‘American Fiction’ Filmmaker Cord Jefferson Talks to Robert Townsend, Who Went There First With ‘Hollywood Shuffle’

Townsend: Well, here’s the thing, we have made a lot of progress. There are more showrunners [of color], more creatives [of color] than ever. There are people of color running the studios. Orion, which produced American Fiction, is run by a woman of color. But I still think there’s… Okay, so I vote for the Academy, right? So we get the list of movies, let’s say 386 movies were made. I go through the list and I look at all the movies, and then out of that crop, there are maybe 25 movies that everybody will be talking about. And then I look at all the films of color, like, “Okay, how many black movies were made?”

And then how many were painted on a different canvas? Not many. And then I go, “Is there a quality control problem?” So I think about Hollywood Shuffle and I know we planted a lot of seeds, because the film continues to play, [and] actors talk about, “Man, I went to an audition and the line was right out of Hollywood Shuffle, and the casting director didn’t even know.”

And so the beautiful thing about films is that once they’re out there, people continue to watch them and new ideas are planted. And it’s funny, because I didn’t even think about it until you’re talking about the ending of Hollywood Shuffle and American Fiction, because there is that relationship with his brother, because then it’s like, “We are in this together.”

And let me just say this too, about the journey, because Cord, right now, this is the moment. This is a beautiful moment. When I was having my moment, you get every script in the world. and everybody goes, “This one, this one, this one!”

And the real deal is that a lot of the stuff doesn’t resonate with you, because you created something that you were passionate about. And I said no and I continue to say no to stuff, because at the end of the day, you better love. If you’re going to spend two years on a movie, you better love that movie, because if you take the check and it’s not the right thing, that’s the little scary part. If you say, “Well, yeah, I think I could do an epic movie about Buckwheat [from the Little Rascals]” and sell your soul… right now, with you, Cord, the world is yours now, so it’s like, how do you move? How are you going to move?

Because you got the gift and now it’s like, well, what is your body of work going to look like going forward? And that’s the little crazy part, because you made the movie and you knew what you wanted to say. And yeah, there’s people in your ear, but at the end of the day… When I watched the film, I was like, you have a steady hand with the material, with the actors. Jeffrey Wright was so pliable, everybody was pliable in your hands, they had never— even Leslie Uggams—they had never been better. So now my only thing is, can we get more of that? More of whatever’s in your brain, authentic, true to you, on the next canvas? Because Hollywood’s going to offer you everything and then you got to go, “I don’t want to do that,” and [someone will say], “So you don’t want to do this movie about the Pimp Man?”

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