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Sterling K. Brown, an actor who has starred in the NBC hit drama “This is Us” since 2016, has won multiple Emmys, Screen Actors Guild Awards, a Golden Globe, and a NAACP Image Award for his acting. But during His successful career, Mr. Brown asked himself, “What is my responsibility?”
“Can I just do a good job?” said Mr. Brown, whose other notable roles include characters in “The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story”, “Black Panther”, “Frozen 2” and “Waves”. “For example, do I just want my art to speak for itself? And then you recognize that people care about you. You owe it to the people who have brought you to the current level of success that you are doing to say something meaningful, to make it easier for people who are like you, who come behind you, to be able to do similar things and more.”,
The desire to do more is precisely what drew Mr. Brown to two upcoming projects. He will join the cast of Will Smith’s Netflix documentary Exploring the 14th Amendment, and he narrated a six-part documentary series that aired this weekend on CNN.
In a phone conversation, I spoke with Mr. Brown about the documentary “Lincoln: Divided We Stand,” which analyzes Lincoln’s legacy. Our interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
How did you get involved in the documentary?
We watched the elections unfold and we saw how divided the country is.
During the electoral process, this project fell on my table. First and foremost, it was a good dose of perspective that we have already been divided. So when people say: Has the country ever been more divided than it is now? It’s like, well, we were so divided that we were divided. There was a secession and we were two different countries from each other’s point of view.
How did it go? President Lincoln has found a way. There was bloodshed, there was loss, but he found a way to keep this country together. I was curious to see how this man came through this period. They don’t just portray him as a great savior, they don’t just portray him as a morally supreme human being, but also as a tactile politician.
The combination of these elements served him in terms of maintaining the Union. I learned a lot about someone whose global vision I had. But in his humanity, to see how he evolved politically from someone who was against the expansion of slavery, to someone who was a slavery abolitionist, who still believed in the colonization of freed blacks, he didn’t necessarily think they should coexist in this United States, but should be a safe place for them to flourish. One of the great things to remember is that at no point did I ever think we were meant to be here as liberated citizens.
What did this project bring you? Did you have any hesitation?
There was no reluctance. It was more of an exploration of my own curiosity. In fact, I gained a lot of respect for Lincoln and recognized the struggles he went through to become who he was – being a self-taught lawyer, growing up in a predominantly agrarian society and having resistance from his own father, who thought he was wasting time in the books. He lost his mom early on, lost his first love, lost two of his children, lost his sister. He was in the grip of depression for most of his life and always found a way to navigate the political landscape.
What I remembered most of all was not just his perspective on slavery, but how delicate it is to maintain a union.
Did you have any comments on how the documentary was put together?
Most of the contributions I have had have been when I read the Lincoln quotes and try to give them a voice and meaning, because reading Lincoln is like reading Shakespeare, and I can see how them. people could interpret it in very different ways. So in really trying to get into the heart of the language, and in terms of what he was trying to say, I probably had the most leeway and input as to how I read these lines.
Everything that happens alone in a booth is play, in a way. For me, when you have the chance to look into the eyes of another human being and bounce off them and see life changing between two people, that’s quite something. But there is a technical skill in terms of, what is your keyword? Which sentence has the most impact and importance in that particular sentence? What is the pace? Are you trying to attract people? Are you trying to warn? I love Shakespeare, I love classical lyrics, and I love breaking down words that way.
So it was a fun intellectual exercise, especially for someone in 2020 trying to interpret someone’s words from the mid-1800s and the political melting pot he was trying to find a language that spoke. both in the North and in the South simultaneously. . Because his ultimate end game was to keep the Union together. It was to make this experience work and not see it crumble on her watch.
Could you listen to Lincoln’s speeches to get a feel for how he spoke?
There isn’t much to listen to, or at least I haven’t found much. So I read a few of them and it was very interesting too, because they are not simple at all. It’s almost like going back to a bible verse and you can hear each preacher interpret a bible verse in multiple ways. This guy has double talk in the lines themselves, and depending on whatever else you want to pay attention to, you can get whatever you want out of them.
And it’s a gift, but it’s boring to read. You can see how people on the right and on the left can cite this president as a way to support the argument they are making in the present.
Is this the most surprising thing you have learned? And what was the most encouraging or the most disappointing?
There is a speech, and I wish I could remember the exact quote, where he said unequivocally that he does not think black people should be considered on an equal basis with whites. That was never his intention in abolishing the institution of slavery – not to compete for the same types of jobs. I was like, ‘Oh, wow, okay.’ It was a quote that had been swept under the rug that they shouldn’t be property, but they shouldn’t be seen as equal either. It is his humanity that shows in a way that is not so alluring to yours really.
Also, when it comes to colonization – and I don’t think it was planned in such a way that it was harmful – I felt like he thought blacks couldn’t really coexist peacefully with whites. , then they should go somewhere where they can actually thrive and not have to worry about the competition.
There was a point where we recorded, and I took a moment and stopped. This American experience never had me in mind. It never thought of me. You could say that the drafting of the 14th Amendment was the beginning of the question of whether or not I was going to be part of this experience or not, but until then I was not supposed to be here. It was a moment of reflection.
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