The film “Monsters and Men” is blessed with a cast that’s motivated to telling a character-driven narrative from multiple perspectives highlighting the emotional, mental and physical toll white supremacy plays on the minds and souls of those who observe it daily. Perfectly balanced, each cast member delivers a well-rounded performance where no role appeared greater or less than any other, complimenting one another in the process.
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, and starring John David Washington, Anthony Santos, Chante Adams, and Nicole Beharie, “Monsters and Men” is reminiscent of many real-life incidents that it could have been torn from the headlines. But the police crime drama isn’t about sensationalism, it’s about honesty.
I had the chance to chat with actor John David Washington, who seems to be getting better with every role, about what drew him to play NYPD officer Dennis in this film.
“It was an incredible opportunity to portray an African-American police officer on screen,” said Washington. “I got to see it from the other side and I felt very ignorant. Here are the people that look just like us, protecting and serving so we can just live our lives. Our safety is in their hands, and there’s a lot of brothers and sisters out there doing their job for those reasons; to protect, serve and give back to the community.”
Directed by REINALDO MARCUS GREEN In theaters this Fall When young father Manny witnesses the police shooting of an unarmed black man, the tight-knit community of Bed-Stuy is pushed to the brink in Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Sundance Award-winning portrait of race, family and consequence. http://monstersandmenfilm.com/
“Now, for me, it’s grand and a great challenge. When you have good people like that, that still take on this thankless job, and you always have to be professional and keep your emotions in check. Eventually, those emotions have to go somewhere and I think you saw that with the character in the movie.”
The Shadow League: I understand the plight of the African-American police officers. Just being African-American, we’re dealing with dualism from the womb. However, there’s also something to be said for how the many of the institutions that we see today, they were created in a certain spirit. And that spirit was for the uplifting and maintaining of white supremacy.
John David Washington: “I think it’s a bunch of things. We speak the English language because our ancestors were taught it. They didn’t necessarily speak English but had to learn it to survive. I played in the NFL, I played football, and there are rules to it. There are rules to that business. But I used it. I used the NFL to help support myself, to help give back to others. But I had to follow the rules. For Dennis, there were certain rules that were made that were created by certain institutions, certain organizations.”
“But in the new day of the evolution of this country, he believes that within the system he can carve out a lane for us to follow. I think he believes that, if he does his job correctly, that he can inspire that young man in the hood that doesn’t have a father figure. Instead of looking up to the dopeman and the pimp, he can aspire to something more and be a guardian to protect and serve the next generation of his community. That’s what keeps him pushing through. That’s in addition to the everyday struggles of being a black man, with or without the badge.”
TSL: From an acting perspective, it was very much an ensemble-style piece, it was shot beautifully, which pulled the viewer in. Could you talk about how working within that framework to show how police brutality and the disenfranchisement of black bodies affects those witnesses to the event and how it reverberates through a community?
The Urbanworld Film Festival just wrapped up its 21st year of existence. Founded in 1997 by Stacy Spikes, Urbanworld has since screened cinematic offerings that have since been recognized as the some of the best examples of black filmmaking ever assembled.
John David Washington: “It was great to see it all come together, knowing the script and how Reynaldo edited it together. What I got out of that was a lot more information. I think we should judge less and ask more questions, be more inclusive on both sides. I feel like these issues are happening too consistently, and they should be brought to light. All the men and women who are not doing their job correctly, they should be brought to justice. It should be known that they’re not doing their jobs.”
“On the other hand, men like my character Dennis, men and women like the ones I got to meet, they are doing their job. I tried to portray this with as much honesty as I could. I hope to show at least one person that not all cops are bad or at least know what they have to go through and the decisions they have to make. I want them to specifically ask the question, what IS the right thing to do? Am I doing it for the family, is it for the community you protect and serve? Now you gotta decide is one more righteous than the other. So that the very intriguing question I kept asking more and more as the shoot went on. Just looking at it too, I’m like ‘I look stressed out’.”
Double consciousness is a term describing the internal conflict experienced by subordinated groups in an oppressive society. It was coined by W. E. B. Du Bois with reference to African American “double consciousness,” including his own, and published in the autoethnographic work, The Souls of Black Folk.
TSL: Your acting, from Ballers up through Monsters and Men, it seems like you get exponentially better every time out. Have you been able to see your transition from a novice to a professional, expert actor?
JDW: “I still feel I’m at the novice level. I’ve got so much to learn. But the teams I get to work with are very important. I think of what David Lowery, Reinaldo Marcus Green, Spike Lee did for me. But I’ve never had this much trust before with this project. So this kind of trust from your leader gives you a wider range to explore. You feel like you’re not in a box. You feel like you can fall forward.”
“The collaborative environments that I was privy to these last three projects, I’ve never had before. I’ve never had that kind of freedom. I think that’s reflected in the work, the comfortability that you mentioned. It’s sort of a maturity. To me, it reads that I’m comfortable and that I have the trust of the people I’m working with.”
TSL: What is it that you’d like the community to take away from this film?
JDW: “There’s a common theme right now between this and BlacKKKlansman about me being a cop, but that’s a good thing. I feel that just because a brother that looks like me has a uniform and badge doesn’t mean he’s not for the cause, not for our people, not for the community. We need to ask more questions, and cast less judgment. We need more information so we can discern for ourselves on a case by case basis.”
“I’d like for us to go on more ride alongs, and I’d like for more officers to go on civilian ride alongs. Just because a man talks with hands and uses certain expressions doesn’t mean that he’s hostile. That just means he’s passionate. So there’s a body language, a certain way of living and understanding. That can happen through communication and example, and I think this film is one of those examples.”
Monsters and Men opens in select theaters September 28, nationwide a week later.