Mar 2 2012

One on One with ‘Alpha’s’ Star, Malik Yoba

He’s an award-winning actor, a playwright and a published author. He composes and performs original music and is a gifted singer, lyricist and poet. He’s a sex symbol. A motivational speaker. He’s a philanthropist and a father.  It is an impressive list of titles, adjectives and accolades that describe this man, which makes it even more praiseworthy that in a line of work where there is so much focus on success and celebrity, Malik Yoba sees himself first and foremost as “a servant.”

That actually makes perfect sense when you know his backstory. Named Abdul at birth, which means “servant” in Arabic, Yoba was raised in a strict Muslim household by a fiercely religious and activist father. Malik’s father was a black nationalist who rejected his own birth name, Milton Myers, and instead called himself Erutan Yob—a name he created by spelling backwards the title of the popular Nat King Cole song, “Nature Boy.” Erutan Yob then added an “a” to his new surname and defined the word Yoba as “wrath of the slaves, a new generation.”

I recently spoke one-on-one with Malik Yoba and learned many interesting things about this brilliant and intriguing brother:

“My parents named me Abdul Malik which means ‘servant of the King.’ Growing up in Harlem, people never said my name correctly. I was called Adoobee, Abdoobuhlee, Aboo. Ab.  I remember consciously deciding at seventeen that no one was going to call me servant anymore—If  you’re going to call me anything, call me Malik; call me ‘king.’  The irony is, today, in terms of my life and my purpose, I see myself as a servant, and I’ve come back to embrace the name I was born with.”

Yoba has found that one of the many ways he is able to be of service to others is in the entertainment industry, where he can stand up for and reach out to young people who very often don’t have a healthy or accurate representation of manhood in their lives.

“I know what my presence in popular culture has meant to many many men and boys. And to women as well.  I’ve been in this game 20 years and I know what my impact has been with the roles that I’ve played, and I know who comes up and talks to me about that. I believe in the power of film and television and music and art to communicate ideas. Not to preach, but to communicate.”

Hollywood is a place that has chewed up and spit out many an aspiring actor, yet Malik‘s longevity is as impressive as his filmography is diverse. Among the many roles Yoba has played, there has been an Olympic bobsledder, a beat cop, an astronaut, a judge, and most recently, a uniquely gifted FBI agent on the new series Alphas, which airs on the SyFy Channel Mondays at 10pm.

“I haven’t had this much fun doing anything, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of the projects I’ve worked on. There’s action, there’s comedy, there’s the human element, the sci-fi element and it’s a thriller. I just read the episode we’re shooting next week and I’ve never had this experience where I’m reading the script and I’m shook. It’s scary.”

As pleased as he is to be connected to the Alphas project, ironically, when Malik was first approached to do the series, he declined. His manager and agents pressed him to read the script and he found the project too unique to resist.  But, the fact that he’s in Toronto filming Alphas for months at a time hasn’t distracted Malik from pursuing the next phase of his career—the one in which he produces and directs his own projects.

“The first film I’m going to direct is called “What’s On the Hearts of Men. One of the central themes is fatherhood and manhood and different perspectives of what fatherhood means to different men. So many young men don’t have men in their lives.”

The impression Malik’s own father left on his life stands as a testament to what the film’s intention is—to explore how manhood and fatherhood are acted out on the real stage of life.

“I honor my father in the film even though there are many things about him I did not like and I definitely won’t pass on to my kids. The way I got beat as a kid would absolutely put him in jail today. I got beat with extension cords like a slave until I bled. Butt naked extension cord abuse. And, my father was tied to a chair and beaten by his father, and his grandfather was a slave. So, when you think about all of that legacy-wise and what your parents leave you with…I will not pass that on to my children. I am super affectionate with my kids.”

Malik and his children, Josiah, 9, dena, 10, Pria, 13

Malik has three children by two women he did not marry, which contradicts his long-held desire to create and maintain a solid family.

“I had been wanting to get married since I was a little kid. Like how little girls dream about their wedding, I was the little boy who did that,” Malik admits. “I would pull out maps of the world and, literally, I was living in the Bronx and wondering where my wife was…I always thought she was somewhere else on the planet. And then my life and career happened and you see the world for what it really is. I was disillusioned about marriage because I saw so much infidelity around me, particularly in my 20s. But, after having children and having relationships that didn’t work out, I felt it would be nice to finally get that part right.”

Malik married the beautiful actress Cat Wilson in 2003, but the marriage didn’t survive. They separated in 2010 just as Malik’s appearance in “Why Did Why Did I Get Married 2” was on its way to theaters.

“Now I don’t feel the need to get married…I have my children, and after everything I’ve experienced I don’t have regrets. I definitely love women and I’ve been loved. I date now, but I won’t commit.”

Malik’s own answer to Tyler Perry’s cinematically explored question, “Why Did I Get Married?” is not a simple one. He says his observations of his own and other men’s actions have just led him to ask more questions.

“There is a different conversation to be had to really, really get into why we get married. What’s really going on in the emotional lives of men? Men are liars. Priests lie. Politicians. Business men. Sportsmen. F***ing Liars. What are we going to do about that? I think we need to have honest conversations about that. No one’s honest about all this abuse of women. Where is the outrage from men? Men are not outraged. Men are not outspoken against the abuse of women or children.”

These are themes Malik Yoba will continue to explore as he tackles future film projects, and pursues his music and singing career—a career only his most devoted fans (or those who happen upon one of his live performances) are aware of.

“Music is my little bastard child. My acting career has eclipsed my music, but the goal is to do more. I would love to have a music career that is on par with my acting career. I’m a 43 year old black dude who plays and sings soulful acoustic music and the labels are like ‘If we put you out, how are we going to market you?’”

Acoustic soul from the ever sexy and sincere Malik Yoba sounds good to this fan. Hello, record labels. I’d definitely buy that.

Follow Malik on Twitter @MalikYoba and Facebook

Jan 5 2012

A Conversation with Common: ‘I Want to Become One of the Greats’

It has been nearly 20 years since the “conscious rapper” Common released his debut album, yet he continues to treat his fans to new and deeper insights into why he is, and will remain, a cultural icon.

–And it just keeps getting better.

This handsome and grounded multi-talent has had so much success of late, 2011 might as well just be called The Year of Common Sense.

Not only did his memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, recently debut on the prestigious New York Times Best Sellers List, but Common the actor followed up his 2010 success starring opposite Queen Latifah in Just Wright, by turning up the heat beneath his thespian aspirations. He appeared in BET’s sizzling new, “Single Ladies,” has a recurring role in AMC’s dramatic western, “Hell on Wheels,” is currently promoting his first voice-over role in the animated feature Happy Feet Two, and was pegged to star in Quentin Tarantino’s gritty (what else?) western Django.

All that, and Common made time for the studio. His 12th album, The Dreamer, the Believer drops on December 20th-just in time for one of my loved ones to make it an extra special Christmas gift (hint, hint).

Common recently sat down with me to speak on the things he’s been learning along the way:

What is your purpose?

My purpose is to encourage love. Is to enlighten and inspire people to love…to be free and loving themselves. My purpose is to bring as many people closer to God as possible.

If self esteem was measured on a scale of 0-100, where is yours today, and where was it at at the lowest it’s ever been?

Today 97. The lowest about a 30. I had a breakup with Erykah Badu and my esteem was low. I think around that time I released an album called Electric Circus and it didn’t do well. People were talking a lot of stuff about it but the talk didn’t really affect me as much. I don’t really let how people are talking affect me too much.

How did you climb back up from there?

I really had to get to a place where I wasn’t trying to dim my light to please the person next to me. You have to love yourself strongly. Love God, love yourself, then love others. You can’t defy yourself in your generosity to others.

Do you have another book in you?

I do have another book in me. I will write another one at some point because there are things to talk about that can inspire and give people hope. I recently had a woman at the airport stop me…She put her daughter on the phone to tell me how she got through a breakup by reading my book [I Like You, But I Love Me]. She said, “As soon as I read it it made me realize I’m okay. Other people go through this.” I know I have more experiences to share and give a perspective on. I realize that art can really provide motivation for people.

When something awesome happens in your life, who do you call?

If I’m in a relationship, I call that person. My assistant is someone I’m really close with, so I’ll call that person. There are a couple of best friends of mine from Chicago I call. I’ll call my mother. I’ll definitely call her. She may be the first.

Why aren’t you married?

I would like to be married. I’m really at that point in my life where I would like to settle down and have a family. I don’t know why I haven’t married yet. God hasn’t put that right there for me yet but I know it will happen. The power of intention will bring that about.

Speaking of the power of intention, was there ever something you initially thought was impossible, yet you used the power of intention to bring that something into being?

I do believe where I am as an actor, I really put my intention towards these things. There are a lot of ways to climb, and I have a long way to go. I want to become one of the greats. My intention is there, and I believe that’s a place where i’m seeing it happen. That’s why I named my album The Dreamer, the Believer, because of that. Because when you dream you gotta believe in it with all your being.

What song on The Dreamer, the Believer would change my life if I really listened to it?

Blue Sky would help motivate your life and The Believer would solidify changing your life.

–by Kathleen Cross for

Nov 6 2011

Crystle ‘Clear’ Roberson: Independent Black Filmmaker on the Rise

If you’ve seen the music video for Idris Elba’s sultry new single, “Private Garden,” you have experienced a sample of the creative eye and spirit of filmmaker Crystle “Clear” Roberson, but if you haven’t viewed any of her award-winning short films, you are in for a real visual feast.

Roberson has been writing, producing and directing her own material for five years, and she already has an impressive collection of awards and honors from the industry. In 2006, she received a film grant from Kodak, which she used to shoot the short film The Song of Time, chosen as an official selection in the TOMI Film Festival of New Orleans, and honored by Women In Film & Television’s International Showcase.

Roberson went on to write and direct two more shorts, Friend In A Can and Standing Reign. The latter was awarded Best Film of Atlanta in the 48 Hour Film Festival, Best Short in the TOMI Film Festival of New Orleans and Best Narrative Short in the International Black Film Festival of Nashville, Tenn. Standing Reign was also featured on the Best of 48 Hour Film Project 2007  DVD, which includes 16 selected films of over 2,000 entries.

In 2008, Roberson was honored by Women in Film & Television/Atlanta with the esteemed Woman to Watch Award and was chosen as one of four filmmakers, nationwide, to compete in the Chase Legacy Film Challenge, an opportunity for young filmmakers launched at the SundanceFilm Festival. She  wrote and directed “Next Door’s Next” and won the Challenge’s HBO Filmmaker Award, for which she received an additional film grant from Kodak.

Roberson also served as associate director for the award winning short film, Before I Wake, which won Best Film Grand Prize in The Doorpost Film Project. Her short film  “The Black Cage” starring Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) also earned “Top Film” status in Doorpost. Both of these films were selected as 1 of 7 Top Films for BET’s Lens On Talent 2011. Crystle was the only director to have 2 films as Finalists in this esteemed competition.

On Nov. 11, Roberson will wrap her first independent feature film, Echo at 11 Oak Drive, which tells three stories that transpire under the same roof over three eras-1951, 1973, and 2011. Although each occurrence is unique, the dialogue is identical; proving that history repeats itself in the oddest of ways.  Famed film producer Will Packer (Stomp the Yard, This ChristmasTakers, Obsessed) is a supporter of the project which he says he is sure audiences will find intriguing.

Crystle “Clear” Roberson and I spoke recently and she offered exclusive insight into her film career and the mission she is on as a filmmaker:

What qualities do you possess that make a career in film the perfect “lane” for you?

I’m a woman. Women have always been the natural storytellers of their respective culture. Back in the day, we were responsible for ensuring the next generation knew the history of their ancestors. Also, we are the best at telling bedtime stories and we’re at the center of every fairy tale.

I’m an observer. I naturally observe life and humanity from a fly on the wall perspective most of the time. I walk into a room and immediately take in the sound design, lighting, and view the people as characters. First, I thought I was crazy but then I realized, I’m not crazy… I’m just a filmmaker.

I was sheltered as a child. This speaks through the surreal or sci-fi genre of films I usually write. My single mother was strict, and since I couldn’t go many places as a child, I would sit in my room and read a lot, then I would create worlds and stories of my own. My imagination had to be active, since my reality wasn’t. Also, Not being exposed to a lot as a child helped me maintain innocence (and ignorance) to what I could and could not do. I didn’t know that Black Female Directors were almost non-existent, so I didn’t know that I couldn’t. I just did it.

I’m extremely visual. I was always attracted to beauty. I’m also a Libra. I love pretty pictures and pretty colors. Visuals speak to me so loudly that sometimes I can’t hear and watch things at the same time. I took up photography as a hobby in high school and was amazed at how I was able to capture my visuals and show them to other people.

When did you know this was your passion? How did that reality hit you?

I was a sophomore at Valdosta State University when my passion hit me. I remember sitting in my dorm room writing my first short film and as I wrote, I began to cry. An intense feeling came over me, my heart began to beat really fast and I couldn’t stop crying and smiling. I felt like I was in love. And from then on, I thought about film every single day and dedicated my life to it. My professors had my cell number and would call me if I missed class, I was all the way into it.

What inspired your film, The Black Cage? What do you see as the solution to the immaturity referred to in the ending narration?

I have some very close friends that are near and dear to my heart that are struggling with their own “Black Cage.” I believe everyone finds themselves trapped in their own cage at some point in life. The great thing is that the sooner we wake up and realize we are in a cage, as the man in the film did, the sooner we can find our way out. The solution to the ending, is simple. The man still has the key.

How did you come to direct Idris Elba’s “Private Garden” video? Did you conceptualize, cast and direct the project?

I met Idris on the set of Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls. I was a production assistant on the project, and he was the lead actor. Part of my job was to get his breakfast every morning and one day Idris handed me a cd that he’d recorded. At first I was like “great, another actor-singer.” But on the way home, I popped it in the CD player and I genuinely thought it was dope. I was pleasantly surprised. Then, about a year or so later, Idris held a contest on Myspace for filmmakers to win a free trip to London to attend a film festival. Of course I was all over that. I did a mini-video to one of the songs on the cd he’d given me and I won the contest. That kicked off an amazing working relationship that eventually led to my direction of the “Private Garden” video. Idris is very creative and I have no doubt that he will also be a genius director when he chooses to go down that path. I directed the video, although Idris and I both collaborated on the concept — but I have to take credit for the body paint. The girl in the video, Iman Ramadan, was a friend of theirs and was a joy to work with.

When you wrap a project, who, in your heart of hearts, are you hoping will be proud of what you’ve produced?

I like to think I made sort of a “deal” with God. We came to an agreement that if He could lend me a certain amount of creativity then I would use it to spread His message to the people. So every time I finish a film, I hope that His message shines through as He intended. If God is pleased, then I know my friends and family will be as well.

How do you imagine your future in the industry? What will success look like to you?

Honestly, I believe my future in this industry is much better than I can even imagine it to be. So I find it hard to imagine whats about to happen. Instead, I focus my sight on my craft and let my career cards fall as they may. Success to me is creating a comfortable lifestyle for myself and my future children [or] family by directing and writing films that I love.

What advice can you give you give to young people who are drawn to a career in film, but are wondering if it’s too ambitious a goal for them to ever reach?

I would tell them to adopt The Bumblebee Theory. A bumblebee, aerodynamically, isn’t supposed to be able to fly. However, the bumblebee doesn’t know that, so it flies anyway. Don’t realize what you can’t do, just do it. Just fly. If you want to make films, just make them. Practice makes perfect. Film is art, indeed, and there is no “right or wrong” way to express yourself so long as it is your art with your own voice.