Reinaldo Mar­cus Green

The Observer - The New Review - - Classical - In­ter­view by Jonathan Rom­ney

Writer-di­rec­tor Reinaldo Mar­cus Green, 36, grew up on Staten Is­land. He took a mas­ter’s de­gree in ed­u­ca­tion, then worked on Wall Street be­fore study­ing film at NYU. His de­but fea­ture, Mon­sters and Men, which last year won a spe­cial jury prize at Sun­dance, is about the reper­cus­sions of the shoot­ing by po­lice of an un­armed black man in Brook­lyn. It’s in cin­e­mas and stream­ing from Fri­day. Green is cur­rently di­rect­ing episodes of sea­son 3 of the Lon­don-set Net­flix se­ries Top Boy.

Mon­sters and Men

is not so much about a shoot­ing as about three dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters’ re­sponses to it.

I had the ti­tle be­fore I had the film. It was a ques­tion I was ask­ing my­self: if I do noth­ing, am I a mon­ster, am I com­plicit in not be­ing ac­tively in­volved? In my short film Stop,I cast a friend of mine who’s a po­lice of­fi­cer, and we started talk­ing about Eric Garner [who died while be­ing ar­rested in Staten Is­land in 2014]. Here’s some­one I thought was lib­eral-pro­gres­sive [de­fend­ing the po­lice po­si­tion], and what ended up be­com­ing the din­ner party scene in Mon­sters and Men [a de­bate about whether US po­lice should have the right to shoot some­one re­sist­ing ar­rest] was the dis­cus­sion we had that night at Sun­dance. I didn’t agree with him, but he was bring­ing up his point of view, as much as it pained me. That was re­ally the start of this film.

The sto­ry­line about Zyrick, a young base­ball player fac­ing a moral choice, makes us think of re­cent protests by Amer­i­can ath­letes, most fa­mously Colin Kaeper­nick. Was that story hap­pen­ing when you were mak­ing the film?

At the start, it wasn’t. Then, read­ing the news, I asked my­self, how would Colin Kaeper­nick have re­sponded at 17? He’s a grown man, he has a plat­form. When you’re 17, you have no fol­low­ing. Colin was do­ing his thing and it was great to see some­one come out so boldly.

A key scene has the char­ac­ter Den­nis talk about how of­ten, as a black man, he’s stopped by po­lice – and he’s a cop him­self.

My fa­ther worked for the Depart­ment of In­ves­ti­ga­tion. It’s non-uni­form; he was an at­tor­ney by trade, he had a gun, he had a shield. He looked like a nor­mal black man in New York, so he would get stopped like a nor­mal black man. There were many times when the gun would be in the glove com­part­ment – he’s legally al­lowed to carry it, but it was scary to think that with the wrong per­son see­ing him reach for some­thing, any­thing could hap­pen in that mo­ment.

You were taught film by Spike Lee at NYU. What was that like?

Spike is a man of very few words. He’ll an­swer you with a ques­tion – “Why’d you do that?” – but doesn’t of­fer a re­sponse. He’s not go­ing to go and do it for you: “No, I’m not gonna call Den­zel! You’re not gonna get Den­zel! Go make a movie so you can get Den­zel!” That’s his way of say­ing, “I like you” – by push­ing you to help your­self.

Den­nis the po­lice of­fi­cer in your film is played by John David Washington, son of Den­zel Washington, re­cently seen in Lee’s BlacKkKlans­man.

John is from Cal­i­for­nia, he wears an ear­ring, he’s got long hair – I thought, “Can he trans­form? I can’t have one false note in this film.” But I think he’d been around some po­lice of­fi­cers, so I got this sense he had a real deep con­nec­tion with the char­ac­ter. The guy gave me a month of prep, un­paid. For a Hol­ly­wood ac­tor to do that, you know they’re com­mit­ted to the craft.

You’ve been work­ing in Lon­don on Top Boy, with Drake in­volved as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

His busi­ness part­ner Fu­ture saw Mon­sters and Men in Sun­dance. They’ve pro­moted the film, they’ve said, “This film’s im­por­tant, you should see it.” There are a lot of things in Top Boy that are sim­i­lar to what I grew up with. In terms of the crime, it’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent; there’s way more knife crime here rather than guns, but the es­tate life is quite sim­i­lar. Ro­nan Ben­nett is an in­cred­i­ble writer – he knows that world re­ally well.

And you’re plan­ning a movie about the boxer Jack John­son.…

He was an in­cred­i­ble hu­man be­ing – and I get to do a box­ing movie and a pe­riod piece. He’s Ali be­fore Ali. A lot of peo­ple don’t know who he is – and Trump par­doned him re­cently [John­son was sen­tenced to prison in 1913 on a racially mo­ti­vated charge]. Sylvester Stal­lone has a project in the works about him – there might be sev­eral Jack John­son projects now.

FRED HAYES/GETTY IMAGES

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