George Tillman Jr.: Eager to See a Resurgence in Black Films

In the late 1990s through the mid-2000s, there were a bevy of great films with African-American themes, and filmmaker George Tillman Jr. was responsible for ones like ‘Barbershop,’ ‘Soul Food,’ ‘Beauty Shop’ and ‘Roll Bounce.’

These days, Tyler Perry (‘For Colored Girls’/’Why Did I Get Married’) and Will Packer (‘Stomp the Yard’/’This Christmas’) are the only filmmakers really having success with the urban film market. caught up with Tillman, who in recent years directed the films ‘Notorious’ and ‘Faster,’ and he was optimistic when asked if the urban film movement could see a resurgence.

“I hope so,” he began, as we sat in his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles. “We’re in a really strange time right now. The only person out there that is consistently doing specifically African-American themed movies is Tyler Perry. On a regular basis he might have two or three out at the same time. My first year coming out you had John Singleton, myself, Ted Witcher, Spike Lee, and it was a variety of different things. Now it’s a strange place, and I don’t quite understand it. I really hope that we can have that variety again; it shouldn’t be just one voice and the same actors in the same movies. It perturbs me to see the same actors playing the same roles in these movies.”

 The 42-year-old moviemaker isn’t sure why African-American-themed films are not turning the profits they once did at the box office, but believes the bad economy could be one factor.

 “I hope it has something to do with the recession and that the audience got tired of seeing the same ole BS. Hopefully, we can get back to good films where there is a variety. For example, when ‘Malcolm X’ came out, it was Robert Townsend, Malcolm Lee and Bill Duke. These guys were artists, and I’m hoping that’s what can happen,” he offered.

Tillman has directed and produced films in various genres –- urban, action, family and military –- and the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-bred talent aims to continue showcasing his diversity in film choices.

“I have thought about that because everybody has their niche and sometimes you think that if you do different things people don’t know where to pigeonhole you or where to place you. I feel like I’m just gonna ignore some of that stuff. I feel like let me just go with the story. I’m a storyteller, so whatever genre it is, if you tell a good story you can go wherever you want to go. I always wanted to do the Marvin Gaye story and maybe that will come along. I think MLK is a great story. I think it would be interesting to do a sports story. I believe that wherever my heart tells me to go, that’s where I’m going to grow,” he shared.

If Tillman does do the biopic on the late Gaye, he admitted he would be on the search for a fresh face to star in the film.

“I would ask to cast an unknown actor who’s from New York, who’s from the stage with great acting. Someone that has Denzel Washington chops and who can sing like Marvin. I know that’s too much to ask for in one package, but I feel like you just need a good actor for that role. It could be anyone who can deliver,” he said.

As for a movie on civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., Tillman definitely has an actor already in mind.

“For the MLK movie, if I had my choice I would say Adewale Akinnuove-Agbaje,” he confessed. “He did an amazing job in [‘Faster’]. The scene that we have was amazing, but I shot 25,000 feet of him and I saw him every sermon, every take because I did about 50 takes of him that he was on, every take, and even with the material that you see he wrote additional material in the movie just ramping him up. As I was watching, I said, ‘That’s MLK, man.’ This guy’s ministry was incredible, and I think he would be the perfect guy to play the role.”

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