When John Singleton’s semi-autobiographical FX Snowfall series first debuted, it was about some kids from the projects selling pot behind their elders’ backs from Stingray bikes in South Central Los Angeles. Now that the show is wrapping up, the family saga has exploded into a $72 million drug war fueled by the CIA that tells a tragic tale about how the crack epidemic destroyed a community. In the sixth and final season of the Snowfall saga, a civil war threatens to destroy the Saint family led by Franklin, played by Damson Idris, his Aunt Louie (Angela Lewis) and her husband Jerome (Amin Joseph).
Rage, regret, love and savage behavior come to a head with some devastating results for fans. Franklin is faced with losing everyone he loves, everything he’s built, and getting through it will mean out-maneuvering the KGB, the DEA and the CIA, as well as avoiding the LAPD’s corrupt C.R.A.S.H units. There will be some shockers and there will be dark nights of the soul, as every action has a consequence.
Singleton was the first Black American nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director in 1992 for Boyz n the Hood. He died unexpectedly in the middle of the series in April of 2019 in the aftermath of a stroke, but the show he co-created with Eric Amadio and Dave Andron never missed a beat in its continuity and deep understanding of the L.A. he grew up in.
“John always had a way of putting people in position for them to succeed,” says Joseph, who makes his directorial debut in one of the final and most pivotal episodes. “He was really a person that had a lot of forethought. When people say John gave us this story and we knew the story, we were able to run the play. He is sorely missed without a doubt, but he put enough people in place that we were able to continue on with integrity. You can’t replace a monument of a man like that, but he really left things in place. He did that throughout the entire group of us, from the grip and electric crew to the producers and actors. Each was hand-picked by John and he put them in place. We kept with the integrity that he left us. We never felt rudderless.”
A great part of the allure of the show for Angelenos is meticulous nostalgic detail to the early ‘80s-era clothes, gold chains, locations and Jerome Saint’s Jheri Curl. It’s filmed almost exclusively on locations throughout Los Angeles that still exist from the ‘80s, including dozens of restaurant scenes at Hawkin’s House of Burgers, The HMS Bounty and Astro’s Family Restaurant, as well as The Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights and signature Compton cottages. Streets are lined with period cars. The amazing attention to detail suspends any sort of disbelief.
Loyalty is another strong key element of the show, with Joseph’s character displaying the same sort of unrealistic undying love for wife Louie that you find in the Yellowstone relationship between Beth Dutton and Rip Wheeler, something that Joseph acknowledges as a winning formula.
“Selfishly, as a black actor, it was really important playing a flawed drug dealer to try and infuse as much humanity to create a three dimensional portrayal,” says Joseph, who was born to Antiguan parents in Queens, New York, and is a Howard University graduate.
“Often, when we look at people who are the pariahs and underbelly of society, their character is called into question,” he says. “Sure, they can do this bad thing because they’re a bad person. I think life is a bit more nuanced than that. With Jerome and Louie, while they might argue, I thought that it was really important that they have a connection and bond that was bigger than the next drug drop. He has an undying love for her and, yes, it is toxic and dysfunctional, but it is passionate and eternal. That’s something both Angela and I were very intentional about. You care about them. When you have people that love each other and won’t leave their side because they made a poor decision or have a checkered past. It’s true in our stories but probably hard to live up to in real life.”
Joseph directs episode eight out of 10, right at the climax of the end of the Snowfall story, with factions warring against each other, including the CIA, DEA and KGB all within the cross hairs of the main protagonist. The stakes have never been higher for the show in which all the characters have evolved – for better or for worse.
“Working with Amin was the closest thing to working with John,” Gail Bean, who plays Wanda on the show, tells L.A. Weekly. “John was the only director who was keenly knowledgeable about the storyline and its characters. Every other director may come in and out, not sure if they’d watched other episodes. John personally knew these characters in this world, in this city, in this time period. He created this from something real and Amin has been there from day one. It’s real to him. He was able to move so effortlessly throughout the scenes to be able to direct and allow us the space to breathe and be ourselves. Shooting with him was fun. In between scenes he’d play music off the boom box and make sure everybody’s happy to be there. It gave us a very nostalgic feeling of when John was there on set. He’s definitely an actor’s director.”
Isaiah John, who plays Franklin’s loyal friend Leon, has been on the critically acclaimed show since the first episode alongside Joseph, Idris and Singleton, and credits Joseph with directorial instinct since the pilot episode.
“I’ve had so many moments with Amin before his directing episode,” says John. “My performance in the finale of season two in the jail scene would not have been performed the way it ended up if it wasn’t for Amin. It was fine, but he urged me to go all out and really let loose with the emotions of this character. He has a way of communicating to actors what he sees in a scene and is very open to hearing what we have to say. He has a gift he’s just starting to tap into. My performance was definitely heightened because of those conversations. It was amazing to work with him as a director; it’s very instinctive for him.”
As the series comes to an end, it will have a noticeable effect on jobs in the local Black and Brown communities of L.A. Hundreds of cast and crew were employed on the show, as well as the businesses in the inner city neighborhoods where it was filmed.
“The absence of Snowfall will leave a void in certain communities when it’s over,” says Joseph, who also currently plays Mohammed in the film To Live and Die and Live produced by Forest Whittaker. “The season during the pandemic, we shifted more work onto sound stages, but the majority of what we do is on location. During that season, we found our way to still be impactful to local neighborhoods and created an economy for them.”
The Singleton legacy will live on and the cast collectively agrees that the legendary producer and screenwriter would be 100% satisfied with the season finale and the tale it tells about his neighborhood and thoughts of what it may have been like without a crack epidemic and the effect it had on families and communities.
“John was a really good storyteller,” says Joseph of some of his fondest memories. “He loved to sail. One of my favorite pastimes was to go out on his boat with him on a regular afternoon and watch the sunset. We’d crack open a bottle of wine and he’d tell me stories. He said one day I’d be a great director and was so encouraging and supportive. He was such a charismatic and energetic force. He was enchanted with the possibility of creating more and being more and standing up for something. He was a true renaissance man. I really miss that perspective more than anything. I always relied on his point of view and the opportunity to debate that. It was an honor living in the shadow of someone as dynamic as him.”
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