“I tried to do s— the right way. Went to the other side and know what I learned? The game’s rigged. I’m rewriting the rules.” -Franklin Saint
Written by @TheBlackCarrieB
Atlanta Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station held an advance screening of Snowfall on Thursday, June 22nd to grant media a first look at the new drama series which premiered July 5th on FX Networks. Moderated by Yung Joc, the comical TV personality of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, rapper and radio personality of Streetz 94.5, he was the perfect host for the Q&A following the screening with some of the cast. Those in attendance were granted a glimpse of the jaw-dropping drama that included John Singleton, Co-Creator, Executive Producer, Writer and Director, Dave Andron, Co-Creator, Showrunner, Executive Producer and Writer, actors Damson Idris (“Franklin Saint”), Carter Hudson (“Teddy McDonald”), Isaiah John (“Leon Simmons”) and actress Angela Lewis (“Aunt Louie”). The first episode began with a very intense evocation of Los Angeles in 1983 during the emergence of the crack epidemic. Filled with fiery storytelling of a young black man trying to find his way, Nicaraguan Contras, a CIA operative, a Mexican crime lord and power struggle within a family, the drama falls nothing short of a powerfully entertaining hit immersed in drug culture from lines of cocaine, to kilos to crack and how a beautiful city loses its luster with the rise of the monstrous crack epidemic.
While delivering what can be a dark story, filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah provided fresh eyes while shooting the TV show. The duo, both of Moroccan heritage who studied in Belgium are known for their Netflix film Black. The job of creating an honest, yet entertaining drama of such a harsh reality was a challenge that the team was prepared for. “As much as I love The Wire, which is classic…it was beautiful. It was like one of the best shows ever. It was hard to watch, especially for people who had [sic] lived in Baltimore, because they had [sic] lived it so much that they had [sic] been traumatized by it,” said Singleton in comparison to creating a drama that wouldn’t be too heavy for an audience to view. He takes pride in sharing that the elements of humor, drama, pathos, and profundity are present in all 10 episodes of Snowfall.
The cinematography is a colorful well-depicted balance of houses in the Hollywood Hills and the Valley with carefree luxury to the neighborhood of South Central filled with flawless lawns, Spanish style stucco homes, local O.G.’s lifting weights in their front yards, ice cream trucks and the ambition to get ahead. Ironically, there’s palm trees where the California sun shines on both sides, where each have duplicitous pasts and there is wisdom to be gained from hard earned lessons. The inclusiveness portrays an accurate picture delving into how crack and cocaine connected white, black, Hispanic and Israeli communities, while simultaneously making an obvious contrast. With Singleton’s roots in Los Angeles and films set in South Central, this project was unique and important because it was unchartered territory that hasn’t been told before until now. “I had [sic] never had [sic] an opportunity to deal with what happened pre the crack epidemic, which was, you know- it’s still a rough place, but it got worse,” he said.
And then there’s the music. What would a ground-breaking Singleton drama be without the accompaniment of nostalgic music representing the times? Just as most of his great work, Snowfall’s music is sure to provide classics of the era. Be prepared for the extra cherry-on-top, cameos from rappers who can actually act. The auteur has historically placed rappers in his work that have gone on to become extraordinary actors. Flashback to Ice Cube in 1991 when he displayed his acting chops as “Doughboy” in Boyz n the Hood to his recent star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That is the kind of talent Singleton recognizes and places in his magnum opuses.
Arguably one of the best breakout roles will be played by Damson Idris who brings to life the character of “Franklin Saint”, a witty, ballsy, student turned street entrepreneur on a quest to hustle his way to flip the game to provide for his family, by hook or by crook. The character is a native of South Central, but educated in the Valley, which gives him access to a world of key players of a different color and socio-economic status. Idris, a charming 25 year-old who was the last born of six children raised by a single mother in Peckham, England is sure to blow minds with his range and undetectable British accent. “In London, we watch a lot of American movies, so it’s really easy to kind of impersonate, but once you become and actor it’s amazing to be able to kind of find your own voice and particularly with South Central L.A. it’s really easy when you’re working with a director like John Singleton and rappers like WC on set every day saying ‘You gotta talk like this homie.’ I really got into it…the culture,” said Idris.
There are some innovative roles in the drama and plot twists that were created by design through the writers. The imagery and movement empowers women, placing them at the forefront instead of barely visible. One of the pivotal characters is “Aunt Louie”, played by Detroit native Angela Lewis. She was very detailed in how she feels women are portrayed in the show. “I think that all of the women characters are strong characters and I think that’s really important for us to keep seeing more and more and more on TV and film everywhere in all facets. I think that the actresses and the actors too, but definitely the actresses, bring a lot of love and humanity to their characters and I think that’s important to see because we can write these characters off in real life so much,” said Lewis.
Another shift in the show is the character “Leon Simmons” the introspective, but always ready, best friend of Franklin Saint who just got released from “Juvie” played by Atlanta’s own Isaiah John. John previously worked as a janitor at a local gym after booking Barbershop 3: The Next Cut and served as a production assistant to gain experience behind the camera. He expressed his reluctance for auditioning for the role initially because he is biracial and was previously told so many times that he “wasn’t black enough.” After the world sees his performance, the stakes are going to be much higher and it will all be in his favor.
Carter Hudson plays “Teddy McDonald,” a CIA operative banished to the L.A. office plotting on his big moment to turn his life around. One of the most intense characters of the cast with superb acting capability, there were moments where you could almost feel the heartbeat and anxiety while he is at the core of what unfolds. Hudson expressed what he learned from playing his character openly. “I just was completely ignorant to the history of the way that the drugs were being moved around from South America into the country at this time. I had no idea. So, for me it was all really eye-opening and educational and scary, really scary to think that this could have happened.”
Singleton stressed the fact that he hopes everyone will tune in and not just DVR it to make an impact. Co-Producer Andron chimed in with the challenge of writing 3 scripts and making sure that cliffhangers and changing of direction and thought processes of characters were at the crux through production. “I hope that every episode you have full satisfaction,” he said.
Attendees included Jovita Moore (WSB-TV), Judge Terrinee Gundy (Municipal Court of Atlanta), Marlo Hampton (Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta), Mary Honey B Morrison (NY Times Best-Selling Author), Reece Odum (Bounce TV’s Saints & Sinners) and Reg Rob (actor).
#SnowfallFX returns on Wednesdays at 10/9c on @FXNetworks
Photos by James Pray