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AUP EP. 43: Everything’s Gonna Be All White

AUP EP#43 TRANSCRIPT

Transcribed: Cameron Blackwell

Completed: 3/19/22

Cortney Wills: [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to Acting Up the podcast that dives deep into the world of TV and film that highlights our people, our culture and our stories. I’m your host, Cortney Wills, Entertainment Director at theGrio and this week we’re talking to Sacha Jenkins about his latest project Everything’s Going to Be All White. Everything’s Going to Be All White is the provocative new docuseries from Sacha Jenkins that premiered on Showtime on February 11 and has caused quite a stir. The three part project also has a bonus episode, and what it does is really explore the complicated history of race in this country with a wide range of voices from people like Dr. Nell Irvin Painter, Jamal Hill, Amanda Seales, Viviana Rodriguez, Tamika Mallory, Stiles P, Margaret Cho. So many people offer their perspective on so many aspects of racism, from the generational fight for rightful indigenous land to the correlation between housing projects, and through the causal links of lead paint and the intentional destruction of food sources to disease and premature death. Like so many elements that racism trickles into in all of our daily lives and makes it really hard to ignore all of these kind of connections that have been here since we’ve been here. Sacha is no stranger to really fantastic projects. As a director, he’s directed tons of really cool things, including 2019’s Wu-Tang Clan of Mics and Men and 2021’s documentary Bitchin’ the Sound and Fury of Rick James. He’s also a journalist. A historian, spent a long time leading conversations about hip-hop, and I think that it’s really cool that he’s able to bring his perspective to this subject that he’s been exploring for the longest time and has suddenly become like the hot topic of conversation, critical race theory, knowing our history, not talking about our history. All of these things have suddenly become like such a lightning rod, and the reaction to the trailer of Everything’s Going to Be All White is very telling. If you go to YouTube, you will see thousands of really crazy comments. You will see so many videos of people taking major offense to the tone of the project and the topics it discusses, whether it’s people on the far right saying that it’s racist against white folks to Black conservatives speaking out against it. There has been a lot of uproar and I’m so excited that we can cut through all of the noise with Sacha Jenkins himself. He’s my next guest on Acting Up. Hi, Sasha, I’m so excited to talk to you today about this project. Everything’s Going to Be All White. My, oh my. Like, you really went there and people are really upset about it, which is no surprise because you dropped a lot of truth in this really cool docuseries. [00:03:11][187.7]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:03:13] Well, thanks. I mean, I think truth is relative these days, people want to believe whatever they want to believe. So in the minds of many, I’m spreading lies. So, you know, all I can do is my part at this point. [00:03:24][11.0]

Cortney Wills: [00:03:24] So did Black people buy Showtime, and I didn’t know they just– they’re just greenlighting projects that, I mean, I think are so necessary, but I don’t know that I ever thought we would get to speak so frankly about a subject that is just as old as this country. And that is racism. And I think that this project is not spoon-fed. It’s not sugarcoated. And it’s just I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that we’re at a place now where we can have these discussions on platforms like these because for a long time, that just didn’t really feel like the case, at least to me. What’s your perspective on that? [00:04:00][36.0]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:04:01] So you don’t know of any other series that I’m just curious. Like, really, this is the only one that you’ve seen that kind of goes at it. [00:04:08][7.0]

Cortney Wills: [00:04:08] Absolutely not from you. Not the first project that is provocative, but I think to put it right in the title for people is a little bit further than I expected Showtime to go really. [00:04:21][12.8]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:04:22] Yeah, the title really bothers people, and for me, it’s just like it doesn’t say anything about killing anyone or people don’t have sense of humor. You know, I think there’s humor in there, and I think humor is super important because if you can laugh at all the f*ckery, what can you do? Because some of it is just so insane. The only way to stay alive is to try to laugh and keep your composure. But with Showtime, I’ve been very lucky in that, you know, I have a champion there who is a brown man who is in a position to give another brown man the opportunity to tell these kinds of stories. And you know, on one hand, it kind of landed in Black History Month. And my argument is every month is Black History Month, and these networks have to have hooks for what they do, you know, marketing and all these other things. So this idea that I’ve had for years and most people passed on, they finally picked it up. And it happens that this idea that I’ve been thinking about for years now, it’s like the hot album in terms of what people are discussing. I don’t know people are watching it or not, but I just know that the trailer pissed off a lot of people, and the shocking thing to me is how many Black conservatives there are out there because I’m not really on the internet like that, I don’t have Instagram myself, I don’t do social media. But to see how many Black people came out against it was really like an eye opener for me. It made me realize that obviously we’re not all the same. We don’t think the same things, but I feel like the 60s. The revolutionary spirit of the 60s is a thing that people see in the movies, and now people seem to be more connected to their individual expression. They’re not- I mean, if you’re if you’re writing for Trump and you’re Black like, you know, I’m an individual, you know, we all don’t think the same. And so but I seem to think that Trump is the way to go is madness. And the fact that so many Black people are signing up for that just makes me believe that all you can do is do what you believe in and promote those ideas and be true to those ideas and live by those ideas. It made me realize that I don’t know if there’s a big movement, a big organized movement of Black people in this country. It made me realize that we are really deeply splintered and not on the same page. And this is coming out of me doing something that I believe would give us a voice and also help us be able to look at other people who are oppressed. Because the other thing is, it’s like you can spend every Black History Month just talking about Black people’s problems. But if you can’t look at other folks of color and their issues and look at yourself simultaneously, then what are we doing? [00:06:56][153.9]

Cortney Wills: [00:06:57] Yeah, it’s disheartening when you realize, I think at least for me and you know, the work we do at theGrio, it happens a lot. It’s like the work that you really intend to be for the community and you get a whole bunch of like, Oh my gosh, like, I’m not talking. I mean, obviously, we know, like we’re not a monolith, but certain things you think are just kind of understood among us. And when when you realize that that’s not the case, it does. Sometimes it’s just like it never fails to kind of disappoint me and surprise me. And so I can relate to some of of that, like damn, there are a lot of Black conservatives and Black folks who don’t want us to talk like this, who do think that, like they’ve spent a really long time making whatever progress has been made by playing by a certain set of rules. And like, I feel like there’s this whole demographic of Black folks who feel like that. We are just setting all that on fire, you know, like, they worked real hard to be respectful and like, you know, presentable and talk nice to these people and like, ask for equality nicely and politely and like, you guys are out here just acting a fool and like calling them out on all of these things. And I’m like, But where is where is the lie, though? I mean, so many things that you dive into in this project? It’s like, Yeah, and why is this the first time that we’re hearing it said this broadly and this directly like that? How can you talk about Black History Month and oppression of our culture and not talk about Native Americans? You know, like how can you not get into the nitty gritty of the projects and how they started? And like, I just think this project, it’s such a great job of casting a really wide net over what could be viewed as, you know, something like the history of racism in a nutshell here, like how we got here for people who I don’t know still exist that don’t believe it or think that we’re exaggerating or making it up. I mean, it’s it’s wild that anything in this project is news to someone in 2022. But it is, and we can’t say any more it’s because that knowledge isn’t out there. It can be there and people refuse to accept it. And I think that this documentary shed a lot of light on things that people continue to deny that are just undeniable. [00:09:19][142.1]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:09:20] Yeah, when I hear young Black people say, “Well, look at all the crime in our community. I mean, we’ve got a really, you know, who are we to throw stones? We’re responsible for this crime. And then this idea of like, I mean, those African sold us into slavery.” You know, it’s just like, it’s always this like, weird, OK, if you wanted to focus on like three percent of what you’re saying, there’s some truth in it. Sure, yes. Africans did tell other Africans from other tribes into slavery. Yes. But what does that have to do with the systematic oppression? What does it have to do with where I could buy a home? Was it have to do with the loans I could get? Was that to do with my education? Was that to do with the food that I eat here? Is that our fault too? Is that the African man’s fault? You know what I mean from four thousand years ago? Like, there’s no I wanted the series to be like a spiderweb or a constellation, so you can see all of it in the web and jump around and see how it’s all related. It’s all related. And we have to think about things in that way. You can’t just think about you get shot four times once in L.A., once in the arm once in the hand and once in the back, you can just think about getting shot and you got to look at all your wounds. You know, and so all these people went out against the series is based on the trailer, right? And the trailer is really inflammatory in many ways, right? But it’s a conversation starter. But, you know, Black people saying that reparations is a real thing. Yeah, hell yes. Should white people feel responsible for that? That’s nothing new, but it goes back to how I feel about these Black conservatives who want to play the game and play by the system and play by the rules. At the end of the day, the system or the people that they are oppressing talk to them like they are slaves. And I know this because I understand as someone who operate in corporate America and do things I refuse to be talked down to. You’re not going to talk to me like, I’m a slave, and that is what the series represents. And so in real life, I’ve faced issues with white people because you’re not going to talk to me like, I’m a slave. And I think the series does the same thing. It’s very this is who we are. This is how we feel. Very simply, this is how we feel. You have a problem with how we feel? I thought we were all Americans, and that’s the other idea. Like Trayvon Martin gets murdered and it’s like, “Oh my God, the Blacks, they’re going crazy. They’re pissed off. Yeah, it’s messed up. But come on, get over it.” It’s like, No, we’re all Americans. How come you’re all not pissed off that this young man was murdered because they don’t look at us as full Americans. So then when we don’t stand for the flag, right? “How dare you slave not stand for the flag? You should be so happy that we civilized and educated you and gave you all this flat screen TV and some sneakers,” right? You’re mad at us for that, but then you don’t want to treat us like we are full citizens. So these are the things that are in the back of my mind because they’re in the front of my mind. I might not be able to operate as a human being. So all these things are in the back of my mind are in the series. [00:12:22][181.9]

Cortney Wills: [00:12:23] I could go to so many choices that you made that I notice in this documentary that just seemed to like, really work. This jump around between real historic facts and really personal accounts and experiences to the more tongue in cheek like man white people are whatever like there was, there was a jump from like levity to like things to really consider and thoughts just kind of illuminated. And I wondered if you intended. I wonder if there was a strategy and like to striking that balance because it is when you hear something heavy, just one point. If we’re just talking about housing, if we’re just talking about redlining, if we’re just talking about the food deserts, you know, or like the medical racism like, it’s enough to make your head want to explode. But there’s still more. We’re not done, and I feel like the pacing of this docuseries really like helped keep me in it, you know, even when it got hard by jumping around and like you said, you kind of sometimes have to laugh just to get through the reality. But was there a strategy to that pacing? Because I think it was. I think it really worked. [00:13:29][66.8]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:13:30] Yeah, I think for me, it’s balance. You know, I always refer to Nirvana. Huge Nirvana fan, right? There’s the fast part and there’s a slow part, and there’s a balance that that provides. And for me, humor is an important part of my work. An important part of how I express myself. You know, I’ve got dad jokes at this point. Maybe I’m corny. I’m not a comedian, but I feel like humor is universal. There are some things, you know, some of the crazy things that were written online about me and about the series by racists. A couple of things– I was like, “OK, that was kind of funny though,” you know what I mean? Like, you got to give it up. And I think that’s the problem. You know, “these people” and when I say “these people” and I’ve said in press, like, listen, I made this series for people of color, but are there white people in the struggle who are suffering, who aren’t being heard? One hundred percent. I’ve got no issue with those people. Those people need someone to speak for them and represent for them. And for some strange reason, they believe Trump might be that guy, unfortunately, right? But those people are hurting, and those are the people who say, “Well what are my benefits? And I don’t get this and that and the third,” it’s not like the rich white people who care about affirmative action. It’s the white people who are poor and educated, who are suffering and they’re out there and they should be heard. And I hope people listen to them and I hope they get help because they deserve it. But humor is important and we have to listen to each other. That’s what’s not happening. It’s like people went crazy on the trailer, but they didn’t watch the series. They said that they’re going to cancel their subscription to Showtime. Half of them don’t even have subscriptions. But if they would have watched the series, even if they were racist or felt a particular way if they actually took the time to watch it, maybe they feel differently. Maybe not. But the whole point of the series is this is how we feel. We’re expressing ourselves. Do all Black people feel this way? Obviously not based on all these weirdo conservative people online. No, but a segment of us do feel this way. And that’s what it represents and humor is an important part of it. [00:15:28][118.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:15:29] How did you go about– there was such a range of voices, you know, there and personalities and influencers and academics, like how many people were left on the cutting room floor and how did you go about curating, you know what, what you got because they all made such excellent points and I think came at things from different vantage points. [00:15:47][18.3]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:15:48] Well, the producer Charlie Brown Cepeda, who was a younger person and who was kind of out there and knows lots of activists and stuff. She was instrumental in helping to curate because, you know, obviously I know Willie D from the Geto Boys. You know, there are people that I’m bringing to the table and there are people that she brought to the table. So it was a good balance of like older and young, you know? But usually it’s a certain age range and a certain bracket of people. But I didn’t want it to be just about famous people. I mean, rappers are great and, you know, Styles P talking about food deserts and we spend more money on sneakers than we do food. And why is that? I mean, there are brilliant people who have come out of hip-hop who are of my age and my generation, but I wanted it to have a balance. So it’s people who are really out there doing something. I wanted to have a voice in this, not just some famous person, you know? So and honestly, it’s more difficult now to get famous people. Everyone has an Instagram. Everyone wants to get paid for a post. We’re not paying you. You know, so in that regard, you know, there are probably some famous people I couldn’t get because they wanted money. But I feel like what we did was better anyway, because you want to hear from the people who were in the struggle and who were on the front lines of what’s going on. [00:17:04][76.1]

Cortney Wills: [00:17:05] So it was the wild white guy, you know, like in the American flag shorts. Like, was it that he was an actor? Was he an actor or what was this? Did you also interview some crazy white people for this? [00:17:17][11.6]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:17:18] No, he’s he’s one of my closest friends and he’s an actor. [00:17:20][2.3]

Cortney Wills: [00:17:21] It’s very sad, actually, that I have to ask you that because I’ve seen some documentaries that really were just white people saying how they feel, who sounded a lot like him. And that’s crazy. I really didn’t know if he was an actor or you got a racist on. [00:17:36][15.5]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:17:37] Well, I wanted to make sure, you know, look, I didn’t want I wanted it all to be people of color weighing in. But I also knew that there is a there’s another side, right? And not all white people feel like Mad Chad, that’s his name. But there’s a percentage of people who feel that way and the actor grew up with them, I know him well, so I knew that he knows these folks. So all that he brought to it, a lot of it is based on his own sort of real life experiences, and that’s why it was so real. That’s why some people were not sure if he was an actor, which I think is great to me that it means that it did what it was. Suppose some people don’t like the whole thing, but the people who like it really connect with it. And you know, that was one regret I have with the trailer. I wanted them to sort of add him, button the trailer at the end with him in it, because at one point he wears a monkey suit and he says, “Well, what the f**k are you going to say? I can’t wear a monkey suit now the f**k out of here,” right? He also talks about, oh, is it, you know, is it cultural appropriation when Black women wear blond wigs? You know, I wanted to have that balance in the trailer wasn’t there, it’s fine, but I wanted to have some kind of representation that kind of if you were white and you watched it, if you were aligned with those feelings, you would say, “OK, yeah.” And if you’re white and you weren’t aligned with those feelings, you say, “Yeah, I know those people, though there are people like that out there.” So and then, you know, his roommate, Rhonda, you know, she represents a particular kind of Black woman herself. You know, not all Black women are like Rhonda, but some might be. And I wanted to give those women a voice as well. [00:19:15][98.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:19:16] Is there anything that you had to leave on the cutting room floor, like if you had two more episodes? Is there an area that you would have either gone deeper into or that you just didn’t even get to touch? [00:19:26][10.1]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:19:27] Well, that’s where there’s a fourth. Have you seen the fourth episode? [00:19:29][2.3]

Cortney Wills: [00:19:30] Mm hmm. [00:19:30][0.1]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:19:31] Right. So the fourth episode it’s called Everything’s Not Going To Be All White because after three episodes, anything more than that, honestly, just depressing. And I wanted to have something that was uplifting and showed people that like, we’re doing things that people don’t expect us to do. You know, we’re excelling. We’re having an influence in industries and other things that you don’t expect us to be involved with to show you how far we’ve come. Right? So yeah, it could have. I could have done a whole episode on racism in porn. You know, that whole thing people find really interesting because it’s insane, right? But at a certain point, I think it would start to get redundant. A certain point. The jokes wouldn’t be. It wouldn’t be. It wouldn’t be funny. It would just be really depressing. So I wanted to have balance and the reviewer of who really loved the fourth episode wrote. “You know, this is incredible. Like, I like this better than the rest of the series. I get the feeling that because of COVID, that more of the series was supposed to be like this,” and that person was absolutely right and wanted to have more verité stuff in the series. But then because of COVID and other issues, you know, roadblocks, they realized like, No, you know what? Put all that in one episode and make it something that is uplifting. So that was me just thinking on my feet. But I think in the end, it worked out. [00:20:56][84.9]

Cortney Wills: [00:20:57] And lastly, before I let you go, I think I kind of even want to rephrase or revisit my first question, which is that, you know, you have done provocative things. I think that, you know, one of the benchmarks of your work for me is that they do feel incredibly honest. But I guess I would be surprised if you didn’t expect the amount of backlash that this project or at least the trailer of it has received. And so I think a better question is, did you know that the public wasn’t going to be ready for this and do it anyway? Or are you surprised? [00:21:29][32.3]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:21:30] Again, I’m most surprised by the reactions of Black people. (Yeah.) I’m like, I guess maybe conservative Black people are more active than non conservative Black people online, but the amount of conservative Black people who came out against it was shocking. And I honestly, I don’t want to say depressing but disappointing because I also believe and agree that you don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican. You can be whatever you want. I think there are Republican values that I can get down with. I mean, you know, they’re not every Republican is a Trumpster that every Republican is bad and that every Republican idea is bad. Not every Democratic idea is great. Right, right. It’s a balance. I mean, these people are chameleons on both sides. You know, they say, I’m a right leaning Democrat. I’m a left leaning Republican. You know, who knows? It’s all about what you need to do to win, right? And that’s what I learned from this series. Everybody, everybody, and maybe I’m jaded now, but everybody, it feels like everybody’s in to win for themselves. Black people are splintered, were being distracted by shiny things. My ideals might be from the 60s or something, and that is not where people are today. People are somewhere else. And it’s, you know, I don’t know if it goes against what the series is about, but I’m glad I made the series. I knew people would be pissed off. I knew white people be pissed off. I had no idea how many Black people would be pissed off. That’s the biggest like, shock shocker to me. They need, I don’t know what, I don’t know what the answer is. But if you think that by playing, playing by the rules and the rules are not in your favor, that that makes you a good Negro. And the slavery is a long time ago. If you can’t see that there are things that are vestiges of slavery when you have generations of people who were uneducated, generations of people who can’t get loans, generations of people who are consumers, generations of people who have no control over their lives. But because you have a good job, you’re going to tell me that these Africans sold us into slavery. Get over it. We have a real deficiency in this country when it comes to history. Not just everybody in history is my best friend because I can learn from history. History is the truth. You can’t hide from the truth. But the way things are now, people make up their own truths. That’s scary. [00:23:51][140.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:23:51] Absolutely. And I know I have to let you go, but you have one more question, and that is the history aspect of it. I mean, I remember just pausing certain times watching this and being like, Oh my gosh, I wish I could just cut and paste this part. And so I wondered, like, did you have one particular historical consultant to dig into facts like that? Or did you pull from just, you know, a plethora of sources like what went into the, you know, the facts and dates and the like? You know, what felt to me like Trump cards, you know, in some of those instances? [00:24:24][32.2]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:24:25] Well, I think part of it is the panel of folks that we chose to interview and researching them and, you know, learning some things from them. But again, our producer, Charlie Brown Cepeda, she’s like a non-human when it comes to research and being thorough and being thoroughly interested in this. I mean, the series is my idea, but she really helped shape it and develop it. I’m asking all the questions, but a lot of my questions are informed, not just by my curiosity, but by her research and her involvement. So there are a lot of things that could have been in that weren’t, but we tried to make it so there weren’t any redundancies, and we touched on a broad range of things broad enough to where going back to what I was saying about a spider web, where you can see everything in the spider web and jump around and after you’ve jumped around and you can say, “Wow, it’s all relative, it’s all connected. This is happening for a reason.” You know, and it doesn’t just happen. You know, slavery doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. Like, you can say that some African soldires sold your ancestors into slavery, but they were Africans, and there’s a reason for that. But there’s more that doesn’t just end there. You know, I’m saying it doesn’t just stop there. You can’t just say that. And then, “Well, you’ve got to move on when you talk about things that happened 150 years ago, I mean, come on, you got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” And there are amazing examples of people who have but not everyone’s going to be Jay-Z. Not everyone’s going to marry Beyonce. Not everyone is LeBron James, you know? And yes, those are fine examples of people who have done it. But they are fine examples and they are rare. They are special, special people, we’re all very special. But not all that special. You know, we all have to find a way to make it. And I feel like we have to at least be like, you know, I see Black people and I feel like I have a connection with them. And that was one thing that was discussed in the series I thought was interesting is Brandon Jenkins no relation, but he talked about how he would see like this woman being really disrespectful to her child and feeling a way about it, feeling like he wanted to curse around, feeling like he wanted to help her, like all these feelings. And then he’s on the train with his white coworker and asked him, “Do you ever feel that way? Like when you see white people?” And he said, “No,” right? That’s a very powerful idea. But I’m of the generation where I see Black people and I feel like I have a kinship. There’s a family connection, there’s a common experience, there’s an understanding that we all have. But now there’s like this understanding of this weird, no connection to history. Just what’s in front of you now, what you’re supposed to do. And if you are in a community and there’s crime, it’s your fault and you have to take accountability for it. And I believe that we do have to take some accountability for it. We can’t blame it all on slavery. But if you understand that in the housing projects, there’s lead in the paint and the housing authority lied about it and then they had to come clean. And you realize that lead in the paint leads to a lot of bad things, including people having violent tendencies? What do you say about that? [00:27:32][187.5]

Cortney Wills: [00:27:33] You can’t say they’re not connected. You can’t say that, you know, and you can’t point to the exception being Jay-Z or Nas and say that they disprove the rule. It’s asinine. It’s crazy. And I think that this project makes those crazy making things really apparent. And what makes me crazy about it is that even when they are so apparent, even when they are backed up with anecdotes and examples and people you love and people you don’t know and scholars and facts, it’s still like, “No, I’m not, I’m not swallowing that.? And you know, it’s sometimes I have felt like it would take a project like this, this tone, this assertive to drive it home. And, you know, I hoped that it would, and I’m not saying it didn’t or hasn’t or won’t. But I I am a bit annoyed at, you know, at the response. I think this is such an important project. I think it’s so, so well done and it’s something that we’ve needed in this space. So I hope that people, you know, tune in and stay till the end because there is some hope. And you know, it’s it’s more uplifting at the end, but there are a lot of a lot of really important issues addressed in it. And I’m so happy that you took the time today to talk to me about it. [00:28:51][78.5]

Sacha Jenkins: [00:28:51] Happy to be here. Thanks for having me. [00:28:53][1.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:28:53] You’re welcome. Thanks so much. Thank you for listening to Acting Up. If you like what you heard, please give us a five-star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcast and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, comments and suggestions to podcasts@theGrio.com. Acting Up is brought to you by theGrio and Executive Produced by Cortney Wills and Produced by Cameron Blackwell. For more with me and Acting Up. Check us out on Instagram @ActingUp.Pod. [00:28:53][0.0]

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