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Alfre Woodard on ‘Opening Up a Conversation’ About Criminal Justice with Movie ‘Clemency’

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*Alfre Woodard recently opened up about her acclaimed film “Clemency,” in which she stars as a death row warden facing her 12th execution. 

Directed by Chinonye Chukwu , “Clemency” won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019, making her the first Black woman to receive the honor. 

Chukwu has now signed on to direct a new film about Emmett Till.

“Clemency” premiered amid the civil unrest over the American justice system.

Woodard spoke to Vulture about how the timely film adds to the national conversation about police violence against unarmed Black Americans. 

Below are excerpts from the conversation.

READ MORE: Despicable! Police Group Places Gun Target on Image of Black Elected Official (Reggie Jones-Sawyer)

While talking to different people about what happens on death row and immersing yourself in this world, was there anything you heard that surprised you?

Everything surprised me. Absolutely everything. Bronwyn Cornelius is our intrepid producer. She told me that she had this really gifted young filmmaker, a woman who wanted to bring forward the life of a prison warden. And I was wondering, Okay, well how do I fit into this story? She said, “You’re the warden.” I went, what? Because I had never thought of a woman as a prison warden. I had all these draconian images of what we’ve seen on film before, and I thought a prison warden must be a bit of a sadist. What is that? And what kind of little girl says that’s, you know, what I want to do? Once I take these ribbons out of my hair, I want to be a death row prison warden.

So what I learned right off — at least with the people I met: the wardens, he director of corrections, and a man who has put more people through the process than anybody in the world, who has been a warden in three of the most active death row states — was that people come to those positions from the mental-health professions. They come to it from social services or public-health administration. The women I met — they were all African American women — they would be in my book club or go to a church or a synagogue that you go to. They’re the type of people that you’d want in an emergency. Not me. Not an artist. Because we start either screaming or laughing depending on what the thing is that we’re reacting to.

But if you are someone who is trained and has experience working with people in traumatic or dire situations, it makes sense that you’re the person to oversee people who are enduring traumatic experience of being incarcerated, who have death hanging over them. If there is going to be a law that people are put to death in the state’s name with our money, then somebody is going to be doing that job. And I realized that who is doing that job matters a whole lot. Yes, we work to abolish it. Yes, we work toward more civilized ways of resolving our appeal system. And, frankly, we hope to get it right when we do. But is it reformation or is it just penalizing people?

Until we change that, then the kind of people that I met are the people that we want in charge.

What was it like working with Chinonye as a director, and how did this experience differ from others you’ve had in Hollywood?

Well, every experience is different if you have a good director. And I’ve had a lot of good directors. It’s like lovers. The experience is you’re making love, but they’re all really different. Filmmaking and being directed is the same way. And I’m not talking about the directors who are fine; I’m talking about the exceptional people. And she is one. She has her history; she is a Nigerian American woman, the daughter of grad students who — crazily enough —lived in Norman, Oklahoma. They were petroleum engineers at the University of Oklahoma. I also came from Oklahoma, from Tulsa, years before.

She spent her formative years in Norman — mind you, with Nigerian parents who were traditional, and so they were keeping that culture alive. But then she spent years in Alaska, of all places. In Alaska, from the ages of 8 to to 18, experiencing the culture there. Everything about her shaped the way that she looks at the world.

Aside from her skill and ability, Chinonye cackles and laughs so loudly. She is one of the most ridiculously joyous people. We lost a couple of guys who got triggered during our [shoot], even as we were just setting up and learning the protocol in our execution scene. Everybody on that set in every department … it was hard for them. It was very hard. But there’s Chinonye. She’d come in just full of brightness and energy every day and cackling. I know I kept myself away from her, because I had somewhere else to be during all this.

She is such a great collaborator; our trip together solidified our friendship for life. And it actually gave us a shorthand for working on set as well. I’ve been around; I don’t have to be told what to do. It’s good for me when a director who is younger than I am instinctively knows how to set a situation up and allow me to do what I instinctively know — what part of my skills to bring to a moment. So we had a good partnership that way. I’m usually excited about a person who some would call “not as experienced,” because that means that they don’t even know what the rules are. They don’t even know they’re breaking rules. And that’s the way every artist should work.

How do you feel this movie intersects with considerations we’re having right now about defunding the police and just taking stock of the racial discrimination intrinsic to the American justice system?

Well, we wanted people to be able to look at this film and have a conversation that they hadn’t had before, have a piece of information to put on the table of conversation. Yea or nay to state-sponsored murder — you can’t make a decision if you don’t have all of the components. And so this is something that we thought was missing. How it affects the people doing it. We wanted people to know: Even if you think you have nothing to do with it, if you paid your taxes, then you have something to do with it. Unless you’re one of those people who is signing petitions, writing letters, trying to stop it.

So it’s opening up a conversation about our criminal justice system. Right now, people have been working for decades trying to kick the doors open about the fact that our criminal justice system is just an industry. It is an industry for unpaid labor. It is not intended to rehabilitate anyone. It is intended to house and warehouse especially Black and brown bodies, but also poor white bodies and poor bodies of other colors. Because it at least started out for us, African Americans, as policing us on the continent. That’s how you kept slaves.

And so people don’t see how it just goes all the way up, through Jim Crow, through the decades, to where we are now — where they’re just housing people on cots in huge gymnasiums. The majority of the people are [incarcerated] for offenses that, if they were from the dominant culture — if they were Caucasian — they might have been slapped on the wrist for. “Boys will be boys,” or whatever. But we have here in California three strikes. You could steal a slice of pizza, break a window, and then punch somebody who punched you first, and then you’re put away for life. It is all those things.

If we had people responding to the vast number of police calls where people call in saying, “My neighbor is acting strangely, but it’s because he’s bipolar,” or: “My son is hallucinating, I’m not sure if it’s undiagnosed mental illness.” If you have a person who goes to that situation, who is trained, who is going to look at it from that perspective rather than somebody who is showing up like the Terminator to answer the call about a child who is basically freaking out. We want people to answer those calls [in a way] that increases the safety of our community, not increases the bloodshed and the trauma.

Read Alfre’s full Vulture interview here.

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Black Celebrity Gossip - Gossip

Must See: Mike Tyson Stuns Lil Boosie: Asks Rapper If it’s Possible He’s ‘A Homosexual’ / WATCH

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Mike Tyson - Lil Boosie

Mike Tyson – Lil Boosie

*Poor Lil Boosie. Like they say on the streets, he ain’t see it comin’. No he didn’t. Dude had no clue that Mike Tyson, of all people, was gonna blow his mind.

All Tyson did was brilliantly ask the Louisiana rapper something that social media has been asking him for years,  but of course it was never to his face and it came via a physical force that’s also intimidating.

Anyway, Lil Boosie, as you know (if you follow him) has VERY STRONG opinions on gay and transgender people. Remember the incident not too long ago where damn near demanded that  Dwyane Wade not cut off his son-now daughter’s penis.

With no hesitation, Tyson incisively and quietly  asked Boosie is it possible he is a “homosexual” and that is why he lashes out.

Boosie stuttered a bit before answering.

Below is the full interview followed by some of the Twitter reactions.

READ THIS: Tyler Perry Says Spike Lee’s Criticism ‘Stung’ – But He Still Named A Soundstage After him

Naturally, folks couldn’t wait to chime in

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Black Celebrity Gossip - Gossip

Busta Rhymes Posts This Remarkable Before & After Snap Then Gets Trolled by 50 Cent / LOOK

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50 Cent - Busta Rhymes (WireImage/Getty)

50 Cent – Busta Rhymes (WireImage/Getty)

*OK, it’s confession time. We gotta say we’re not exactly huge fans of rapper Busta Rhymes because of the questionable things we’ve seen him say and do both publicly and privately.

However, today we got nothing but praise for Rhymes because of a personal achievement he recently pulled off that will provide inspiration to anyone who has a goal.

As you can from the very dramatic before and after Instagram pics below that the “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” rapper put the work and dedication in to make a remarkable change in his body and no doubt, his mind.

READ THIS: Rick Ross Buys 87 Acres of Land in Georgia for $1M

Busta Rhymes - before & after

In his caption he not only encourages other, he says he’s now (and he looks it) in “the best shape” of his life. He also tells fans to also look out for new music.

DON’T EVER GIVE UP ON YOURSELF!! LIFE BEGINS RIGHT NOW!!! MY DEDICATION IS DIFFERENT!! I WOULD NEVER PUT OUT AN ALBUM AND NOT BE IN THE BEST SHAPE OF MY LIFE!! I RESPECT MYSELF TOO MUCH AND I RESPECT Y’ALL TOO MUCH!!!! I’M ONLY HERE TO INSPIRE!! #ELE2THEWRATHOFGOD DROPPIN’ 10.30.20 PREORDER & MERCH AVAILABLE NOW!! CLICK LINK IN BIO

Thank you coach @victormunoz_proedge Thank you Legend @mrolympia08 Thank you King @kaigreene Thank you Icon @dominicandominator & @chefdeliche

 

View this post on Instagram

 

👀😆They really kinda look alike right LOL he gonna curse me out when he wake up 😆😆😆#bransoncongac #lecheminduroi

A post shared by 50 Cent (@50cent) on

And then along came 50 Cent whose known to frequently rain on folk’s parde, if you get our drift. And just as predicted, he did what he does and also put up a split-screen pic with Busta Rhymes‘ before shot on the left and a side profile picture of a shirtless Tracy Morgan. He captioned the post:

They really kinda look alike right LOL he gonna curse me out when he wake up #bransoncognac #lecheminduroi

However, on the second slide, 50 Cent seemed to congratulate Busta on his weight loss and even indicated he was looking forward to hearing new music from him:

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** FEATURED STORY **

Male Model and Dancer in Janet Jackson’s ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately’ Video is Now a WOMAN / LOOK

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Rudy Houston - Lana Houston (Twitter)

*In the late 1980s, Rudy Houston was a well-recognized and talented model and dancer, perhaps best remembered as the leading man in Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately” video.

He was the guy that women went crazy over because of his looks and dance moves. Houston was also the man who singer Pebbles was asking in her song, “Mercedes Boy,” if he wanted to ride with her in the song’s video, released in 1988.

While Rudy Houston was his name back in the day, today, he is a she…and goes by the name Lana Houston.

And according to Lana Houston, she is now “all-woman” in every sense of the phrase.

WHOAH! DID U SEE THIS? Ex-NBAer Zach Rudolph Files for Divorce Weeks After Tweeting ‘I Married A Ho’

Janet Jackson & Rudy Houston

Janet Jackson dancing with then male dancer, Rudy Houston, in ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately’ music video

Lana Houston (Facebook)

Lana Houston (Facebook)

Her sex change journey has been a long road, which for the most part, remained out of the media’s broad reach, until now because Houston is back and wants the world to know.

“Yes, it is true that I have transitioned from male to female,” Houston said in a statement that appears on I Love Old School Music’s website. “I began my transition from male to female in 1995. I needed time away from the entertainment industry to find my inner peace and embark on my intense and wonderful journey to womanhood. I am finally at peace. I am currently residing in L.A., where I work as an artist painting portraits and abstracts.”
Houston said she is grateful for her sex transition and to have fans. She is also looking for songwriters and music producers to collaborate with.

“Thanks to all those who were concerned about my whereabouts,” Houston said. “I’m back from the ‘dead.’ ”

 

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TV Calendar: Coming to Small Screens

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