Behind the Scenes with Khalil Kain
Happy Thursday Luvs!
There are times when I am interviewing when I am left with an inspiring lasting impression. Today's post was proof of that such thing. I was engaged in an amazing conversation with one of my favorite actors. His body of work speaks for itself. He made his acting debut as "Raheem" in Juice and we were left in shock when he was murdered by "Bishop" (Tupac Shakur). Then again maybe you enjoyed him on Living Single as Regine's (Kim Fields) eye candy boyfriend. How about in Love Jones as "Marvin" the ex-fiancé of "Nina" (Nia Long) that so desperately tried to buy back her love? Not to mention he was the hardworking NASCAR enthusiast mechanic husband"Darnell" to the "Oh Hell Yes" sassy author but loving wife and mother Maya Wilkes (Golden Brooks) on one of my favorite sitcoms Girlfriends. He also starred in Showtime's The Tiger Woods Story, Zoo Man, and Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls. He is actor and playwright Khalil Kain. We had a profound conversation about his current projects, longevity in entertainment, his life as an educator, gun violence in America, and what's next for him. Plus, he has a Black Belt in Hapkido like me!
So here's how it all went down.....
What have you been up to recently?
When I first got back to New York from Los Angeles I did an event it was the 20 Year Anniversary of Juice. So we had a party and I arranged a free screening up in the neighborhood up in Harlem where we shot the movie at the Magic Johnson Theater. I wanted to find an organization to give some money to. There is this organization called Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E they counsel parents mostly women after they have lost a child to gun violence. I thought this was an interesting tie in to the 20 year anniversary of the film. Considering that was kind of the subject matter of the movie. So it was nice to be able to talk to the kids and the mothers considering "Raheem's" killed in the movie but here I stood and we discussed it. While I was there and I still work with them even now 5 years later. Hearing the stories of some of the mothers and what they went thru is unreal. The woman that runs the organization actually lost 2 sons to gun violence. Me being a parent I found it to be incomprehensible to lose a child like that. To have a child murdered on the street I couldn't even wrap my brain around it. But I talked to them but I remember telling this one woman who said that all she wanted was for this pain to go away. I told her honestly that's not going to happen ever your just going to have to learn to manage it. That was an interesting afternoon for me. So I walked away a couple of years later and I still had these ideas rolling around in my brain. So I wrote a play called Lambs to Slaughter about a single mother who lost her son to gun violence and how she navigates her mourning process. She has a friend who lives upstairs from her who is vested in her well-being and she also has a man that she used to mess with back in the day who is now doing better for himself who wants to be there for her. All the while she's alone in this apartment where her and her son use to live but now her dead son is haunting the apartment. I've done a reading for it already and its been very well received so far. Now we are going to perform it in front of an audience later this month. So this is the kind of work I've been doing. I've been teaching at the Harlem School of the Arts where I have been teaching Drama to teenagers and I'm kind of living a life being creative.
How do you combat these issues? This is a civil rights issue. If young men of color are murdered in the streets the government doesn't give a shit. How do you deal with that? What can we do as a people to better that situation, to make that go away, or to allow us to live as civilized human beings in the most civilized country in the world supposedly? For me there is no practical answer to that question of how to get something done so the only resource I have as an artist is to write about it. Hopefully someone will be inspired and move to action. - Khalil Kain
How do you feel about social media?
Anybody can be a hero on social media and everyone is feeling important now. Most of them are not doing much outside of taking pictures and posting. That just sort of I don't know the best way to describe except it is a masturbatory exercise. Today they are behind you 100% very passionate and next week not so much. I don't understand why we are like that especially Black folks. I don't know. For me I'm much more comfortable speaking to 5 or 10 people versus speaking to a 1,000 via Twitter or whatever. I've noticed the intimacy of that sort of interaction lasts longer. I loved what Jesse William's said on BET the other day it was an amazing speech. Finally, somebody telling the truth and speaking from the heart on how they feel as well as talking about what they know from experience. But again I noticed on social media that everyone was posting pictures of him saying how beautiful he is and how much they love him and his speech. But do they really get what he's talking about? Are they starting to research what he's talking about? Are they thinking about how they can step in to do something about what he's talking about? That's not happening. It's difficult to mobilize at this point. Nobody's getting up off of the couch. I tend to kind of stay quiet and I've been a bit awkward in that way. I'm not attention hungry and I enjoy my craft. I love to get up on stage to perform especially if it's a work of substance. I don't feel the need to be "on" all the time. I just feel like for anything to really change there's going to have to be revolution and until that's like in motion then I'm just hanging back. I'm just really trying to enjoy my life, my family, and stay out of trouble. I was speaking to an audience about a year ago of about 200 teenagers. I told them I would give them a $100 if they could find a solid story on me in the tabloids or TMZ. Who got something? Nothing.
That was not a film that I really wanted to do only because I knew the play, the story, and I knew how harsh it was. Again, you have to consider what you're portraying. That rape scene with Anika Noni Rose and I that was a long day of shooting. Tyler Perry only used maybe a 1/5 of what we shot so for Anika and myself we had to do some pretty nasty things to get a few minutes of screen time. To this day I have seen her 2 or 3 times since then its cool but it's not like hey and that's horrible. But I remember my agent telling me because I said no Robi Reed called back that Tyler really wants to see you Khalil. I was like I am not really feeling this whole thing. I first auditioned for Michael Ealy's role but as a parent that messed with my spirit. I was like I don't know about this so I said no. So my agent told me if you want to work in a movie this year you need to go see Tyler because there is nothing else on the books that is right for you. That's a fact I have to deal with because there are not many roles. It was not about being picky I need to work I need to feed my kids and pay my rent. My sister had the cover of Essence of all the guys on her wall but the decisions we have to make aren't always artistic ones.
I really admire that about you that you're not in the tabloids or reality television. How do you feel about appearing on reality TV?
I respect the art of what we do as a people. Like Jesse said "the magic of what we do" so much that I could not possibly do something like that. It's a trap that's been laid by the hustle of Hollywood and they know the system that is in place they have understood quickly that those types of portrayals cannot only marginalize the Black entertainers but in turn marginalize the people who watch them easily. Its worked like a charm. If you think that the money these people are getting is worth that level of marginalization it's really not even remotely close.
It's awkward for me these days because I get approached all the time. When I'm teaching up in Harlem people see me so they want to take pictures and get autographs. They ask what am I doing now but because I'm not in a big studio movie or new sitcom their not that interested. They don't seem to understand that the racism they deal with as a normal civilians is the same that entertainers are dealing with everyday. So if you know that this is the system how do you deal with that when you know you're getting screwed at every turn?- Khalil Kain
I think its wonderful that you are out in the community doing this great work. How does it make you feel?
I need it to be clear and known that I do this for myself. This is not some evangelist going out to help the community but this makes me feel good. It's a way of expressing myself and this is the way I feel comfortable expressing myself as an artist. We did an adaption of Medea the Greek classic and I played Jason. We did it with students from the Harlem School of the Arts. So myself and another instructor Tracy Johnson played Medea which she was wonderful in it. The show was up for a month and a half at the theater at the Harlem School of the Arts it was just us with these young women who killed it they were so good. It made me feel great because I understood how much they learned in 2 and half months. I was jealous of them because I thought to myself I wished when I was 14 I would have had the opportunity to work with a professional and learn a Greek tragedy. This is the type of work that will stick with them when they are older. There were several of them that could get down that were serious not playing and our stage manager was 13 years old her name is Cherish. If she chooses that as a career, which she damn well could, she can say her first time as a stage manager she was 13 for the play Medea.
People from the community came to see the play. Tank came to a show one night we use to play on the same basketball league in L.A and his daughter attends the school. Still I could see the looks on people's faces like you should be doing something bigger. It is what it is. Unless you're doing what you really want to be doing it's going to be uncomfortable especially in the entertainment industry its rough. - Khalil Kain
Take Girlfriends for example wonderful show. Well-written show, smart, four beautiful Black women where their characters were treated with dignity and class. A show that was on the air for 8 seasons not 3 but 8 seasons. Your talking about an established product that was just taken off of the air. No season finale, no just cancelled, but unceremoniously just cause they felt like it. Did you ever hear of a notice or sorry so unfortunate that this show has to go off of the air?
How does it feel to be type cast in Hollywood?
As an actor you better hope that you get type cast especially if you're a person of color. Then Hollywood will know what to do with you. Somebody like me they had no idea what to do with me.
What has been your key to longevity in acting?
You have to be willing to stay. I'm talking about a sick sting and iron jaw you can't get knocked out. They may be able to knock you down but you get back up and start swinging some more. That's really what it's all about and you gotta know that you have something to offer. When I say that not only your fans, community, and to the art the craft. That you have something to add to the pot that will be cooking even when we are not around. We still look at Sidney Poitier's work, Harry Belafonte's work, Richard Pryor's work, and I love it 20 years later I walk down the street then somebody yells "Yo Raheem". I love it. I've had friends ask me if I were annoyed by it but after over 20 years that character "Raheem" stuck with that man. That's love. I'm flattered by it.
Khalil Kain is a member of the Board of the City College Center of the Arts. He was previously teaching a course there called the Responsibility of Imagery.
Khalil Kain's story is one of inspiration and passion. He's living in his purpose daily and being true to his craft as an actor. The lesson he has so vividly taught me is to live my life loving what I do. As a writer that speaks volumes to me and his career has lasted because he was willing to do the work that it takes to stay. Hollywood is a place where for actors your dreams can become reality on the silver screen. It's interesting to hear the experiences like Khalil's of staying power in this industry. It makes me wonder how is our culture as people of color being represented in Hollywood? We are now living in the modern age of social media but our cultural presence in entertainment has not been respectfully represented at times on-screen. The "craft" of acting that Khalil was referring to has now become jaded with the rise of reality star celebrities and Instagram socialites in my opinion. We are seeing less positive images portrayed of our community that internally is dealing with the affliction of gun violence, murder, rape, single parenthood, drugs, and HIV/AIDS. There is a new generation being born but will they know the works of Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, or Khalil Kain. So how can we as a people be more vocal about our presence in Hollywood?
In his down time he's spending time with those that mean the most to him, his adorable dog, and that has been his place of serenity nowadays.
For more information on the Harlem School of the Arts visit http://hsanyc.org/.
For more information about Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E visit http://www.harlemmotherssave.org/
Until next time Ladies & Gentleman this is The Lux Blog - K. Knight