“Power” Star Omari Hardwick On Kanye, Ava DuVernay & Obama

Transcript of Zon D’Amour and Omari Hardwick’s interview during the Los Angeles tour stop of “Real to Reel” presented by Gentleman Jack. 

Zon D’Amour: I read that you’re mentoring a lot of young men, including several NBA and NFL athletes. What is something that you believe black men aren’t getting enough of that you are helping to instill and empower within them?
Omari Hardwick: That’s easy, compliments. And not, non-true compliments but actual, ‘I love you’s’. It’s horrible when a young African American male finds it cool or acceptable to give another young man a compliment but preferences it with, “no homo”. [For example] “No homo, I like your shoes. No homo, but I think you’re a really good actor.” That makes me want to vomit so I would imagine it’s because we haven’t been fostered or administered in giving each other, not only compliments but in allowing each other to say, without feeling some kind of way, “I love you brother” to each other.

Equally, young black men are suffering from fathers not being at home. So it starts with that—is it the chicken or the egg? The genesis of it all is that we don’t have enough fathers at home. We’re leaving the job to coaches or mentors, that’s where we come into play. Those of us who’ve been God ordained to have stages or microphones that have a substantial size to it, we can reach back and help those that look like us and aid them but it’s because there aren’t enough fathers at home. And those that are home should be saying, ‘Hey man, I’m mad at you for doing “x” wrong but I love that you did “x” right and while we’re on the subject of love, I love you. We need more compliments and to be loved on by each other better.

ZD: You mentioned that before “Power”, people were telling you how great you were but you didn’t embrace it. Why do you think people don’t live…you said in quote, “…You can’t run from who God made you [to be]”. So why do you think some people don’t live up to their full potential? There are some people with such creativity: talented actors, singers, performers, but the way bills are set up, they subdue their goals to chase the dollar. Outside of the bills, why don’t people believe in themselves enough to do what they’re passionate about?
First of all, that’s a very good question. The generation that you are in, hats off to you for figuring out business to the point of, ‘we need money’. None of us [including] my generation even to yours have savings but the coin is being chased by you guys. In terms of not chasing that which God made you to be, that’s a different subject. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we come from brown communities and culturally, we are very much trapped by the phenomenon of the ‘crabs in a barrel mentality’. And for some of us, whether it be Allen Iverson, who’s a dear friend of mine, whether it be me, Omari, and anyone else that I’m representing, we’re oftentimes paying way too much attention to “mamma and them” and that doesn’t necessarily include your literal, biological kinfolk but also the people you grew up in the neighborhood with. We’re way more concerned with what they think or if we get labeled ‘brand new’ by them one day. so we often carry around entourages that we shouldn’t have near us that should have been dropped off a long time ago.

“…We need more compliments and to be loved on by each other better. without feeling some kind of way [we should be able to say] “I love you brother” to each other.”

Make sure you stay focused on what is it you keep hearing God saying you have to be. I would go so far as to think that a young Barack Obama, even when wanting to be called “Barry”, did not wake up, even in the greater part of entering his forties, wanting to be the first African American President of a very dysfunctional country. I don’t think he wanted to do that, I think God keptsaying, ‘…Get ya ass up, this is what I need from you…’ And he had a great antenna in terms of how to select a queen. Michelle halfway ran the country when he was running it. It aids when you look to your right or your left on that bed and your pillow talk is with a very equal echoing human being that aids in you going, ‘…okay God, I gotta do it…’ But I think it’s hard as brown people to fully embrace what’s there for us.

White kids get to dress up as Batman and Superman until they’re fifteen at an airport. By the time we’re six, grandma is like, ‘alright, that’s it.’ Literally perhaps but even figuratively speaking, I was the poster child for not embracing all that was Omari. I was definitely good at doing it but I wasn’t embracing the things that I heard God say, ‘now these things are going to come with all that is you.’ That thing is hard for me, celebrity is hard for me. I moved to Denver, I’m odd. That’s the other thing, is being brown and being okay with being odd or being off beat or being different or dancing to the beat of your own drum…we’re a little bit too much into what the next person is doing, particularly the next person that looks like us.

We care too much about what everyone else thinks. One great thing about being apart of a village is that, it’s great to be apart of a village. One negative to being apart of a village is, you’re apart of a village. Our culture is definitely inhabited in the concept or the construct of the village and we’ve grown a little bit too far in one direction with that and that’s what makes it hard. But keep doing what you’re doing.

“Make sure you stay focused on what is it you keep hearing God saying you have to be.”

ZD: A lot of people think of you and they think, “Power”, that’s what they lean towards…
Young people…

ZD: A lot of “young people” think of you and they think “Power” but I loved your film “Chapter & Verse”. Can you take me back in your filmography and tell me about a project that you felt was underrated?
That’s so deep because one of my cast mates [Maurice Mo McRae] is here and he was the quarterback in “Gridiron Gang” (2006) That film slips under the cracks of people not knowing I was in that movie. I deem the character that I played in that film named “Free”, as sort of the precursor to some of the bad behavior of “Ghost” [in “Power”] Oftentimes if there’s a movie that I’ve Instagrammed or even in terms of my wife having snapped photos of a movie and putting it out, it’s typically “Gridiron Gang”.
“Next Day Air” with Wood Harris, Mike Epps, Donald Faizon, Darius McCrary and Mos Def, produced by Eddy Clemmons and directed by the great Benny Boom–that movie is more of a hood classic.
But there’s been some pretty special projects. “Middle of Nowhere” was pretty special to me. Being Ava [DuVerynay’s] second film. I was also in her first film, “I Will Follow” with Salli Richardson. My first movie was in ’03. Now we’re in 2018 so you know it’s typically the folks who are maybe south of 30 that are like, ‘Ghost! You just started working, right, homie?’ But I’ve been at it for a minute.

ZD: I saw a photo [on Instagram] when you were an extra in Family Matters…”
…It wasn’t “Family Matters” it was “In The House”. I was just saying in a previous interview that was so humbling for me because I don’t know the picture, I never knew that it was taken, I don’t know who took it. So it was humbling because you never know who’s watching.

ZD: I previously interviewed Michael Ealy when he starred in “The Perfect Guy” with Sanaa Lathan” and he said that was the first time he got to play a villain. He said in his early twenties, he was told he was too light skin to be a villain. Some people may presume that because you’re fair skin it’s easier in Hollywood for you. Because of your complexion, have you ever been typecast of felt that as an actor, you were limited in your roles?
I haven’t gone through what Mike [went through]. Obviously black people have a radiant of stunning color. So you have Michael Ealy and he’s a little bit lighter than Omari but my biological brother is a little bit darker than me. My father looks like my brother Maurice (Mo) McRae, my mom looks like Jasmine Guy so I never understood the color thing, I can’t stand it. I’m okay with having fun with it but I can’t really stand it if you’re severely stricken by that phenomenon that Willie Lynch perfected. We’re still aiding Willie Lynch in what he was trying to orchestrate in separating light skin niggas, raping the women and raping the dudes too…that’s the slave mentality that God bless him, Kanye [West]…in his inability to articulate, that’s what he really meant. He didn’t have enough information to back it up and he also didn’t have the ability to articulate what he meant, he hadn’t studied up on it. But what he meant was we’re often acting as slaves to this day.

The 2018 class of “Real To Reel” Filmmakers pose with Omari Hardwick at The Wiltern in Los Angeles.

In terms of white people bringing us into casting sessions, they have often thought, as my acting coach used to say, ‘if it walks and talks like a duck, it better be a duck’ what that means is if I’m a leading man by nature with all these gifts to be more of a character actor, if I physically look like a leading man, I have to embrace that. If I can get into the house with being a leading man then I can do all of the character work I want to do but you have to be who you are. If you walk and talk like a duck, you have to quack.
So, a lot of white people have this perception of if I got a Maurice McRae who’s darker skin than Omari and then I have Omari, the reality is, if they need to cast black person why wouldn’t I go with Maurice McRae? So Michael Ealy is speaking to the fact that not only is he light skin and perhaps lighter than Omari but he’s got blue eyes. It’s unfair because Malcolm X was one of the hardest niggas that I ever knew and he had green eyes with freckles and was a quadrant of white his mom was biracial.

So it’s really an old conversation and we really have had it way too much but definitely even within our diaspora of brownness, we have heard dark skin women say that they felt shut out. But then Cicely Tyson was Cicely Tyson so you can raise your hand all you want but there was no one bigger than Cicely when she was Cicely. So you may have felt a way growing up. You may have felt that light skin girls got looked and you didn’t but when I was growing up in the 90s, there were dark skin girls who were like, ‘Omari if you weren’t light skin, I would give you 30 shots.’ We are a very lost people. So God bless us, [because] we are beautifully lost.
So Michael Ealy is absolutely correct that however we decided that a thug or a hard person can’t be associated with being good looking, it’s beyond me because some of the hardest most thugged out lost individuals that I’ve ever met were beautiful, they looked like models. So it’s just a bunch of people having perceptions that they’ve constructed. They wake up and go to sleep with those perceptions.

Apparently, I was “too handsome” to play “Free” in “Gridiron Gang” so I went and created a cut in my eyebrow and put a gold tooth in and I got the part. And i was like, ‘Really? That’s all it took?’ Whatever’s inside of me to play Free was already inside of me. It had nothing to do with my outer complexion within the black race. So Ealy is completely correct but I’ve only begun to speak on these kinds of issues because I usually don’t want to go back to where we as a people need to get so far beyond but in reality we’re still sort of stuck in that place. Whether it’s a white casting director or a black casting director, you could be casting Spike Lee’s 250th movie, if you have a perception about a young black man, you may think he needs to be more Denzel’s complexion versus Will Smith’s complexion and you just better figure it out especially if God is saying, ‘figure it out’.

“The slave mentality that God bless him, Kanye [West]…in his inability to articulate, that’s what he really meant…was we’re often acting as slaves to this day…”

ZD: I think that’s the great thing about us being here at “Real To Reel” because we have all these young filmmakers who are changing perceptions and paradigms and ushering in new images.
That’s true, what a great point I absolutely agree.

ZD: Thank you so much for your time. Congratulations on all your projects, on the music and the poetry…!
Thank You So Much! Phi-Oop to all of the Deltas out there. This Alpha man says, “Phi-Oop” and you say, “Oop-Phi!”

Producer + Social Media: Khadijah Louis
Videographer: Ben Bowen
Music: Lavell Streets, “Flyin Kites” (from “The Offering” EP)
Special Thanks: Flowers Communications Group (FCG) and Angela McCrae