Jermaine Fowler on Coming 2 America, Handling Online Racism, and the D.C. Comedy Lineage


You also have an important role in Judas and the Black Messiah. How did you end up in that?

I was around during the development of the script. I was there when there were separate versions of the two main characters, William O’Neal and Fred Hampton. There was a Fred Hampton biopic that Will Berson wrote and then there was a William O’Neal story being developed by [Kenny and Keith Lucas] and Shaka King. They were equally amazing stories and I felt like all the writers could just come together and make an Avengers-type script. I introduced Shaka and the Lucas brothers to Will, and they hit it off. The next thing I know, I’m doing a general meeting with Warner Bros. and I found out that Judas and the Black Messiah is in production. I was just so excited, happy, and grateful for all of my friends. They deserve it, but more than that, Fred [Hampton] deserves it. His story deserves to be told, so sometimes you have to set your ego aside and do what’s best for the culture. This is so much bigger than me. I’m just so grateful people are watching it on a major studio level. There’s no small role in this movie; every role is important.

When I was doing Coming 2 America, I told myself that I wanted to branch out and find different stories that could challenge me. I was like, “Let me see if Shaka and Will have any more roles left in [Judas and the Black Messiah].” So I texted them and asked if there was anything available in the film, because I wanted to do something that would move me—and that movie moved me. And they were like, “Well, the Mark Clark character is available.” And I was like, “Dude, it would be beautiful if I could play brother Mark. I’d be honored.”

I showed up after I wrapped Coming 2 America and was welcomed by Ryan Coogler, Shaka, Will, the Lucas brothers, Daniel [Kaluuya], Lakeith, and the whole cast. It was a family. Both Dominiques [Fishback and Thorne] were amazing. Everyone was so down to earth. We all knew what was at stake and that the most important thing was to tell this story. It was very heavy on set sometimes. Honestly, it was one of the darkest sets I’ve been on. It wasn’t easy to get through some of the days—and I was only there for a couple of weeks. They were there for months, so I can only imagine what they went through emotionally. Fred Hampton Jr. was on set. So it was heavy, but it meant a lot for us to be there and to show the world what [Fred Hampton’s] legacy means to each and every one of us.

How difficult was it for you to film the scene where Fred Hampton and Mark Clark are killed by Chicago police?

Honestly, out of respect for the family, I don’t even want to talk about it. Filming it versus having experienced that and having to live with it is so different. It just wasn’t easy. [Clark’s] great-grandson reached out to me on Instagram and showed his love, which I truly appreciated. It’s just something where I hope the families are proud that the story was told. That’s all that matters to me. I’m not going to sit here and say that what I had to go through [is comparable]; it doesn’t feel right. I just know that the people who lived it and are still affected by it have to deal with it every day, and I’m just glad that people get to see what happened that night. That’s the most important part: That people will know.

Have you seen the critiques of the film that say it treats Fred Hampton as a supporting character in a story about his assassination, even though the circumstances surrounding his assassination are a significant part of his legacy?

I haven’t read any of the reviews, critiques, or tweets because they don’t mean anything to me. They’ll never matter. The movie is for the people, man. Shaka did a great job of staying true to the story while also telling a compelling story that made for a great movie. I think what biopics often do very poorly is not making sure the movie is still compelling. This movie told a compelling true story while also being a great movie, from the score, to the dialogue, to the wardrobe, to the cinematography. So I don’t care about the critiques; I only care about the opinions of the families of the people who fought for us. We had Fred Hampton Jr. on set, who helped guide us along the way. That’s whose opinion I care about.

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