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Bill Duke Talks Life, Career, & Upcoming Film Depicting the Nat Turner Slave Rebellion of 1831
By Brittany Jackson, Contributing Writer
Published October 29, 2015
Bill Duke Panel. (Brittany Jackson)

Bill Duke Panel. (Brittany Jackson)

On Saturday, October 24, 2015, MoreMentum Entertainment presented the first of its “X-Perience MoreMentum Seminar Series” featuring legendary actor, film producer and director Bill Duke.

Held at the Los Angeles Film School, Duke spoke with an intimate crowd of film students, actors and aspiring artists to discuss his long-standing career, tips for success in the industry, upcoming projects and humanitarian work.

To kick-off the panel discussion, English-bred actor Razaaq Adoti spoke about his journey and what it was like to portray a bi-sexual man in the racy film, Cover, directed by Bill Duke.


“If you get an actor that’s fearless, 90% of your job is done. You don’t have to coach them, you don’t have to convince them of anything, they go in and they just surrender to the job,” Duke said in reference to Adoti.

And the famed filmmaker isn’t new to exploring the depth of varied characters. In 1980, Duke portrayed a gay pimp in American Gigolo, and spoke about his fearlessness in depicting what was considered highly controversial at the time.

“The role had depth to it. He was not just a gay pimp, but a he was a business man,” Duke stated. “I was fascinated by the textures and complexities of the character. I just like good guys that do bad things, and bad guys that do good things. They remind me of myself, because no one is totally good, and no one is totally bad,” he added.

Duke, whose extensive body of work includes appearances in movies such as X-Men: The Last Stand, Predator and Car Wash, and directing movies like Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Deep Cover, and Hoodlum, is now preparing to launch his upcoming film, Nat Turner: Story of a Prophet.

As the film’s director, he’ll guide the unique narrative of a deeply religious African American slave who led a rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia on August 21, 1831. The chronicles Turner’s historic fight for freedom and equality in the face of oppression.

Throughout the panel discussion, MoreMentum organizers teased the audience with classic clips of Duke in his raw element as an actor, most notably his role as a detective in the soul-quivering interrogation of “Caine” in Menace II Society. While reminiscing on his varying roles and genres of film, several pupils in attendance asked Duke about his personal style and approach when either acting or casting a role.


In response, Duke says that when “you’re asked to be somebody; you have to give up yourself to be that person.” “It’s not always a painless journey, it lingers,” Duke added.

In a moment of candor, Duke described how the film industry has changed over the years, citing the time when actors once received development deals with writers and assistants in tow to build their ideas in film.

“Except for the George Clooney’s of the world, (now) you are left to create all of that and many of the executives aren’t accountants,” he said.

“If you know how to play chess then come on in, but if you’re still sending your picture in, what chance to do you have?”

The panel discussion would be remiss without mentioning The Duke Media Foundation, a full throttle film and media program designed to train youth in the area of marketing, accounting, business management, producing, writing and editing.

Duke says that his vision is to “better this world for our children’s future,” noting that our silence will only contribute to the demise of our black youth if we fail to take a stance to affect change in underserved communities.

Duke closed with the following advice for those in attendance; “In your lifetime, you will never see a smaller package, then a person wrapped up in themselves. An actor that understands that he or she is matter, surrenders his or her box to what he or she has been asked to play that day,” Duke proclaimed.

Categories: Entertainment | Theater
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