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Russell Hornsby: “Proven Innocent,” Actor is a Proven Talent

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “A dear friend of mine used to say there was a time when boats were made of wood and men were made of steel. That’s what I want our people [black people] to see on this show,” says Russell Hornsby who plays the character of Ezekiel “Easy” Boudreau in “Proven Innocent” which airs on FOX, Fridays at 9 p.m. EST.

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By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor

Russell Hornsby should be a household name by now with his impressive body of work. His latest role as a crusading attorney and family man on FOX’s Proven Innocent” may be the role to do it.

The Oakland born thespian has been bringing characters to life on stage and screen for over two decades. Hornsby believes in studying the craft of acting, which is proven by his training at Boston University followed by Oxford University’s British Academy of Drama.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – FEBRUARY 09: Russell Hornsby speaks onstage at the “Proven Innocent” Q&A during SCAD aTVfest 2019 at SCADshow on February 09, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for SCAD aTVfest 2019 )

He is probably best known to fans for his role as police officer Eddie Sutton in the critically acclaimed show “Lincoln Heights,” (ABC Family) and most recently as Maverick Carter in the hit film The Hate U Give and Buddy Marcelle in the knockout film Creed II. Hornsby has studied under theater royalty (Lloyd Richards and August Wilson) and worked opposite incredible talent including Regina Hall, Nikki Micheaux, Erica Hubbard, Amandla Stenberg, Regina King, Denzel Washington, Robert DeNiro, Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan and the list goes on.

No stranger to the small screen, Hornsby has been delighting fans with powerful performances on top shows like “Gideon’s Crossing” (NBC), “In Treatment” (HBO), “The Affair “(Showtime), “Seven Seconds:” (Netflix) and now “Proven Innocent” (Fox).

Hornsby plays the character of Ezekiel “Easy” Boudreau, a lawyer who is best known for freeing Madeline Scott (Rachelle LaFevre), a wrongly-convicted woman, after she served 10 years in prison. Teaming up with Scott, Boudreau has dedicated his life to freeing the wrongly-convicted as part of the “Injustice Defense Group.”

While promoting “Proven Innocent” at the 2019 SCAD aTVFest in Atlanta, Hornsby discussed his keen ability to move between the stage, film and television playing a range of characters that have been historically unavailable to black actors.

The Drama Desk award-winner says when choosing roles, quality is most important. “You’ve heard the saying you need to start where you finish? Well, I started at such a high-level in acting, that I have to keep it going,” he says.

Hornsby explains that his first job after graduation was working for $217 a week for the great Lloyd Richards, the first black director to direct “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway. Richards was also Dean of the Yale School of Drama, which is one of the reasons the show had acting greats like Courtney B. Vance, Charles S. Dutton and Angela Basset. From there, Hornsby worked under August Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and 10-time Tony award-winner, on shows like “Jitney.”

“I started at the top with quality, so that’s my norm. Now when I assess material, I assess it from that standpoint. I’m constantly traversing between film, television and theater so I’m constantly staying at a high level and I can’t go back,” says the Obie award-winner. “I’m not holier than thou or anything,” Hornsby expounds. “I’m just saying I was blessed to be able to make money as an actor early on in my career. I was smart with my money, which enabled me to be able to say no and maintain my integrity when choosing roles,” he adds.

Hornsby’s work often delves into complex issues and “Proven Innocent” is no exception. In a social and civic climate where the topic of mass incarceration, the prison industrial complex, unjust sentences, wrongly convicted prisoners and a justice system run amok are at peak level, “Proven Innocent” is tackling these complicated issues head on.

Hornsby, who is known for playing strong family men, purposely chose this role because of its important representation of a black man.

“I want people to recognize and see that real men exist,” says Hornsby. “A dear friend of mine used to say there was a time when boats were made of wood and men were made of steel. That’s what I want our people [black people] to see on this show,” he says.

Hornsby, who was raised by a single mother and was surrounded by strong men, including his father, believes this is a much-needed image in media. “I’m not saying sisters don’t deserve the credit. They do. My mother did the damned thing and I’ve got a wife who is bad as she can be — smart, talented, everything — but men exist too. Let’s not exalt one at the detriment of the other. Let’s say we can co-exist, partner in the struggle together,” he explains, which is another reason why this character spoke to him.

“Real men still exist. Men can stand up straight, look you in the eye, conduct themselves justly and appropriately and not be afraid. That’s what I want,” says the 2018 AAFCA award winner. “Men need to share and be open and more malleable. That’s what you’ll see with this character,” Hornsby reveals.

“Ezekiel is malleable. He and his wife are going to be going through trials and tribulations and issues but he’s still valuable and willing to learn. They are still partners. Those are the men I saw. That’s what empowers me to portray the kind of characters I play.”

“Proven Innocent” airs on FOX, Fridays at 9 p.m. EST. Check local listings for channel information.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is entertainment and culture editor for NNPA/BlackPressUSA. A film and media scholar, Dr. Burton is founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning news blog The Burton Wire, which covers news of the African diaspora. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual or @TheBurton Wire.

Bay Area

Asian/Black Relations Can Get Better Together During Heritage Month

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

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Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

President Joe Biden has given May a new name. It’s no longer Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Obama in 2009.  And it’s definitely not Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Jimmy Carter in 1978. It’s Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Month, as proclaimed by Biden on the last day of April this year. 

That’s our new umbrella. A big one, incorporating everyone. From the East Bay’s Rocky Johnson, the father of Dwayne the Rock, an African American/Samoan American. To Vallejo’s Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, a/k/a H.E.R., the African American Filipino of Grammy- Oscar-winning- songs fame.

Despite how huge the umbrella is incorporating more than 23 million people from more than 20 countries of origin, we are all American. And we’re the fastest-growing group in the nation, set to double in size, overtake the Latinx population and, with 46 million people, become the largest ethnic group in America by 2060. 

And so we’ve come to expect people seeking to divide us up. During a Zoom conference of attorneys general last week, a member of the audience had a question. “There seems to be an emphasis on attributing anti-Asian violence to white people,” said a white male to the panel. “And I’m just wondering if it is healthy to do that, or an effort to do that…when in some incidents, the attacks were committed by non-white people.”

Essentially, the man was saying, “Don’t blame white people,” implying that Blacks have often been perps in some high profile crimes against Asians. 

But it seemed more like a question to drive a wedge to break up our solidarity.

Fortunately, civil rights activists John Yang knew exactly how to answer that one. 

“Yes, there have been attacks on Asian Americans by people that are not white, no question about that,” he said. “But I would ask everyone to be really, really careful about what the actual statistics are, because the statistics show that the predominant number of people attacking Asians are Caucasian.” Then he referred to some high-profile cases in the Bay Area where Blacks attacked elderly Asians, once again pointing out it was the exception, not the norm.

It was the right response to avoid creating divisiveness and to let everyone know that the only way to end racism is to fight it together.

But he also said something that rang true to most Asian Americans. 

“Let’s be clear, there (are) elements of anti-Blackness in the Asian American community, that we do need to unlearn as well,” he said. Then he made it personal. “And that’s something that I’m going to call out on myself, and in our community, and we would ask everyone to do the same thing as we’re all learning together.”

It was a rare candid public moment that unveiled a sense of friction between Asian and Black communities that has existed since the days I wrote op-ed pieces in the 1990s in the Tribune. 

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

Like the speaker said, a lot of it involves calling out where we have fallen short of the ideal.

That’s what Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month is really for—to learn the good, and unlearn the bad, together. 

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Activism

Chauvin Trial Shows Need for Broad Focus on Systemic Racism

Officer’s Conviction Necessary but Not Sufficient, Greenlining Institute Says

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OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – In response to the announcement of the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin on all three counts in the killing of George Floyd, Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann released the following statement:
“Today we experienced a small measure of justice as Derek Chauvin was convicted and the killing of George Floyd was recognized as the criminal act it was. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that one conviction of one cop for a killing the whole world witnessed on video will change a fundamentally racist and dysfunctional system. The whole law enforcement system must be rethought and rebuilt from the ground up so that there are no more George Floyds, Daunte Wrights and Adam Toledos. But even that is just a start.
“Policing doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Systemic racism exists in policing because systemic racism exists in America. We must fundamentally uproot the disease of racism in our society and create a transformative path forward.”
To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit www.greenlining.org.

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Activism

When I See George Floyd, I See an Asian American

 A modern-day lynching is specific and symbolic all at once. If you know Asian American history, then you know Asians in California, Chinese, and Filipino, were lynched in America.

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courtesy istock

You watching the trial of the now ex-Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, the person I call the “knee man?”

   That’s what he was. Chauvin’s on trial for the murder of George Floyd, but I’m wondering how the defense is going to play this. Say that Chauvin’s knee acted independently? 

     The evidence is piling up. In Monday’s testimony, no less than the Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo said that Chauvin’s actions were in violation of “our principles and values that we have.” 

    In other words, the placing of the knee to the neck of Floyd, who was face down with hands cuffed behind his back, was “in no way, shape or form part of police policy or training.”

    If you’re a juror and hear the chief come down on Chauvin, how can you possibly not find the officer guilty?

   The defense has said it will focus on Floyd’s fentanyl drug use, presumably to link that as the real cause of death. But the prosecution on Monday brought out Dr. Bradford Langenfield, the Emergency Room doc who pronounced Floyd dead. He noted the length of time before Floyd got any breathing aid, and said Floyd’s death was more likely caused by asphyxia, or a lack of oxygen. 

     From the drugs or the knee?

     The defense will claim it wasn’t the knee, which at times was also on Floyd’s shoulder. Is that enough reasonable doubt? 

    Remember it was when Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck, not when he was walking around with drugs in his system, when Floyd said, “I can’t breathe.” 

   So far, the trial’s most compelling moment came when Darnella Frazier, the teenager who took the cell phone video we all have seen, recalled her trauma at witnessing of Floyd’s death.

     “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black. I have a Black brother, I have Black friends. And I look at that and I look at how that could have been one of them,” Frazier said. “It’s been nights, I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more. And not physically interacting.”

     Van Jones on CNN said Frazier had witnessed a lynching.

   “When you have a lynching, which is what this was,” said Jones, “you aren’t just torturing the individual who you’re strangling to death, you’re torturing the whole community.”

     A modern-day lynching is specific and symbolic all at once. If you know Asian American history, then you know Asians in California, Chinese, and Filipino, were lynched in America.

As my friend Ishmael Reed told me on my amok.com vlog, don’t let the media play “divide and conquer.” This isn’t a Black vs. Asian thing.

All BIPOC are fighting a common foe.  All people of color have been under someone’s knee at some time in America. It’s our common ground, our shared past in America’s racist history.

That’s why to paraphrase Darnella Frazier, when I see George Floyd, I see an Asian American. And so should you.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning Bay Area veteran journalist and commentator. See his vlog at www.amok.com 

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