The Obama Effect – A Discussion with Charles S. Dutton

What’s new Music Movie Lovers!  We are less than 24 hours away from knowing the winner of the 2012 Presidential Election, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to make your voice heard by VOTING!  Last post, I recommended a great film that is being released today on DVD, and available on Video On Demand, entitled The Obama Effect.  I had the pleasure of speaking with writer, director and star of the film, the legendary and Emmy award-winning Charles S. Dutton, about the movie, its cast, his love of history, upcoming projects, as well as projects he wishes to make.  So sit back and read part I of my interview below, in time for Election Day, and check back later this week for part II (trust me, you won’t want to miss it!).

Thomasena: What inspired you to write the screenplay for The Obama Effect?

Charles: We started shooting the picture right after (President Obama’s) inauguration; but right before the election Barry Hankerson (producer) called me and said we should be the first ones to do a film if he wins.  I said either way we have a film: if he doesn’t win we have a film about his running for the presidency, and if he does win we’ve got a film about the first Black president.  So after (him) winning, I just needed to decide what type of story we wanted to tell.  It had been a very contentious and tumultuous election period, so we decided to do a satirical look at the 2008 election.  And after talking with a lot of folks who worked on the campaign, and experiences I had myself, I started putting together a story not necessarily about Obama; but about a man who was so obsessed with being involved in that historical moment, and getting Obama elected, that it led to other things in his life.

We were going to bring the movie out in 2010, but (the President’s) approval ratings were so low. And with the birth of the Tea Party, etc., I suggested we wait because it became an ever evolving phenomena with this President and the American public’s reaction to him.  So we had a lot of new stuff that we could shoot and put in the film.  For instance, the scene where Katt (Williams) addresses the all White audience/group (a satirical version of the Tea Party) and they walk out on him? That scene was never in the original script, and was never in the original shooting of the film. So we found new material in waiting until the second election to release the film.

Thomasena: Now you mentioned Katt Williams, who I thought was brilliant in this film. Did you have any actors in mind specifically before the movie was cast?

Charles: Not really. Everyone auditioned pretty much except Glynn Turman, who is a buddy of mine, and Meagan Good.  No one made a lot of money doing this movie; and everyone in the film did it for the sole reason that it was a historical film. They wanted to do it.  And the people who auditioned got the roles on their own merit. Vanessa (Bell Calloway) auditioned for the role of the wife and knocked it out of the ball park. We originally offered the son (who is a boxer) role to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. but it didn’t work out, so I selected Zab Judah.  And you know sometimes the second choice is the right choice, and Zab was really good in his film début.

Thomasena: When I viewed the film, I found myself becoming emotional during the scene when President Obama is elected.  Now we, the audience, already knew what was going to happen but it was as if we were seeing it for the first time.  I was in a mixed audience (race and age wise) and everyone appeared to have a similar experience; some people clapped, while some cheered. Did you expect that to happen or were you trying to elicit that sort of emotion from the audience?

Charles: I purposefully set out to attempt that, I didn’t know if I was going to succeed.  What I was going for, along with it being a satire, was to try to capture the euphoria, emotion and passion of that period, particularly election night.  In the process of making the film, my concentration was constantly on the climax and getting people to fall back into just how they felt that night.  Whenever I see the film with an audience, people express just what you said, so in that regard I felt like we achieved what we were going for in the film.

Thomasena: Now I want to segue for a minute and then come back to the election.  I read in an online bio that you are an American history buff, is that true? And do you have a favorite period of study?

Charles: Yeah, I like American History period, but I have a certain angle on it.  I’m a buff from the African-American view, but I’m also a buff for finding those people who aren’t talked about in the history books.  We all know who Crispus Attucks was, but in searching the American Revolution I discovered this man named Colonel Fye [sic] who was a thorn in the Patriots side and fought with the British.  And I kept saying where is the movie on him? If I go to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, I don’t go there to see or find out what Jefferson did.  I go to find out where the slaves stayed, or learn how many slaves he owned. I’m a buff for the Native American Calvary Wars, in the late 1800’s, but for knowing what role the Buffalo Soldiers played.  And why isn’t the one Black scout, Isaiah Dorman, who led Custard through the Black Hills, and was slaughtered with all the other 7th Calvary members, mentioned in history books or movies? It’s those nuggets that I look for, from a perspective of where and how prominently African-Americans were involved.  And if our roles were prominent, why are we constantly cut out of the history books?

Thomasena: In light of how easily dismissed many of the efforts of African-Americans have been historically, and coming back to that 2008 election, what impact did seeing an African-American president elected have on you?  Where were you when it happened?

Charles: I was just like everybody else, at home with family watching the results, and got emotional like everyone else.  I was (flipping) from channel to channel to news shows I like, and I think (the channel) was on the Brian Williams show when he said, and I’m paraphrasing, for the first time since the Kennedy administration there will be little children in the White House…and then we knew. It was quite a moment to recognize and quite a feeling, just reflecting on the possibilities.  But, the euphoria of it is one thing and the reality is another. And I snapped out of the euphoria just a few minutes after the election, because racism was not going to stop. I knew President Obama was going to have a hard four years, and an even harder four more if he wins (the 2012 election).

Now, I hope you enjoyed reading, as much as I enjoyed experiencing, part I of my interview with Charles S. Dutton.  He is, by far, one of the most amazing people I’ve interviewed and it’s not hard to see why the projects he touches are infused with so much passion.  Be sure to check back in for part II, where we discussed his groundbreaking show Roc, advice he would give to persons re-entering society from prison, and which musicians he would like to do a biopic for (or is it one already in the works?).  If you haven’t done so already, click the Follow tab and sign up to automatically receive new posting updates, so you’ll know ASAP when I post part II :).

You can check out more about The Obama Effect movie, including the official trailer and story synopsis, at www.obamaeffectmovie.com.   You’ll also find a link to watch the film on VOD and to order the DVD.  Lastly, here’s one final task and please choose to accept: VOTE 11/6/12! 

Until next thought family,  Thomasena

9 responses to “The Obama Effect – A Discussion with Charles S. Dutton

  1. Hi Thomasena! What an amazing interview. You met “Roc” WOW! It looks like he and the cast picked the right choice. Congrats to you for sharing and helping us learn more about this important film. Guess what…we did it again, four more years!!!!

  2. Pingback: MMT Recommends: ATLANTA AND QUEEN SUGAR | Music Movies Thoughts·

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