Saturday, June 19, 2021

Jill Scott on Playing an ‘American Hero’ in Lifetime’s ‘Flint’ Original Movie [EUR Exclusive]

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FLINT
Jill Scott of ‘Flint’ at the Lifetime and A+E Networks portion of the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 28, 2017, in Beverly Hills, California.
(July 27, 2017 – Source: Michael Kovac/Getty Images North America)

*When Jill Scott dropped her debut album “Who Is Jill Scott?,” I experienced yet another shift in my consciousness. An elevation of awareness, if you will. I had previously experienced this shift most notably when I discovered a love of classic cinema and classic rock, like The Doors, Hendrix, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin.

But Jill Scott hit the scene at a time when my professional life was in crisis. I was in my early 20’s, naive and working at a major movie studio for a prolific producer who was bat sh*t crazy and I was overwhelmed. The emotional abuse I suffered from this woman was affecting my personal life and a dark cloud of confusion became my constant companion. I was depressed and incredibly insecure. I wasn’t able to shake off that feeling of worthlessness until the moment I saw Jill Scott being interviewed at some awards show that was celebrating her debut album.

As Jill worked the red carpet, she stopped to chat up one reporter about the inspiration behind “Who Is Jill Scott?” She pretty much explained how one day she realized that a 9-to-5 job wasn’t for her, so she decided to put her passion into making herself great (musically), instead of someone else (her boss).

And at that moment, the dark cloud of confusion was lifted from over me.

No longer was I going to allow that which I can not control control me.

No longer was I going to allow the stresses of my professional life dictate my emotions.

I moved to Los Angeles from the Midwest with some series career goals in mind and hearing Jill’s words that day reminded me that once I finally moved to the City of Angels and secured that big studio job, I lost sight of my own dreams and ambitions because I was too busy trying to make everyone else around me happy — thinking it would give me an edge in the game, when really, at that time, all it gave me was headaches and a heartaches.

Jill Scott transformed my outlook on how I should be taking care of myself, both mentally and spiritually. Through her, I’m grateful to have learned early on in my career that in Hollywood, there is no loyalty but to yourself. Jill gave me the courage and insight to navigate this business in a way that I could also protect my spirit from the disappointment and rejection that this industry constantly hurls at you. 

As each new opportunity comes my way, I am reminded of what Jill Scott said on the red carpet back in 2000, and her words continue to inspire me to work harder and set my own level of greatness to achieve. 

Now, imagine if I worked so hard over the years that my work would put me in front of Jill Scott and I could thank her for the impact she’s on my life.

Now, imagine my SHOCK when that moment actually happened — but I embarrassed myself when I broke down in tears while trying to explain all this to her.

“This is good news, you know that right?” Jill says to me as I apologize for crying while giving her my testimony. “I’m proud of you too,” she added.

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Summer TCA 2017
Betsy Brandt and Jill Scott of ‘Flint’ at the Lifetime and A+E Networks portion of the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 28, 2017, in Beverly Hills, California.

Over the summer, I sat down with Ms. Jill during Summer TCA to discuss her role on the Lifetime movie Flint, about the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan. After our conversation about her performance in the project is when I explain to her how she helped shaped the fearless attitude I have developed over the years regarding my professional life. 

“A lot of people feel that but they continue on out of fear,” Jill says after I explain how I had to learn the hard way that it’s senseless to let a 9-to-5 job define who you are.

“They’re afraid of struggle, she added. “They’re afraid that when it gets hard, they’re gonna fall apart. You don’t fall apart. You’re just having a moment. You keep it pushing so you can get what you really want out of life.”

In Lifetime’s Flint movie, Scott plays real-life activist Nayyirah Shariff, an organizer for the Flint Democracy Defense League. She was the go-to activist for Black Lives Matter on the issue.

“Nayyirah is silly and easy, and she’s sweet. But she’s focused,” Jill said during TCA. “And even today, (she’s) still helping people get out of jail for speaking up at town hall meetings.”

Scott describes Nayyirah as “relentless,” adding, “she knows and believes in justice and she wants that and I’ve never met anybody that is so focused on justice. I think she’s an American hero.”

The water crisis in Flint is far from over.  Replacing the city’s waterlines to guarantee safe drinking water is reportedly years away.

“The problem right now is that if you don’t pay your bill — pay your water bill and the water is poisoned — it has been proven to be poisoned — they raised the price on the water,” Scott explains. “And if you don’t pay your bill, they come around and put a spray-painted sign on your house, which obviously is vandalism. Who are you to paint my house?  But they put a spray-painted sign on your house.  And if you don’t pay your bill within 90 days, DHS can take your children.  Is that insane?  Why would anybody pay for poisoned water?  But they have to because you’re an unfit parent because you’re not providing water for your family.  It’s insane.  It’s all insane.  And Nayyirah is in the midst of it on a daily basis.  So it was an honor to play her, speak to her, and spend time listening to her voice.  There are lots and lots of people in this United States that have a voice like this that are not sitting idly while a corrupt government takes over.”

My conversation with Jill Scott about the Flint water crisis continues below. 

SUMMER TCA 2017
(L-R) Executive producer Neil Meron, actor Jill Scott, actor Betsy Brandt, actor Marin Ireland, and Flint resident/activist Melissa Mays of ‘Flint’ present onstage at the Lifetime and A+E Networks portion of the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 28, 2017, in Beverly Hills, California.
(Source: Michael Kovac/Getty Images North America

Was playing Nayyirah transformative for you in any way, personally or professionally?

Jill Scott: I can’t say so much that it was playing Nayyirah. It was the story. Knowing that people were being poisoned and that corrupt government would be aware that. You know you’re not surprised but you’re surprised. Like, for real? You would really do this. And knowing that the poisonous water was killing people and making them ill forever. Not just a sickness that you take a pill for.  It’s not that kind of party. This is forever. That blew my mind that these things still occur.

In what ways do you relate to Nayyirah’s strengths and her passion?

Jill Scott: I can’t even put myself in that category. That is somebody who is spending nights in jail cells. That’s somebody who is taking her last to get people out of jail for speaking they’re mind and speaking the truth at town-hall meetings. They’re arresting them now for speaking up. That’s somebody who just refuses to back down no matter how many times she was told she was crazy. No matter how many times she was told that they’re making this up. At some point, one of the councilmen said something about the women being on their cycle, like real disrespectful. I can’t put myself in that category. This is somebody who I truly believe is an American hero along with Melissa, along with LeAnn and they brought light to something that is a travesty. It’s an American embarrassment that you would poison your own people. You can’t pretend that it was a mistake or it was confusion. Kids have led poisoning forever. They have seizures. They’re losing hair. They can’t focus. And this is something that goes through the bloodline. So if they were to have children, if they live long enough, their children very well could have led poisoning as well. That’s heavy. I can’t compare myself to Nayyirah.

Had this occurred in an affluent neighborhood, do you think local government would have reacted differently?

Jill Scott: Obviously. But honestly, I feel like there’s something up. Like, they’re moving these people out instead of just paying them to buy their property. They’re killing them off in a sense. That’s really what I think ‘cause I can’t imagine anything else. Even now, they’re making them pay for poison water, that’s insane and punishing them when they don’t pay for poison. This is diabolical.

Is there a moment from the film that you consider to be the most pivotal?

Jill Scott: I think at different times, Nayyirah actually didn’t share what she was dealing with (because) she forgets. She didn’t have that problem before. She’s a young woman. She forgets now and I think as the women shared their ailments and showed their rashes and their hair in their hands, it got real real for all of us. Like, we read the script but now you’re talking to the person that you’re playing, now you’re seeing the effects. We’re looking at pictures. We have this idea about America. I see people waving flags and jumping up and down and proud to be an American and I swear there is nothing else that I would like to feel more. I would love to feel like that. But it’s so many underhanded disrespectful occurrences in this history of this place that I truly believe that we need to start again. We need to start over. Start over how we handle our business. I’m tired of filibustering. I’m tired of hearing Congress go back and forth forever and ever and ever. I’m tired of the late night meetings. I’m tired of congressman and senators and mayors and governors that are acting on behalf of a finance and not on behalf of the people. I’m tired of a country that wants to take away healthcare from people who are already ailing. And it feels so purposeful. Even if it initially was an accident switching over Lake Huron, maybe that was an accident but eventually, they found out and then tried to cover it up and I think we have got to get our shit together as a country. It’s embarrassing. We should all be embarrassed.

Do you think those responsible for the water crisis are too powerful to ever be held accountable?

Jill Scott: No. I think justice will come for everybody. I do believe that. Whether it’s in a way that we don’t see, I do believe that karma is a mother sucka and everybody will feel that but I don’t believe that these women in any way shape or form are going to let it go. You poisoned our children. I don’t believe that they’re ever going to let it go. And if I can help them continue to fight that fight to make sure somebody comes to justice I’m down. I talked to Nayyirah about this, about creating a concert — doing something to get money to continue this. But I don’t want to pay for poison water. I don’t want to raise money to pay for poison water. Everybody is dealing with bottled water now. Just do it for a day. Wake up in the morning and bathe yourself with bottled water and cook with bottled water.

Lastly, in terms of your acting career, are there certain qualities in women that you enjoy playing?

Jill Scott: I like them all. I like hoes. I like intelligencia. I like crackheads. I like women that are loved. I love women that are heartbroken. I love a strong woman, a weak woman, a confused woman, an angry woman. I love them all. I think that that’s the joy because they’re so many sides of people. I love that some actresses only go for strength. I think that’s fantastic and I think it’s a brilliant choice because there’s so much foolishness but I like them all. I think that there’s something redeeming about everything and everybody. Maybe there’s a character that doesn’t have any redeeming qualities whatsoever. When I can make an audience not like me I think I’ve done my job. When I can make people ask me if I’m okay, I like that. Even now, people want to know if Sheriff Troy and I are still together. I never married that man but I like that. That’s the work. I don’t want to be any one particular thing. I want to be everything and as much as everything as I can possibly be sounds great to me.

Though the media has moved on, the people of Flint remain, and your support matters as much today as it did a year ago. If you’d like to help the people of Flint with short-term support and ongoing medical care for the children and families affected, you can make a donation via Crowdrise. Your continued support is vital.

You can also use your cable provider to log-in to Lifetime and stream the Flint movie here

 

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including Emmys.com. She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.

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