corrupt cops try to do everything possible to try and make sure the bodycam footage doesn't get released. Alicia eventually enlists the help of her old friend Mouse (played by Tyrese). 

Black and Blue also stars Frank Grillo, Reid Scott, Mike Colter, Nafessa Williams, and more. 

During a phone interview with Naomie, Tyrese and director Deon Taylor, Deon clarified this is the first time in cinematic history that a black female is playing a lead police officer role. 

Major!

Check out some of the interview highlights below: 

Questions for Naomie Harris

Over the years, women have made huge progress in law enforcement but women are still faced with discrimination and harassment. What was it like to play a black female police officer lead like Alicia on screen and what have you learned from playing your character?

"It was an incredible experience playing Alicia because I was so inspired by her moral conviction and her bravery, and I really wish I could be as brave as she is. So many of us have things that we believe in but so few of us put our lives on the line for that, and I also think it's such an incredibly tough line to walk and Alicia manages to, which is, to be this thing: a black female within the police force because in some ways, simply by joining the police force, it feels like a betrayal or it can be seen by many people as a betrayal of your community. And so, it's a really tough thing to do, and I wanted to really get across the betrayal, and I think Deon does a brilliant job of that of the difficult thing that Alicia is in. She's trying to uphold and be the best possible police person that she can but she also, obviously, has huge loyalty and allegiance with the black community that she was raised in and that she is helping to police, and wanting to bring about a better world."

Naomie Harris plays rookie cop Alicia West in Black and Blue
This role is completely different from your past movie roles so why did you decide to take on this movie, especially with the controversial topics of unsolicited police shootings and police body cams all throughout the movie? 

"For me, that's one of the reasons why I wanted to take on this movie because I think it has such a powerful message and drawing attention to issues that are going on that we need more light shed on. I think what's happened, unfortunately, we have had so many examples of police brutality and of corruption that in some respect, we're getting immune to that and the dialogue and the energy of us finding solutions for this needs to continue, needs to keep happening. And I think one of the best ways of doing that is drawing people into the movie theaters and giving them an incredible, entertaining, fun, thrilling experience of watching a movie that also has a powerful message that hopefully they will go away and continue digesting and dissecting and discussing with each other afterward. So, that was a vital part of why I wanted to be part of this movie because I want to be a part of movies that have really important messages and that do affect people and affect change in some way."


Questions for Tyrese

Why do you think it's so hard for people to stand up for what's right, especially in an era when everyone is on (hashtag) #StayAwoke, #KeepItReal and #KeepingIt100?

"You know, the thing is... if you have an opinion or a thought, especially if you're a public figure, I mean, people just don't want to be attacked, ya know. Taylor Swift just went public and talked about her thoughts and feelings about whatever her political position is, ya know it's like people just want to sell records, feed their families, stay on their planes, and keep their careers afloat, and not deal with the warfare or backlash that comes with expressing your political views. And, I think that's really, really sad. But, it's not anything new. The only thing that's new is that some random person in Mississippi who don't agree with your thoughts or opinion can tweet you to death. In the past, when John Lennan or Martin Luther King and everybody else who had a different world view, unless you wrote a letter or sent them death threats directly to their house, they couldn't be reached. So, a lot of people are just scared and on edge about speaking up or out about things that matter, and that's why I wanted to do this movie. That's why we did the movie."

Naomie Harris (Alicia West) and Tyrese Gibson (Milo "Mouse" Jackson)
You grew up in Watts [a neighborhood in Los Angeles] and you were able to see things growing up firsthand with the gangs and the police, on both sides. Going into this production, were you able to take anything that you experienced growing up in your environment as a teenager and coming up in Watts? Were you able to take anything from that into the characterization and the making of this film?

"Oh, absolutely. Both me and Deon grew up in the hood. Gary, Indiana, South Central, L.A. for me, Watts, and this wasn't acting. This was me re-acting and pulling from things that I've experienced. I had a police officer tell me, 'you f*cking n***r. You got two things that's gonna happen to you: you're gonna be dead or you're gonna be in jail. That's what happens to all you people.' ... Like, a police officer."

"I also am from L.A. and I've experienced firsthand the OJ trial. I experienced the rioting from the Rodney King beatings. I was a part of the rioting. I was looting because I was broke and in the hood and didn't have nothing. So, ya know, I know this world, I know this stuff."


Tyrese stars in Black and Blue

"This movie [Black and Blue] is not preachy. You know how sometimes you give your dog some medicine and you put the medicine inside the food and they don't even realize they ate the medicine... that's exactly what this movie is gonna do for a lot of people because the statements are made, the position is there. If you're able to say 'get over here, emergency backup, someone is infront of a store. But what's his name? His name is Eric Garner.' All of these police officers rushed to the scene. All of these police officers witnessed this man get choked. He [the cop] ended up being fired because civilians caught the whole situation on camera. But why didn't none of the police officers who witnessed this man with abusive power to Eric Garner ever write a report to the human resources department and speak up on what they actually seen and witnessed? And that's what this movie is about. The moral compass."


Questions for Deon

What are some of the universal themes or messages that an international audience can take away from the film despite not being exposed to some of these same conditions?

"Some of the universal themes are some of what Tyrese was just speaking about which is just being human. We're in an incredible time right now where the culture is polarized by all of these insane things that are happening to all of us, and the racism, the divide in the country ... it's crazy. I think the universal theme for the movie is basically: just be human. The ongoing line throughout the film is if you see something, say something. That's the bottom line. Here is a person in the film, Naomie Harris, who basically witnesses something on her bodycam, and instead of her conforming, which is more times often than it is not, conforming to what everybody wants her to do, she basically says 'no, I'm gonna do the human thing. I'm gonna do the right thing. I'm gonna take this and expose everybody here who is a part of this.'"

"And, to Tyrese's point... that is an incredible and very terrifying thing to do in this culture where everyone is moving with trends, everyone is moving with the wave. No one wants to be a human anymore in terms of like just standing up for something. The seven or eight officers that were behind Eric Garner, the two officers that were behind the two officers that shot the young lady in the house the other day... you have to say 'hey man, I seen that and that wasn't right.' Not just go along with this. So I think the universal theme throughout the entire film: be human. Speak up and stand up for what's right. That's what Black and Blue represents."

Director Deon Taylor with Tyrese on the set of Black and Blue
You have some incredible films, but nothing that has touched on this topic at all. So, what would you consider the biggest challenge of bringing this film to life and doing so in a way that's not only engaging to the audience but kind of keeps it real with the world we live in today?

"This movie was special for me because, number 1, it's the first time I actually worked in a studio system. So, for that alone, it was a challenge because a lot of the moral themes and different things I stand for sometimes and most often are not allowed to be put into studio movies. And this was a film where Sony was good enough to allow me to take their screenplay, sit down with Naomie, sit down with Tyrese, and actually build the landscape of the culture that we live in. Some things were pushed back on, some things were not. It was important for me to make this movie and for it to actually be able to speak directly to the culture, and to be something we can look at in the next year and be like 'wow, that was an interesting take of what was going on during that time.'"


Director Deon Taylor on the set of Black and Blue

"One of the biggest things for this film that drew me to it, I don't know if people really understand this... this is the first time in cinematic history, in the history of film, that we've ever had an African American female play a cop in a movie. You think about how many millions of films have been made. That'll just let you know that we are still fighting the great fight in terms of minorities in film and in the business. So, being able to knock that one down and also make a film that actually speaks to the culture about what's going on and not be preachy, not stand on the soapbox and say 'oh, look at me.' It's a movie that's action-packed, it's a thriller, it'll give you all the energy of Training Day, all the energy of Sicario, except this one has a message, this one is actually saying something, and what it's saying is: be the change. You cannot change everybody around you. You can't change the person next to you. But, what you can do is be accountable and change yourself, and once you begin to do that, you'll see it affects other people. And the Alicia character in the film, the Tyrese character "Mouse" in the film, that's exactly what they do. They become changed people by the end of the film."

"I am hoping there is a lot of Oscar consideration around the performances that they [Naomie and Tyrese] have given for this film because you don't get movies today, not anymore, that actually can give you action, a thrill ride, make you hide under your seat but at the same time deliver a real message about the state of the culture, and I believe that's all intertwined in this movie and that's why I did it, and that's why it's the first time I touched a movie like this. I'm excited for this. Actually, my best work to date and I'm just beyond thrilled that everyone will get a chance to see it."  

Black and Blue hits theaters this Friday, Oct. 25. Check out the trailer below:



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