By Charles Hallman
Shawn Michael Howard grateful for opportunities despite racism
Blacks are still underutilized in film and television, says actor Shawn Michael Howard.
Howard has worked as an actor, singer/songwriter, and voice-over artist in television, radio, theater, film and animation since the early 1990s.
The Los Angeles-based actor, who has a film degree from New York University and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles, recently completed a starring role as Simpson in The Inheritance, a horror feature film about a family gathering for a reunion that turns deadly.
He appeared at the Minneapolis screening of the film, which was shot on location on a farm in Stillwater, on the opening night of the 2010 Twin Cities Black Film Festival October 15 at downtown’s Block E theater.
“We got to come here for a week, and rehearsed the movie like it was a play” before filming the movie, recalled Howard, who spoke afterwards to the MSR.
“We found the nuances and the comedy in the script that was not there to begin with.”
His film work includes appearing opposite Jeffery Wright and Terrence Howard in HBO’s Boycott and in Next Day Air with Mos Def, Mike Epps and Donald Faison.
“I think the best way to approach any role [whether] a horror film, drama or comedy is the same way — authentically,” noted Howard, who added that he didn’t want the all-Black movie The Inheritance to be overly silly. He offered as an example a scene that had the principal cast members running out of a house.
Howard said it had a “Keystone Cops” feel to it. “In the script, it [read], “Scared, run; scared run.’ But I said, ‘We can’t do that; there has to be some logic to it.”
Howard said he couldn’t help but read for the part when he was offered the chance and was thankful for being hired, especially getting the first-time opportunity to work with Keith David, one of the film’s stars. “I grew up watching Keith,” he admitted. “I am just in awe with Keith David. I wanted to be around the voice.”
Overall, Howard loved being in The Inheritance, which also featured Golden Brooks. “Yes, it’s one thing to say, ‘Let’s make a movie that’s a horror film with a predominately Black cast.’ That’s a positive thing. But it’s also something that doesn’t get spoken about in my field: [it’s that] Black actors got a chance to really sink our teeth in something that’s not ‘shucking and jiving.’”
The Denzel Washingtons notwithstanding, Howard truly believes that Black actors and actresses aren’t finding the consistent big-money roles as are their White counterparts.
“I think racism in the media is not spoken about enough,” he bluntly pointed out. “One [Black horror] film isn’t enough. It’s not like we need to make more of these, but less of these other [films]: the ‘American Pies’ where there are 12-to-13 new millionaires being made that’s all White. Am I a racist ? Or maybe I’m just conscious?
“I’m in the entertainment business,” Howard continued. “I go to the magazine rack. I’m flipping through it — there’s new TV shows, and everybody’s White.”
Howard once was a regular in a television series, Single Guy, which ran for one season on NBC (1996-97). He explained that working a full season — the show made it to 22 episodes — apparently is rare for Blacks in today’s television world.
“Literally, millionaires are being made every season — all White,” he asserted. “People make $50,000-$60,000, sometimes $100,000 a week, and that’s low money for 22 weeks. Why are so many of these TV shows [like] Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy being made with all these White people in it? Forget about the token Black, but [think of] the five or six members who are all White.”
Howard challenges Black TV watchers to “turn on the television for a week [and] watch the commercials and the shows, and count how many non-White people you see. And then…count the number of White people you see. It’s incredible.”
Along with his regular voice-over work, which he has been doing since 2000, Howard also is conducting an acting workshop as a guest teacher at the University of Salzburg (Austria). “I will continue to ask God to bless me in this [work],” he said.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.