[Editor's Note: James “Nocando” McCall is a critically acclaimed rapper, co-founder of the Low End Theory and founder of indie rap label Hellfyre Club. Here's his previous piece, about why he loves public transportation.]
Dear Morgan Freeman,
I’d like to start off this letter by saying that I am a fan of your work and you are a master of your craft. The first time I can remember being emotionally affected by a movie that didn't have animated characters in it was Glory. I was like seven at the time and understood very little about anything then, but you get it.
When I look at you I see Super-grandfather. At any moment you can pull a quarter from behind the world’s ear, or take us all on a fishing trip and bless us with an analogy about how getting what you want out of life is akin to understanding the process of fishing. Your eyes project rays of patience and wisdom.
A few other African American actors are also branded this way in my head. When I think Sam Jackson, I think the fun uncle that gives us our first taste of beer and has young hot girlfriend with a big weave that smells like Newports. Taraji P. Henson is the seemingly strong aunt that will most likely cry-hug us before the night’s over.
But here's the thing. Every time I see that you are gonna be in a movie, I can be almost certain that you are going to help a white person find themselves or help them overcome a great obstacle.
I understand that there is a term for this already. I'd rather not repeat it. I understand that this has been said before about you. I do not want to go in on that.
I know that when trying to sell art, we need to rely on familiarity. Sometimes old, deeply ingrained, broad stereotypes sell tickets to a broad audience. And that audience will most likely include people who have very little understanding of the black American world outside of what they see in media. To ensure success, we gotta stick to the script sometimes.
I fight the same struggles as an artist. A song or a music video treatment that has been done a million times before will be received swimmingly, while doing something true to myself will only elicit a reaction from a handful of hardcore fans.
In the words of the modern philosopher Drizzy Drake: “I get it, I get it, your hustle don't ever go unnoticed, if you're with it I'm with it.”
Playing a wise old black character helping a white character achieve their goals is easy money, man. Jay-Z wants to rhyme like Common Sense – then he did five mil and hasn't been common since.
As far as these kind of roles, we have seen you play:
- An inmate that helps another inmate figure out how to survive/adjust.
- A driver for a crabby old lady.
- A good cop to another's bad cop.
- A weapons engineer for a billionaire playboy/superhero.
- An alcoholic expert military lawyer to an inexperienced private lawyer.
- A scientist that helped a blonde super ScarJo (Who shouldn't really need help at all) deal with her superiority.
- A God to Jim Carrey, Steve Carell and a fucking Lego action figure
- And last but not least: A cheerleader of some sort for a handicapped dolphin.
I know that you've played a variety of roles, but these seem like the type you do the most. It would warm my heart (and many other’s) to see you use your wise, sage-like powers to help a few other types of folk in your roles, Gramps. Maybe some black people. Maybe not. Hell, maybe yourself if you want.
Here's some ideas:
How about you play an old jazz man that helps a young hip-hop producer discover a new level of musicality and avoid the pitfalls of the dog-eat-dog music industry.
How about you play a wise triple OG that gets out of prison only to see that the new street gangs have no order and leadership, so you are reluctantly drawn back into the streets to instill morals in the young thugs with an efficiency and honor that only the old school could provide.
How about you play a coyote that smuggles would-be illegal immigrants across the border and gets them past Minutemen and puts them up on America from a wise old sage-like black man's point of view.
I dunno, How about you play a man who has to overcome an obstacle and does it.
I'm just saying that at this point you have transcended race in the hearts of American moviegoers and become everyone’s wise old grandfather. There's no one wiser on the silver screen than you.
I think the work you do in the roles you have is amazing. You help characters undergo amazing transformations, like become heroes, or better fathers, or happier people, period. It is inspiring, even if it is just in the movies.
I believe that fictional characters of all races could use that help and real people of all races could benefit from seeing it.
Thanks for everything that you have done and I applaud you for your amazing career.
James Nocando McCall
P.S. Bill Cosby wishes he was Joe Clark sooooooo bad.