*Comedian George Wallace co-stars in what he describes as a “feel-good” drama, “Jerico,” which follows two best friends who journey through the Jim Crow south to purse their dreams of becoming comedians. The legendary Irma P. Hall (“Soul Food”), “True Blood’s” Gregg Daniel, “Black & Sexy TV’s” Numa Perrier, and Jo Marie Payton (“Family Matters”), who can also currently be seen on Bounce TV’s “Mann & Wife,” co-star in the feature that Wallace says is especially important for young folks to see because “You’re going to see some history, and then you’re going to see some things that are happening today. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
EUR/Electronic Urban Report chatted with Mr. Wallace about southern progression, Stacy Dash, Donald Trump, and we explored how “Jerico” is reflective of our tense racial climate today.
“It’s gonna feel the same in 1964 as it does today,” Wallace said of the types of emotions this film will provoke. “We’re not equal yet. That black but equal thing don’t work for us.”
Executive produced by leading man Brandon Lewis – who won “Best Actor” at the Cannes Pan African Film Festival – and Seckeita Lewis, Wallace sets-up the plot for “Jerico,” saying: “Here’s a man that works at the paper mill at the factory. He knows the job and the machinery better than anyone else, and they wanted to promote him but the town went crazy. There’s going to be no black supervisor, no black man is ever going to tell a white man what do to. That’s the problem and that’s when it all starts.”
According to IMDB trivia, there is a sequence in the film that involves several Klansman, and the actors portraying these characters were outfitted on the side of a busy South Dallas street by black women, causing some of the locals to stop and question if the Klan had come back to town.
George: I did live in this world of Jim Crow. I’m from Atlanta, Georgia. Fortunately, Atlanta is a progressive city because a lot of Jews lived here, as you saw in the move “Driving Miss Daisy.” So it was more progressive. Plus Dr. King living in Atlanta, we did not have as many problems as some of the other cities, even Chicago. As Martin Luther Kind said, Chicago is the most racist city – the worse city he had gone to. We didn’t have the problems that they had in Birmingham, Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama. However, living in the South, we did touch it in Atlanta. I did ride the back of the bus. I have sat at a segregated counter at Woolworth’s, and that chicken was good too.
We never had any real major problems with the whites in Atlanta because Atlanta was also at the same time, the New York of the South. We had our own black neighborhoods. People don’t know about this, in Atlanta, we always had black doctors, black teachers, lawyers – black everything. When I got to college at the University of Akron Ohio, they didn’t know anything. They were never taught any black history whatsoever. They don’t know “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Some kids still don’t know that today – about the progressing and rising from the Jim Crow era. And it still exists today in so many ways.
Back in the day, when a policeman would kill a black man – Negro back then – he was right. There was no question about it. He was the judge and the jury right there on the spot. And pretty much now, I can say things have changed but look what police brutality is getting today. The policeman shooting these kids. It didn’t stop.
I just said to someone the other day, ‘Well, you never see them make a mistake and shoot a Jewish kid.’ They’re taught and trained to hate and already to punish an African-American man. I was telling my best friend Jerry Seinfeld, he says “Why do you guys feel so bad about the police?’ Because that’s all we know is brutality.
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How did you get involved with “Jerico”?
George: They called me because they wanted me to do this piece. It’s somewhat of a serious piece. I was a club owner. I own the night club but I don’t get too much involved into the civil matters that’s going on in the city. But it got to be pretty bad to where the white people are killing our kids and harassing our kids and raping our kids, and it just got to the point where we had come together and have a meeting. I was one of the leaders of the meeting, but they said we’re going to have to go down and protest and they volunteered me to lead the protests, and I was like, ‘I ain’t doing a damn thing. I ain’t going! I’ll tell ya how to do it!
At this point, Mr. Wallace reveals too much about the plot that we won’t post so not to spoil it for you, but the conversation turns to the “exhaustive” attitude many people have about the subject of black oppression, slavery and racism constantly being explored in films.
There are people who are exhausted by films that explore themes of black oppression and racism, and they may not be driven to watch this film. So tell us, why is “Jerico” an important story to tell now?
George: Because you need to know your history. That’s why I became angry with Stacy Dash saying we need to get rid of black history month and all become one race. We can’t forget what we’ve gone through. We just got Harriet Tubman on the dollar. This is progress we’re making. God bless us, and we’re still not in control. Putting Harriet Tubman on the dollar was still the white man’s decision. There’s things black people need to know that we invented, like the red light and air conditioning. Black kids need to know about the struggle. We’ve done a lot to get them to where they are today. They need to know this history and this movie will show you that.
There was a time when you were interested in politics. Do you still have political aspirations?
George: That was a joke. I would’ve been Donald Trump. [He] is doing what I was talking about. I’m a professional BSer, and we can see each other a mile away and around the corner. That’s what we do, we make up lies. That’s why we know Donald Trump is a BSer. He talks a lot. Talking loud and saying nothing, as James Brown would say. And it sounds good, and we still got ignorant people following him. A lot of the ignorant people are poor people that Donald Trump have nothing for them to offer. He’s just a rich man who is in it for himself and other rich people. They’re saying some things that white people want to hear. That just shows you how racist the country still is. Anytime you see a party of people together and you don’t see a lot of us, it’s something wrong. Republican party screwed itself 8 years ago when the tea party came in and they’re against any progression and civil rights.
What’s the key piece of advice you find yourself often offering to aspiring comedians?
George: It’s not comedians, it’s everybody. Make sure you enjoy your life. Don’t listen to your counselors in school because you get an A in English, or an A in math, doesn’t mean you should be working in the field. You should enjoy what you love, And when you enjoy what you love doing, you never have a job. Honor your essence. Get out there and show people you love what you do. It’s not how much money you make. It’s how you enjoy your life while you’re living. It’s not too late for people to change. It’s like I told my Aunt Ruby, she keeps her good silverware up in the attic. I said, ‘Aunt Ruby, take that silverware down and use it everyday. You’re gonna die and your kids are gonna sell that silverware.’ We do crazy things in the house. How many of you grew up with that set of towels in the house that you bet not never ever touch? We gotta change our way of living. Make sure you enjoy your life. All of the young comedians that are coming up, just be true to yourself. Be you. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, if you want to be street sweeper, be the best street sweeper. There was an article in USA Today (about) New York garbage collectors making $112,000 a year. It stinks but it smells good.
“Jerico” continues to work its way through the festival circuit, and the film is being shopped for distribution. The next screening is at the Riverside Film Festival on May 14.