Academy Award nominated actor Laurence Fishburne and Larenz Tate have teamed up to celebrate Black History Month with a new series called Bronzeville.
Bronzeville is a podcast series which is set in the Chicago community of Bronzeville. The podcast series also features other actors and actresses such as Tika Sumpter. Fishburne and Tate chatted about the series with Tamron Hall at Spotify in New York.
Tamron Hall: Let’s start with like I said and I told you both behind the scenes this is beautiful. Take me through how this audio. How would you describe it, what is it?
Laurence Fishburne: This is in the old school way of describing it, it would be called a radio play. Bur it is an audio series, it was originally conceived as a television series that myself and the Tateman went out and pitched..unsuccessfully but we were determined to do it in some kind of way. So we arrived at the idea of making a podcast and just serializing it and doing it for radio for audio.
Tamron Hall: But it’s not a podcast isn’t it?
Laurence Fishburne: it’s not a podcast per say, it’s an audio series
Tamron Hall: It’s a whole new genre.
Larenz Tate: It’s a whole new genre because it’s scripted. It’s written out and we were able to identify the best writer for this project which was Josh Olsen who is an Academy award nominated writer, and we wanted to lay this thing out flesh it out and make sure it had all of the nuances of what we saw when we first went out to pitch this as a show.
Tamron Hall: well take us into the pitch, what was the pitch? The neighborhood unless you live in Chicago is similar to Chicago but you don’t know it. What was the pitch?
Laurence: It’s very rich. The world of Bronzeville there’s this book that we refer to called Black Metropolis. So essentially Bronzeville in the 20’s,30’s,40’s,50’s was a community on the Southside of Chicago that was completely self-sufficient the economic engine of that community was the policy game and there were a bunch of guys who were called the policy kings. So there were many of these guys who were numbers bankers who provided services for the community. They built schools, they built hospitals, they built churches, libraries, department stores all through this illegal enterprise. They had their own police force, they had their own pharmacies. It was just this thriving black metropolis in the middle of America and they had a constant stream of people coming up from the south because there were these great migrations, Mississippi, Alabama everywhere in the south they were coming to Chicago for a piece of the American Dream.
Larenz Tate: The way this sort of came about for us was I was doing the movie Ray back in 2003, as I played Quincy Jones and I was fortunate to spend some time with Q and he was talking about Chicago and had a lot of great conversations and he brought up Bronzeville. He brought up the policy and he talked about this particular family which were the Jones brothers who were these policy kings, these were people who ran this sort of racketeering, and he said his father was a numbers runner for the Jones and I was like is there a connection as far as family everyone’s Jones. He was like no no family connection but my father ran numbers for these guys. He began to tell me more and more about this world and being from Chicago originally and hearing of Bronzeville but not to this degree. The fact at the time what seemed to be unimaginable given the fact that black folk were dealing with the Jim Crow but to be able to obtain a true piece of the American Dream much like the other immigrant communities whether they were Jewish or Italian, Irish, Polish, they all had that piece of that American Dream and it seemed unobtainable but it was. And I was like wow. Quincy was like this story has to be told, this actually happened, people lived a different quality of life. I was just blown away and at the time the Jones brothers if I can recall these guys were worth a couple hundred million dollars back then, they would be today modern day billionaires. As Fish said the economic engine was running numbers. Eventually the policy and that sort of racketeering was infiltrated by other communities so the Mafia took it over. After the mob took it over the government stepped in and it became what is today the Illinois State Lottery. But that is the Genesis of a lot of that people don’t know.
Tamron Hall: so the first episode opens in prison, that’s where a lot of things end for some people.
Laurence Fishburne: Well Josh was smart to stand it on his head. It opens with Everett Copeland doing time. Everett Copeland is the guy who’s running the policy wheel. My character Curtis Eyeball Randolph built the policy business and handed it off to the Copeland family. Everett’s in jail he’s about to get out and come back to running the business and he’s being warmed up to by a young white gangster who works for the Capone organization. But yes it’s a great opening that you’re in jail suddenly and then once you get out you’re in Bronzeville you’re in the Southside and then you meet Jimmy.
Larenz Tate: That’s when we’re in the South. My character Jimmy Tillman is a hardworking individual from Arkansas and he sort of has a run in with some folks, he’s in the union and a turn of event happens where he has to leave Arkansas because he’s in fear of his life. So he leaves with a fellow traveling counterpart who’s a white guy. They go up to Chicago.
Tamron Hall: This was the sort of American dream making it to Chicago
Larenz Tate: It’s also interesting, kind of gives you an example of the community that we had when those people would come from the South the moment they got off the train or wherever they were coming from they were always met by someone. And if you did not have a place to go they would set you up. You had somewhere to go. You couldn’t get someone to point you to a coffee shop right now. Back then you can step off the train and if you don’t have something you don’t worry about it your family and friends will set you up.
Tamron Hall: Why do you think this is the perfect time for something like this to be introduced?
Laurence: I always think things sort of happen organically. I’ve never really been one to sort of plan oh we need to do this now because. Certainly the whole Black Lives Matter or Black Live matter Too Movement suggests that this is a good time for us to come together and remember our communities are much stronger than perhaps most people give us credit for.