-Contributing Writer-

Charles S. Dutton talks about going from jail to Yale, his hit TV show Roc, and his new film, The Obama Effect

Dutton on the set of The Obama Effect. Photo: Justina Mintz

CHICAGO (FinalCall.com)  – Charles S. Dutton is one of those performers who command respect both on and off stage. From starring on Broadway soon after completing the acting program at Yale to his memorable TV show “Roc,” he’s been working hard to control his own destiny in the entertainment business.

“I have been blessed to eke out a career in this industry. A career that I’ve tried all of these years to control, dictate and choose the kind of material that I want to do and so far I’ve been able to do that,” he said in an exclusive phone interview discussing his career and his current project, “The Obama Effect,” a film debuting in selected films nationwide the week of July 9.

Charles Dutton

Dutton’s unique experiences prior to becoming an actor have helped him stay grounded. “I didn’t start off as you know, the average person coming into Hollywood. I spent my life as an outlaw many years before any of that Hollywood stuff happened. So I had already had a sense, a world view,” said the Baltimore native.

Disillusioned by school at an early age, Dutton dropped out. “I was in the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, raised hell in the streets and spent 12 years in and out the penal institution, seven and a half the last time.”

However, it was in prison that he finally found his passion. During his second prison term, he was allowed to take one book with him during six days of solitary confinement. By accident, he grabbed an anthology of Black playwrights. He enjoyed the plays so much that, upon release from confinement, he petitioned the warden to have a talent show.

“I went and got the craziest guys in the prison to put on the prison talent show. I got the craziest knuckleheads, the biggest liars, the most demonstrative, funniest guys,” he said with laughter. That’s where he caught the acting bug.

Dutton got his GED and completed a couple of college acting programs before finally earning his master’s from Yale. And he hit the ground running. “When I graduated out of Yale School of Drama in 1983, I didn’t really have a long struggling actor career. I met August Wilson in 1982 and in 1984 I am starring on Broadway and when you’re on Broadway–you own the Big Apple … you get red carpet treatment. I don’t think I paid for one meal in a restaurant. The key is to not get intoxicated. Don’t get big headed.”

After a second major run on Broadway, Dutton got the opportunity to star in a TV show. Dutton gained acclaim for “Roc” (his nickname acquired during his amateur boxing days) which aired from 1991—1994. His work earned him a NAACP Image Award. The images portrayed on the show were no accident.

“I was always concerned with, 10 years after a show was off the air and a rerun comes on and you’re with your family and your children are older, and you look at yourself on television and you’re embarrassed by it. I had already seen enough shows that I was embarrassed by and I wasn’t even in them,” he continued with a laugh. “I never wanted that to happen to me. I wanted to be able to sit back 10 years later and say, ‘That was a good show.’ ”

Dutton insisted on choosing his cast. “I didn’t want this show to be a negative image of Black people internationally. I wanted to project an image of strength, and intelligence and heart and also a warrior-like image. This family didn’t take no crap and they were concerned about their community,” he said.

Dutton brings all his experiences to his latest project, “The Obama Effect,” which he writes, directs and stars in. He and Barry Hankerson united to produce the film that takes a satirical look at the 2008 election. “It’s an interesting story line that captures the fervor which helped elect Barack Obama to the White House,” he said.

While Dutton expresses love for President Obama, he has some hard questions that need to be answered by not only President Obama, but the Democratic Party. “The vehement reaction to him (President Obama) is because of who he is and not because of policy,” he said.

But despite that right-wing, tea party, and racist opposition, Dutton believes President Obama and the Democrats must step up to the plate and get things done for the American people. “Now are the Democrats to blame? Absolutely, they had two years to push their policies and programs, they had two years of controlling the House of Representatives, but they did nothing for two years,” he said.

So, this film is not a promotional movie that’s encouraging people to vote for President Obama in the upcoming election, but Dutton does expect it to rekindle all of the “passion and euphoria” that occurred during the 2008 election. “It’s not your average everyday straightforward film. There are lots of great cinematic ideas, lots of great storytelling, about getting one’s own health together” the importance of family, and how much politics affects our lives, he explained.

In “The Obama Effect,” a serious health scare inspires John Thomas, an insurance salesman in his 50s (played by Dutton), to take a closer look at his life. Motivated by a misguided obsession with getting Barack Obama elected, John takes on overwhelming involvement in the presidential campaign. While John becomes obsessed with the ideal of change that Obama represents for Americans, he has neglected to create positive change in his own life, particularly with regard to his health and familial relationships. Also in the film is Vanessa Bell Calloway, Kat Williams, Wesley Jonathan, Megan Good and Glynn Turman.

In the film, John hides his health problems from his strong, yet supportive wife, Molly (Vanessa Bell Calloway), creating a strain on their marriage. John seeks the support of a Republican relative, MLK (Katt Williams), who initially starkly resists supporting a Democratic candidate. John’s son, Kalil (Wesley Jonathan), rebels against his father’s avid support of Obama by supporting the Republican candidate as well.

John neglects to support his daughter, Tamika (Megan Good) at a crucial moment in her life, as she has recently fallen in love and become engaged to be married. John faces additional discord with his other son, Jamel, an up-and-coming boxer (Zab Judah), who gets mixed up with a shady manager, Slim (Glynn Turman), as he rises toward a professional boxing career. Joshua, John’s recently-paroled brother (C.J. Mack), also struggles as he attempts to find work in a tough economy and to maintain his new marriage.

When Molly discovers that John has been hiding his health scares from her, she urges him to improve his bad habits. John works to get back on the right path with his health and family as Obama soars to success in the campaign.

Ultimately, Dutton expects the film to both entertain and make people think.

“The movie is about looking at the situation then, in 2008 and now and making an intelligent decision.”

For the full interview with Charles S. Dutton go to www.beansouptimes.com and type “Charles S. Dutton” in the search engine.