Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): A major congrats to you on your accomplishments in film! You’ve been featured in four films this year already including Baywatch with The Rock and No Regrets with Brian White and Monica Calhoun. With nearly 15 years in cinema under your belt, what do you believe has been one of your greatest accomplishments both personally and professionally thus far?
Amin Joseph (AJ): First off, I would like to thank Hurt 2 Healing magazine for interviewing me. I’m excited to get to know your audience.
My greatest accomplishment thus far in the film and television industry is producing and starring my own action film Call Me King released in 2015. It can still be found on Netflix. Personally, I’m always evolving and filled with gratitude for each moment of sound mind, body, and spirit. That, in and of itself is an accomplishment to me.
EM: How did you become interested in acting? What film do you consider your “big break” into cinema, and what has it been like seeing yourself on screen?
AJ: I became interested in acting at a very young age doing school plays and watching television and movies with my family. I don’t really consider anything a “big break” as I view the entire career as a process, like a flow. Some days or some years are better than others, but the goal to make quality entertainment stays the same.
EM: What principles and core values were you raised with that you consciously took with you in your profession? How have they been a contrition to your growth and success to date?
AJ: Principles and core values are very important to me, although I realize the industry or certain projects may not always align with my code. That does not deter me. I think it is very important to know who you are and what you stand for. There isn’t enough ink for the many lessons my father, mother, and community (Harlem) have bestowed upon me. It made me the man that I am today. However, I am also aware that sometimes for my own personal development I must not be afraid to question my own beliefs. In short, being punctual, being a man of my word, and being an enthusiastic giver to my fellow artists are hardcore values I correlate to my success.
EM: What aspects of this industry surprised you the most, both in a positive way as well as disappointments?
AJ: What surprised me most about the industry? Perhaps, I was naïve to think that artists have the best interests of each other in Hollywood. Now it could be because of the competitive nature, spawned out of the perception of limited opportunity and the frequency of that competition. But, the lack of Black corporations, entrepreneurs, distributors, and financiers is abysmal. Although Hollywood isn’t a Black American construct, we’ve played the game long enough to have better results. I’m always a person that can be reached to move the needle and community forward.
EM: I’m glad you brought that up. There has been a lot of focus on diversity in Hollywood, mostly the lack therefore. As a Black man, what challenges have you encountered concerning the various roles you’ve auditioned for and did not land?
AJ: Yes in recent years there has been a frantic push for diversity. I have benefited as an actor most recently as some of the bigger networks have profited from a more multi-cultural platform. Personally, I think diversity is cool, however, I rather ownership. As a filmmaker and an actor that believes in empowering filmmakers of color, why would I need to be the diverse token in something that wasn’t meant to portray my sensibilities? That’s not exciting and refreshing. I much rather see Black producers and directors own their content and distribute directly to the consumer enjoying the integrity and fruits of their labor.
EM: Absolutely! So understanding how film impacts various trends, life imitating art, are there any particular roles that you are determined to avoid or turn down? If so which types of roles and why?
AJ: Choice is a powerful thing. There are no victims. As an artist, I’m first open to possibility. That being said, there’s certain things that I’m not going to do. It really depends on the level of consciousness that I have when approached with any said project. Where am I in my life? What is my spiritual stance of the moment? These things have changed over the 25 years I’ve envisioned this profession. I’m sure it will continue to evolve.
EM: To be very frank, there has been a surge in roles that I’ve seen mostly Black men play that are either incredibly disrespectful to women, emasculating, or lacking substance in general compared to their white counterparts. For instance Dr. Boyce Watkins recently spoke on the increased amount of Black men in film who are made to wear dresses and portray feminine roles compared to the number of white male actors. This also goes for Black female actors acquiring roles that seem to degrade and over sexualize her or paint her as the bitter/angry Black woman compared to their white counterparts or other ethnicities in general. Being on the inside, what has it been like for you and for your fellow actors facing challenges like these? How do you navigate these realities?
AJ: I’ve played saints, I’ve played demons. There’s no amount of money that can get me to do something that I don’t want to do and there’s no lack of money that will prevent me from doing something I want to do. In such a visual medium I understand why actors receive praise as well as critique for their choices. There aren’t many jobs where accountability, believability, the choice of role, historical context, current events, and award nomination all fall under the scrutiny of a passive, somewhat informed, audience. I am not of any expectation that entertainment, not created of my own hand, should by default enrich my soul. With that perspective, I challenge audiences not to consume the content.
I would assume an actor of a religious faith would deny playing a role against their defined code just as the audience member of the that same faith wouldn’t want to consume that entertainment. But that is me only speculating. The truth is I am only accountable for my own decisions. In my opinion, there are no limits to Black roles other than the limitation we are putting on ourselves. No matter negatively or positively perceived no one is forced to play a role.
EM: In a recent publication written by Dr. Wesley Muhammad entitled ‘Understanding the Assault on The Black Man, Black Manhood and Black Masculinity‘, he discusses how Black men who are feminized are seen as non-threatening and weak to white heterosexuals, thus easy to control. In film we know how powerful representation is and to continuously put out the image of weak Black men is liken unto killing the natural essence of God in him who is strong, protective, fearless, intelligent, courageous, and powerful. What are your thoughts?
AJ: It’s vital to keep my individual integrity. However, I’m always aware of the reality of me being a Black man in America and in Hollywood. See, I have made a film independently financed out of my own pocket for my people and they didn’t even go see it as much as these mainstream programs you speak of. On top of that I risk, if you will, being ostracized by mainstream Hollywood. Quite honestly, I don’t have time to fight emasculating images coming from other content creators, regardless of their agenda. I spend my time trying to trick my own audiences into seeing positive, soulful, feminine, and masculine images of their own likeness. It’s so easy to talk about what’s wrong and what the white man is doing, but my question is who wants to finance and advertise my next film?
That being said, the examples that you are speaking of are the reality of this country. It affects every Black performer in entertainment and away has. As mentioned before, I have a film that I made in 2015 with an all Black powerful cast. An action film with Black men and Black women being treated with dignity, and when examples are of them being treated otherwise, the offenders pay the price.
EM: Please correct me if I’m wrong, but there seem to be few Black filmmakers to create roles for Black actors that are respectful, dignified and strong. Mark Harris, whom you are currently working with, is one of those filmmakers. What has it been like working with him and his style/approach to Black roles in film?
AJ: I agree Mark Harris is a brilliant filmmaker that is dedicated to promoting a positive and creative narrative of our people each time at the theater. I don’t agree that there aren’t a lot of people like him though. If audiences search for Black content creators the way they do for exclusively released designer shoes, all of our content creators would be billionaires. There are plenty of Black filmmakers on every continent of this planet always creating and releasing new content. Unfortunately, some label these productions and content as less than or inferior and thus they have a lack of audiences.
Back to Mark, it’s always a pleasure to collaborate with him. It’s easy when you have the same vision and your collaborator has your back. Mark and I share a similar outlook on entrepreneurship, quality, efficiency, and humility among many other things. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him twice. I feel we have a knack for portraying Black men that are well-rounded with depth together.
EM: What message would you offer aspiring actors who just want to get their foot in the door, how to be patient without compromising?
AJ: Well this is my favorite part. What would I tell aspiring actors? Know your craft better than you know your hobby. Say if basketball is your hobby, most would be able to name all of the NBA teams, but if you ask the average actor to name 29 studio executives they ALL come up short. Train until you become insane and that’s when the brilliant stuff starts happening. I personally don’t believe in compromise so make bold choices.
EM: Awesome advice! Thank you very much for your insight and for your perspective on ownership in film. May Allah bless you with success in your craft and to inspire others.
AJ: Same to you sister. Thank you for the opportunity to share with your audience!