Interview: Writer/Actor Coffey- About The People Film
About The People is a short film I recently reviewed that delves deep into the topic of the systemic oppression of Black and Brown humans in America today. (You should all watch the film before continuing). I recently spoke to co-writer and a lead actor in the film, Coffey. During our conversation I immediately realized Coffey does more than just talk the talk, he walks (or rather runs) it too.
Organizing people from the running community he has been apart of for 16 years, he led a 2 mile run protest to highlight the experience of running while black and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery as he was simply running and targeted by a former police officer.
We spoke about him organizing this protest and on other recent police sanctioned murders (Rest In Peace Elijah McClain, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor) and how they directly reflect the things he wanted to avoid when creating About The People.
About The People was birthed after the summer of 2016 when Coffey’s son would come home while the sun was out even though he had no curfew. Coffey asked why and was surprised to hear his son say he was avoiding being out at night to avoid being murdered by police. “It was the first time I didn’t have any answers as a father, because you can’t sugar coat it” Coffey said. “You could say About The People was forced, it was forced out of anger… it is the blueprint of what we have to do to make it in this world”
The truth about this film is that it stands out against the vast majority of films in this genre. Rather than highlighting injustices, it is trying to highlight a solution. Coffey expounds on this saying “I didn’t want to show a cop killing another black brother or sister, we already see that… we see that enough on cell phones. About The People is to help educate us, because school system failed to do that.”
Speaking about his upbringing in North Carolina, Coffey explained how his grandparents instilled knowledge and love into him since he was young and how it influenced the film. Coffey and his co-writer Samuel K. Rhind framed this film as barbershop talk taken to the next level, where instead of just discussing problems they tried to bring about solutions. About The People is structured after his grandfather and his friends would congregate and speak about the issues they faced and in the end when there were no solutions, his grandmother would always provide one. Which is why in the film, the woman (The Janitor played by Ebony Obsidian) comes in at the end and becomes the glue that ultimately brings the men together towards the next step in their goal. When asked about the lack of women in this film Coffey said, “I wanted these questions, I wanted women to watch and ask ‘Where are we?’… but Samuel and I knew once she got in that room what she said would be as powerful as anything else that was said.”
We went on and spoke about the casting and production details of the film where Coffey highlighted the brilliance of every individual actor on the set, but specifically spoke about one moment where the entire cast and crew was floored. Tyler Lepley who had agreed to come on just 48 hours before production, delivered a powerful emotional scene that resonated with everyone on set. Overall described as a serious set where everyone knew the weight this topic has, About The People hit the mark on delivering the message.
Coffey went on to explain how the main question he was presented with at every film festival About The People was screened is ‘what’s next?’, and how he is now in the process of pitching the continuation of this short as a television series to bring education for us by us. One thing is for sure whatever is next for Coffey, his co-writer Samuel and About The People, we will be waiting to watch.
Stream About The People here
By Jean Paul Cortorreal