David Banner Reflects On Race In America, His Role In ‘The Butler’

Tell me about how The Butler differs from some of the recent films you mentioned that commodify Black culture and play to its stereotypes. 
This film tells a story from our perspective, you know? Whenever another race of people tell stories about a different race, they have to digest it and get it from an outsider’s perspective. Whether good or bad—because some people do a good job—it’s not genuine. It’s very hard for a man to really express how a woman feels. It’s impossible. You can relate, but to a certain degree, it’ll never be done right unless it’s done by the person who’s going through the pain. It’s wonderful for people to open that door, but it’s our responsibility to tell that story for our people and reap the benefits of telling those stories. I gave this example recently… I said, it’s amazing that America brought slaves here, worked them for free, released them without any benefits and then taxed them. It’s similar to people who write these stories about us. We experienced this pain, and then people turn around and capitalize from giving the story right back to us.

Why was Lee Daniels the right person to make this movie? 
Well, he was able to pull the right resources and pull the right actors. It’s hard to get our folks into theaters to see something that means something. For Lee Daniels to be able to pull Oprah Winfrey and James Fonda, and that’s not even talking about Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey… He pulled people from so many different cross-sections, and these are all great actors in their own right. He pulled these people together to talk about a great subject.

There’s been a recent resurgence of filmmakers making historical movies about the Black experience in America, from Django to 12 Years A Slave to The Butler. Why do you think it’s become a popular trend to re-tell the actual history of Black Americans?
I don’t know whether it’s a trend, because is America going to do anything about it? Are they really trying to accomplish something by telling these stories? I have a problem because America is getting really comfortable with saying the word “Nigga.” America is acting like they actually did something about slavery, or justified what was done to African Americans. I don’t know if that’s such a good thing, because nothing is being done about it. How can I believe that you’re being genuine when nothing is being done?

Also, I would feel a lot better if those same people would make stories or allow Black people to be shown in other ways than as slaves and the help and workers. You gave us Django, but can you give us a Black superhero? You gave us The Help, but can you give us a positive Black story without the same Black actor that you see a hundred million times? Can you allow Black children to see themselves as more than the help, or Django, or being raped and shot at in movies? What happens is, if you perpetuate that for long enough, it becomes our children’s reality.

Let’s talk about your acting career. The first time the world saw you was in Black Snake Moan, which was your first feature film. Tell me about your progression as an actor since then, and avoiding the easy roles that come most commonly to a rapper who’s delving into acting. 
I’ve been in acting school for ten years. Instead of me buying some of the things that my friends bought, I went to acting school every week. I flew to L.A…. straight from concerts, wherever, straight to L.A. I’ve been in acting school for ten years, so when people see the evolution of David Banner as an actor, it hasn’t been something that came overnight. Some of my fans have complained that I always get similar roles, but some people only see us as the robbers. Some people only see us as niggas. So they don’t put us in their films in any other way.

But you know, with me being a rapper and making some sacrifices on that side, it afforded me the ability to, if I played a thug role, I’m going to take the thug role in a film playing next to Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson. From those roles, it was a progression. In some of the films, I took them for relationships, to be able to get in the door and land other films. I’ve done films with Adrien Brody, I did two films with Forest Whitaker, Al Pacino, Jane Fonda, Oprah Whinfrey. It’s been a short time, but I’ve been able to have paid acting school with some of the greatest people who have ever touched the screen. It’s been a great progression.