With the release of his new film The Butler just two days away (August 16), expectations are exceptionally high for famed director Lee Daniels’ fourth feature film. Butler, which tells the story of Eugene Allen—a real-life butler who worked in the White House for 34 years (or eight Presidential terms)—features an all-star ensemble cast with performances from Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, Robin Williams, John Cusack and Mariah Carey. Among the laundry list of award-winning actors set to appear in The Butler, though, is an unlikely name—Mississippi rapper David Banner.
While Banner—who is most known for crafting radio-friendly singles “Like A Pimp,” “Get Like Me” And “Play”—may not exactly fit in with the likes of Oprah and Mariah, the Southern star has been patiently making a case for himself as a legitimate actor since his debut in 2007′s Black Snake Moan. Since then, he’s gone on to work with the likes of Idris Elba, Al Pacino and Mekhi Phifer, and is currently gearing up to release his own short film, titled Walking With God. In a phone conversation with XXL earlier today, Banner talked about recent films perpetuating stereotypes about Black Americans, searching for laughter in life’s darkest moments and being in acting school for the past ten years.
XXL: So first off, tell me about being approached for this movie, and why you wanted to be a part of it.
David Banner: My agent came to me about it. Lately I’ve been very particular with the things I’ve been a part of, so when I initially heard about The Butler, I was hesitant because of a lot of the things I’ve been seeing in the press, as it pertains to black people. A lot of movies just had an overload of subservient roles for black people. It was a lot of “Nigga this,” “Nigga that,” “Nigga, nigga, nigga.” And you know, regardless of whether I can control that or not, I can definitely control what I’m a part of and what my brand is a part of. But I had an opportunity to meet Lee Daniels and his sister when I auditioned for the Martin Luther King movie which never came into fruition. So I met them earlier, and I ended up getting a chance to read the script and I was really impressed with the script, and they were impressed with me.
What about the script grabbed you initially?
What grabbed me was that this individual went from sharecropping to being honored by President Obama. Imagine being able to live that long. We’re not even talking about the different attitudes that he had to deal with as a butler in the White House… You know, think about the difference between working for Kennedy and Reagan. And we’re not talking about everything in between. The movie is a reflection of what our people have gone through, historically. And I think it’s important right now. Even the things that people may not like, it’ll raise discussions that need to be raised in our communities right now. I think the thing I’m proudest of with this film is that [it starts those conversations], but it’s not in a way that’s all fire and brimstone. There’s a lot of funny aspects that help brighten up the horrible conditions that our people have gone through in America.
Do you think those funny moments make the film more accessible and easier to swallow?
Yeah, but I don’t think it does it for the sake of comedy. I don’t care what situation you go through, you find one moment. I remember my friends in Jackson, Mississippi got ran over. They were pushing a cart out in the street, and they all ended up getting hit. One of the dudes lost his leg, and while they were on the ground bleeding he looked over and said, “Damn, the day started out good, didn’t it?” [Laughs] If you can find joy in a moment like that… There has to be breaks in the learning process.